Trusting a Rat:
The Police and the Dilemma of Confidential Informants
Snitch, rat, and cheese-eater. These are all words that describe people who have betrayed a confidence. The police call these folks “confidential reliable informants” which has always seemed like an oxymoron to me. Informants are people who are looking for a favor from the police, a shorter sentence, or a pass on prosecution for a serious offense that might earn them a long stint in prison. Or they’re just looking to get revenge on a former criminal companion they feel did them wrong. The idea with many informants is, “if you let me off this time officer I’ll tell you what you want to know, for that case you’re working on. I’ll snitch on John/Jane/Joe and tell you what they may or may not have told me.” Then the cop can go and happily arrest them, claiming the “pinch” for themselves.
In a recent, and well-written article in the Portland Tribune newspaper, (August 13, 2015) “Shhh. County DA to play larger role in use of police informants,” journalist Peter Korn examines the diverse issues prosecutors face using and trusting “confidential reliable informants.” This is a very important issue that needs to be completely reassessed, in my opinion. In my seventeen years’ experience as a police officer and detective with the Portland Police Bureau, (1961-1978), and as one who has written many affidavits for search warrants, I can state that while informants are certainly confidential , they are only marginally reliable. In my experience, I often found that informants exaggerate the accuracy or details of a particular circumstance or event. I learned that they can never be entirely trusted as being truthful because nine out of ten informants have histories of deception and criminal behavior. The informant who wants to lighten his load and the police who want to see justice done, often become involved in a sort of incestuous relationship that revolves around their mutual interests and willingness to cover the others ass, so to speak.
The police, usually detectives, vice, or narcotics officers’ write most affidavits in support of a search warrant. Police usually know the person to be named in a warrant is a crook or an all-around bad person and they are eager to arrest them, catch them with the goods via the search warrant and take them into custody. Arresting dangerous offenders is a noble cause in the law enforcement profession and ultimately, it is the job of police to arrest and assist in the prosecution of those offenders, as the serious threats to public safety that they represent. The other side of the coin is that eager police officers too often embellish (lie on) an affidavit to make the affidavit appear more convincing in the eyes of the magistrate who must ultimately read the affidavit and sign off on the warrant.
In the 1970s, when I worked as a detective for Portland Police Bureau there were several detectives with notorious reputations for just making up entire affidavits. In their mind the end justified the means and accuracy on the affidavit was not important. Never mind the constitutional requirements against unreasonable searches or seizures to protect the public at large.
In 1979, a Portland narcotics officer, Dave Crowther, was famously shot and killed at the “club house” of the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle gang after attempting to serve a made-up search warrant. He and his police buddies tried to break down a door, brandishing a phony search warrant and he was killed for his trouble. I know that the search warrant was made up and so do many other former and retired cops who worked at the time because of the scuttlebutt we heard and due to my knowledge of how common writing up phony search warrants was during this time in Portland. Little has changed I believe. Some of these bad habits have held over in police circles even today. It’s simply too easy for a police officer to be deceptive on a search warrant affidavit and the lure to do so may be a compelling force if the officer convinces himself that he’s helping the cause of public safety.
In Korn’s article, defense attorney Bear Wilner-Nugent feels the district attorney, Rod Underhill, “may want to clean up the way police use informants.” It is clear Nugent understands the dangers of the police/informant relationship. As detailed in the article by Korn, this incestuous relationship between police and informants has become so bad the DA keeps a list of “informants it won’t use anymore.” This admission, that unreliable informants have been used and then discarded should make us wonder how many Oregonians have suffered the indignities of an unlawful arrest based on fiction and blatant deception.
I myself have suffered this type of harassment. The Portland Tribune newspaper published a story about what happened to me (August2, 2007) “Feds Strike Medical Pot Growers.”
