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Throwaway Confidential Informants Essay

The article, “The Throwaways”, by Sarah Stillman, is an account of confidential informants being used as inexpensive and off the record pawns in the drug war. A confidential informant is a person who has been caught for a crime, usually illegal narcotics, and has been offered to have their slate wiped clean or their punishment reduced if they help bust a higher up criminal. The police treat these informants as if they are nothing else but a tool to catch the criminals at the top of the food chain. The police do not stop to think that the informants are often productive people in society, even if they decide to partake drug use. I have a close friend who was asked to be an informant after being busted with just a small amount of marijuana. I strongly advised against this for his safety, and my friend instead had to spend nearly four thousand dollars on a lawyer.

It is unjust and immoral for police officers to use these people with no formal guarantee that their charges will be dropped, as well as putting them in extremely dangerous situations. “The Throwaways” is an article about four young confidential informants who had their lives cut short because they decided to cooperate with law enforcement and help bust drug dealers. Every single informant’s fate led 6 feet underground. Rachel Hoffman was a twenty-three year old girl who had plans to go to culinary school and open a new type of rehabilitation center. Rachel was found dead the next day fifty miles from where the cops were supposed to be tracking her every move. Lebron Gaither testified against a man in court and was then ordered to try and buy narcotics from the same man he had just testified against; he was tortured, shot with a handgun as well as a shotgun, ran over by a car, and then dragged by a chain into the woods. Shelly Hilliard was caught with a half ounce of pot, threatened with prison, and agreed to be an informant.

Hilliard’s body was found on fire beneath a mattress on a service road. The last informant in the article, Jeremy Mclean, agreed to be an informant because he did not want to bring disgrace to his family name. The police continued to make Jeremy bust drug dealers until he helped lead to the arrest of a heroin trafficker. The officers said that the heroin trafficker, William Vance Reagan, Jr., was harmless and not to worry. Reagan shot Jeremy in the back of the neck 3 times and once in the face. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole (Stillman). Narcotics officers use informants as a disposable tool to get to people, or places that they cannot get to alone. According to the article, over eighty percent of drug busts involve informants (Stillman 38). There are usually no contracts and the informants have to trust that the officers will keep their word. I think that this is insane and it endangers the lives of mostly young people who have their entire life ahead of them.

At the time, the opportunity to be a confidential informant and having all of their charges dropped seems like a better option than time in jail or huge fines. It is too dangerous to bust a drug dealer. The word would get out that they got arrested, and the informant would be the number one suspect. I have a close friend who was smoking pot at a Wiz Khalifa concert in his car before going in, because he had been told that there were cops inside and that the security guards searched you before you went in. While smoking he saw two men walking up by his car, one a big strong white man and the other a smaller African American man. As they walked past his car, he took a sip of his drink because his throat burned slightly from the smoke. The two men saw him do this, pointed at his car and walked off. My friend felt that something was wrong because of the way they pointed at the car, so he got out to go into the concert.

The next thing he knew, both of those men had chased him down and were interrogating him about what he had been drinking. He did not look stoned, because he had put in eye drops and said he wasn’t drinking anything but a coke. The men pulled out their badges and fifteen other cops circled around him. They reached in his pocket, took out his keys and unlawfully searched his car, because he had been seen drinking a coke. When they found marijuana in the car, they were surprised. They didn’t read him his Miranda rights nor have probable cause to search the car. The smaller African American man asked my friend to step aside and asked him if he knew where he could get an ounce or more of pot. He said yes and then he offered for him to be an informant, he gave him his number and said to call him J. The man said that this is how it would go down if he agreed; J would give my friend money and he would walk in and buy a gram of pot, walk out and give J the marijuana.

Then a couple days later he would have to introduce J to the dealers and they would both buy some marijuana. Then J would attempt to get over an ounce of pot. After a couple weeks passed, the police would come to the dealer’s house and arrest him. My friend could have had his charges dropped completely. Although he could have also ended up like Jeremy and perform more sting operations, or even worse dead. There are no contracts, it is completely based on the cop’s word and that is a huge problem. You never know what could set a person off and make them mad enough to kill you. For example; in a neighborhood near mine a drug dealer shot and killed four teenagers because they did not pay him for two grams of weed worth forty dollars. I think that using confidential informants at all should be outlawed due to the excessive risk in every situation, but I am very biased because of my friend. The current law regarding informants requires special training for the officers, the informant’s age and emotional state to be considered, and for the level of risk to be taken into account.

(Stillman 47) There are still no real guidelines, just certain things that the officers must consider. There either needs to be much more strict guidelines, such as the informant must be a legal adult, or the use of confidential informants should be made completely illegal. The tragic stories that are presented in this article should be enough for anyone with a conscience to know that the use of informants is wrong. The police use informants as a cheap way to bust dealers by scaring the people into cooperating. I have a personal experience in my life that impacts my opinion on the use of informants.

My friend could have been killed while doing the law enforcement’s dirty work, because he decided to smoke a small amount of marijuana. The decision to become a confidential informant should not be one of the last decisions a person must make in his or her life. It should be completely illegal for trained police officers to endanger the lives of citizens by offering them to be an informant. I believe police officers should protect and serve, that means not aiding the deaths of ordinary people.

Works Cited
Stillman, Sarah. “Re: The Throwaways.” New Yorker. N.p., 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. .
“Marijuana-arrests.com.” Marijuana-arrests.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.


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