‘Rachel’s Law’ provides uniform standards for police informants

BROOKSVILLE –
Larry was in trouble.

Soon after leaving a drug dealer’s house, deputies pulled him over for a traffic violation.

They found cocaine.

But instead of going straight to jail, Larry was brought to the sheriff’s office. A detective offered him a deal: Work for us and we’ll give you a break.

Faced with three felonies, Larry agreed. He called the dealer, Brock Shade, again. A rendezvous was set up. Around 9 p.m., Larry met up with the detectives in a church parking lot, not far from Shade’s house in Da Mac Estates, north of Brooksville.

Larry was patted down to make sure he was drug-free. His car was also thoroughly searched for contraband. Satisfied, detectives wired Larry with a receiver about the size of a cigarette box. He was given $30.

At Shade’s house, the cash was exchanged for powder cocaine. Larry returned to the church and the drug was turned over to detectives. His work was done.

Larry’s name is fictional. His role in dismantling one of the largest drug rings in the county’s history is not.

As a confidential informant, Larry was one of a handful of people detectives used to gather intelligence and buy drugs during a months-long investigation in 2007. Shade was determined to be a top lieutenant in the ring that had ties to Polk County cop-killer Angilo Freeland.

Both Brooksville police and the sheriff’s office use people like Larry on a regular basis to assist in their investigations. Both agencies have protocol and procedure for their use, but up until recently there was no statewide standard.

“Rachel’s Law,” which goes into effect today, changes that. It’s named after Rachel Hoffman, 23, a confidential informant who was shot to death during a police-authorized drug buy in 2008.

The law requires police to inform a potential informant they do not have the authority to change the outcome of pending charges. Only judges and prosecutors can do that. Candidates also have the right to consult an attorney before agreeing to a deal.

Police also have to weigh the candidate’s background, including their maturity level and their history with substance abuse.

Neither of Hernando County’s agencies could foresee major changes to their existing policies. Both embraced the push for increased security.

“We’ve always had that high on our priority list,” said Police Chief George Turner.

At the sheriff’s office, confidential informants are assigned numbers for report purposes and their true identities are kept in a locked file cabinet.

When it comes to screening potential informants, Capt. James Walker at the sheriff’s office said there is “quite a review process.”

“We look at the totality of circumstances,” he said.

Candidates also have to sign a waiver, acknowledging that they don’t work for the sheriff’s office and that they cannot engage in any illegal activity while on the job.

They also cannot coerce or threaten anyone to commit crimes they are not already doing or capable of doing.

As Turner points out, confidential informants are not altruistic citizens trying to do a good deed. They’re usually in it to work off serious criminal charges.

But, Turner said, “information is power. And in this business, we need all the information we can get.”

Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com.

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