Thousands of people are affected by informant policies in ways that we rarely see. Young people become informants unbeknownst to their parents. Communities fray when friends and neighbors give information about each other to the police. The sight of active informants committing crimes can erode young people’s confidence in the law.
People from all walks of life have begun speaking out about their experiences with criminal informant policies. In particular, parents around the country have taken active roles in trying to reform informant law in light of their children’s experiences. Here are some examples of cases, news stories, and other developments that may be of interest to families and young people grappling with this aspect of the justice system.
- The 2012 New Yorker article, The Throwaways, documents how young people are often pressured into becoming informants, facing harm or even death.
- Rachel Hoffman was a college student who became an informant in Tallahassee, Florida. She was killed when police sent her on a dangerous sting. Due in large part to her parents’ advocacy, the Florida legislature passed groundbreaking new legislation in 2009. “Rachel’s Law” now requires Florida police to develop guidelines for the creation and handling of young vulnerable informants. This post contains additional information: Florida’s Rachel’s Law offers some protection to informants.
- In 2010, 21-year-old Paul Statler was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 41 years based on testimony from a criminal informant, even after a co-defendant admitted that the informant fabricated his testimony against Statler and two other young men. They were eventually exonerated. Paul’s family reached out to Senator Bob McCaslin (R-Spokane Valley), who introduced major reform legislation before the Washington state legislature. See this news story and this post: Washington State introduces exciting new legislation.
- In 2011, Towanda Velez sued NYPD officers for failing to protect her 20-year-old son, Anthony, who was killed while working as an informant. Post here.
- Richard Furlong unsuccessfully tried to change the informant policies in the city of Attica, NY, after his daughter Bianca was pressured into becoming a drug informant in 2009. Bianca had no ties to illegal drugs–she was recruited as an informant after being stopped by police for driving on a suspended licence. Story here.
- After 17-year-old Chad McDonald was killed for being a police informant in 1998, California passed “Chad’s Law” which prohibits the use of children age 12 and under as informants, and requires judicial permission for children between the ages of 13-17. L.A. Times story here. Some states such as New Jersey impose similar age-based restrictions on the use of juvenile informants through internal law enforcement policies.
- The 2011 documentary “Better this World” tells the story of two young men from Texas who were charged with domestic terrorism after they fell under the sway of a charismatic FBI informant.
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