Many years after leaving the police bureau in 1978, I became a Medical Marijuana patient and a skilled and legal grower for disabled folks and those contending with chronic pain, who desperately needed the relief medical marijuana provided them. After having my grow house burglarized in 2007, by a “confidential reliable informant,” DEA agent Mr. Matthew Petty later served a made-up search warrant on my premises, the following day. I was seventy-one-years old when this occurred and yet, I was handcuffed, and held at gunpoint. I was robbed of 135 of my legal plants, and further robbed of growing equipment and my personal firearms. They stole from me, one rifle and three pistols that I legally owned. The firearms were never returned to me. Ultimately realizing I was not breaking Oregon law, the DEA raiders left, leaving me to clean up their mess. I was never arrested.
Ninety days after that first raid, agent Matthew Petty returned with another false search warrant. When I asked him why he was there, Petty’s statement was very clear to me, when he said, with a smirk on his face, “It’s been 90 days; we figured you’d have another crop.” Unfortunately for Agent Matthew Perry, I was not growing any additional marijuana plants. I decided to take a break from the daily rigors of growing and was tired. I was seventy one and the stress of the lifestyle was getting to me. They would have known that I did not have “another crop,” had the warrant been legal, because they would have done the investigative work to determine what the truth was. The warrant was not legal. Matthew Perry had arranged the illegal and blatantly deceptive writing of a phony search warrant. Again I was not arrested or prosecuted.
Before DEA Agent, Matthew Petty left, because the bust had not been fruitful, they walked off with six bags of my legally purchased and legally owned Black Gold fertilizer. There would have been no reason to steal my Black Gold fertilizer. But steal it they did. Like common thugs and common thieves. You may wonder what they did with the fertilizer. My suspicion is they shared it with each other. Imagine a scenario like this…“Hey, Joe, I got some bags of fertilizer from that DuPay guy. Yeah, he didn’t have any weed on him this time, but we did get some really good fertilizer. Didn’t you tell me your wife has a rose garden?”
In my time as a police officer and detective I knew of police who stole money, stole drugs from the evidence room and stole other things. It’s part of the inherent risk of being a police officer and having all that power. To lie, steal and even cheat on affidavits.
Several years later, in early 2012, I once again suffered a bogus search warrant and arrest, by a Portland police officer. One morning, as I checked my mail, in my bare feet, I was accosted by one Dan DeMateo, a Portland police officer transplant from the Chicago Police Department. He arrested me on a bogus charge of discharging a firearm illegally in the city limits and endangering the public. DeMateo’s warrant against me was fabricated and the charges, bogus. The area I lived in at the time, 157th and Powell Blvd, was full of ex-convicts, and the mentally ill who had access to firearms, including a Samoan man, who threatened neighbors with a machete, was tased and then carted off to jail. A few months later, this same man discharged a weapon, a .9 mm Glock in front of his apartment complex, which was next door to where I lived. This man finally committed suicide in his mother’s bedroom a few months later.
Why did the Portland police want to arrest me? Because I was a medical marijuana supporter and at the time, had long hair and was known to have been a former police detective who left the force in disgust, resigning in 1978 because of chronic depression and a bleeding ulcer, all caused by my stressful and thankless work as a burglary and homicide detective. I epitomized the rebel image.
After the 2012 arrest by DeMateo and after several months of meetings with an excellent public defender (and numerous cancelled appointments by the court), we finally agreed on a trial by judge and arranged a date for that trial. I was never quite sure why DeMateo came after me in such a vicious manner, accosting me and throwing me in the back of a police car, but it demonstrates how little vetting of the affidavit was done by the district attorney. They had not done their research nor their homework. Circuit court judge Marilyn Litzenberger after two days of testimony by several confused and uncertain “witnesses” threw the case out of court, for “lack of evidence.”
Not mentioned in Korn’s article is the failure on the part of the issuing magistrate to question the officer requesting the search warrant on either the veracity of the alleged informant or the officer. Magistrates routinely rubber stamp search warrants and are thus entirely complicit in subsequent police wrong-doing that occurs after the fact. It is indeed time to closely scrutinize the police, and the proper use of informants, along with the judges who are ultimately responsible for what happens when phony search warrants are made up and issued against innocent people.
By Don DuPay
more at: http://www.Theportlandalliance.org/dupay