A significant problem that has not yet received sufficient attention: protecting young and vulnerable informants. This story in the Missoulian is about how police handled Colton Peterson, a suicidal 21-year-old who was working for them as a drug informant: “Family believes son’s suicide partly caused by law enforcement’s conscription as an informant.” The story raises some of the same issues that caused Florida to pass “Rachel’s law” after 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman was killed while working as an informant. See these previous posts: “Florida’s ‘Rachel’s Law’ offers some protection for informants” and “Recruiting new informants.” Under Florida’s new law, police must now consider certain minimum factors before recruiting a person as an informant, including the person’s “age and maturity,” and “whether the person has shown any indication of emotional instability.” My deepest condolences to Colton’s parents, Juliena Darling and Frank Peterson.
Dynamics of Snitching
By the end of his stint working for the FBI, informant Craig Monteilh was earning over $11,000 a month to secretly film and record worshippers at the Islamic Center of Irvine, California. Monteilh, who has a lengthy rap sheet of his own, is now suing the FBI for allegedly instructing him to plead guilty to criminal charges of grand theft so as to maintain his cover. The Associated Press report on Monteilh’s lawsuit reveals details of the informant’s world that the public rarely gets to see, particularly the government’s ability to use private individuals/informants to obtain information that the government would otherwise need evidence of wrongdoing and a warrant to obtain: US Judge gives informant time to amend FBI lawsuit. From the story:
In court papers and his ACLU declaration, Monteilh says he was asked to work as an informant for local law enforcement in 2004, when he became friendly with some police officers in a local gym. By 2006, he was promoted to the FBI’s counterterrorism operations. Monteilh alleges he gathered phone numbers and contact information for hundreds of Muslim-Americans and recorded thousands of hours of conversation using a device on his key fob or cell phone during his stint with the FBI. His said his handlers told him to work out with Muslims at gyms, asked him to get codes for security systems so they could enter mosques at night and encouraged him to ask mosque members about “jihad” and supporting terrorist operations abroad. In June 2007, however, mosque members became suspicious of Monteilh and requested a restraining order, saying that he had spoken repeatedly about engaging in jihad.
Cameron Douglas (actor Michael’s Douglas’s son) got a lot of press for his drug conviction and his cooperation with the government, which apparently cut his ten year sentence in half. See also NY Post story here: Douglas ratted on dealers. Now the Huffington Post points out that as an acknowledged informant, Douglas “is likely to face a very tough time in prison.” From Anthony Papa’s (Drug Policy Alliance) post:
From my experience as someone who served 12 years in New York’s Sing Sing state prison — one of the most dangerous prisons in America — I know that Cameron Douglas is in a world of trouble. Once a prisoner is labeled as a “snitch,” their life in prison suddenly changes and is in immediate danger. In prison a snitch is frowned upon and is at the bottom of the hierarchy of prison life. Until this point, it seemed that Douglas was living a pretty comfortable life in the camp at Lewisberg. Minimum security institutions have dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing. Douglas’s status will likely change as soon as his life is threatened. Once this happens, his entire world will turn upside down, and he will be transferred to protective custody.
Today’s Akron Beacon Journal reports on new developments in the Neal Rankin murder case: “DNA results may give inmate a new trial.” The police had a lot of trouble identifying a suspect back in 1993–according to the commander of the homicide unit, they had “45 suspects the first day,” and murder charges were brought and then dropped against several defendants. Finally, over a year after the murder, the government charged Dewey Amos Jones with the crime based on an allegation from a jaihouse snitch that Jones had confessed to him. I include the story not only because it is yet another example of a shaky case built on compensated snitch testimony, but because it illustrates how powerful an informant’s allegations can be. Here, a jailhouse snitch got authorities to focus on Jones long after the crime, and without any direct evidence of his guilt. Jones is represented by the Ohio Innocence Project.
A carwash attendant explained to me that this was the saying in his old neighborhood (he wouldn’t say where he was from). It means that if you are charged with a felony but can give the government information about three other people, they will “set you free.”