Greg (not his real name) was an average University of Mississippi student — until he was approached on his way to class by a group of armed men in bulletproof vests, he told “60 Minutes.”
The men were cops, and part of the Lafayette County Metro Narcotics unit in Mississippi. Greg, they alleged, was a drug dealer.
The cops accused Greg of selling LSD to other students on campus. Greg maintains that he never sold the drugs. Rather, he says that a friend left them at his apartment and an aquaintance stopped by to pick them up. No money was ever exchanged, according to Greg.
Greg was brought into the Metro Narcotics office where the officers gave him a choice: become a confidential informant or face a felony charge and 20 years in prison, he told “60 Minutes.”
“60 Minutes” aired a special on December 6 investigating the ethical issues raised by the use of young confidential informants who are placed into high-risk situations with no training. The use of confidential informants has faced heightened scrutiny lately, following the death last year of Andrew Sadek, a North Dakota State senior.
A Republican lawmaker in North Dakota is crafting new legislation with Sadek’s mother, Tammy, to better protect young confidential informants, according to the Associated Press.
“I felt like I had a gun to my head,” Greg told “60 Minutes.” “They almost convince you that you’re guilty. I was just so scared. I was putty in their hands.”
And Greg was only one of approximately 100,000 people working as confidential informants across the US at any given time, according to “60 Minutes.”
The federal government has established rules around the use of confidential informants, mandating proper selection, oversight, and barring confidential informants from profiting off of illegal activity.
But local police departments aren’t subject to the same rules. They’re free to turn anyone they see fit into a confidential informant, according to “60 Minutes.” Police will stop short of authorizing informants to use violence, but they’re able to set any stipulations they want for their informant to get a reduced sentence or their charges dropped, according to the “60 Minutes” segement.
The Metro Narcotics officers told Greg he had to buy drugs from 10 different dealers while wearing a wire, he told “60 Minutes.” And he had to find and meet these dealers himself, with no support from the officers, reports “60 Minutes.”
But Greg told “60 Minutes” he had no idea where to find 10 dealers.
“I knew what I was signing, and it made me sick,” Greg told “60 Minutes.” “But what made me more sick was the thought of spending 20 years in prison.”
This type of situation creates incentives for young informants, like Greg, to purchase small, personal amounts of drugs (usually marijuana) from their friends, who are then arrested as drug dealers.
“At that point, we’re not catching criminals, we’re creating criminals,” Ken Coghlan, an Oxford, Mississippi defence attorney told “60 Minutes.”
The Layfayette County Metro Narcotics unit has been accused of pressuring other college students into becoming confidential informants. In April, Buzzfeed reported that the unit recruited roughly 30 confidential informants every year — “many of them college students.”
“Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit is a mill that functions exclusively through the recruitment of college student CIs to rat out other students,” former local prosecutor Tom Levidiotis told Buzzfeed. “It’s such an enterprise here.”
The former chief of Lafayette County Metro Narcotics, Keith Davis, resigned on September 30, reports Buzzfeed.
Business Insider reached out to the Metro Narcotics Unit for comment, and a spokesperson said her supervisor wasn’t available for comment. We will update this story if we recieve a response.
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