TALLAHASSEE -- The mayor of Tallahassee and the Florida head of the American Civil Liberties Union called for independent investigations Monday after accusations that a 23-year-old woman should not have been used as a police informant on a dangerous drug bust.
Rachel Hoffman's body was found Friday in rural Taylor County, two days after she went missing. Hoffman, who was facing several felony charges, was working with narcotics officers and posing as a buyer.
Police said Hoffman didn't follow protocol when she left with the two men who are now suspects in her disappearance and death. Hoffman's family and lawyer says the recent Florida State University graduate should never have been placed in such a dangerous position to begin with.
Dennis Fitzgerald, a retired Drug Enforcement Agency officer, said police badly botched the case and should have sent an undercover officer to accompany Hoffman.
"If they could do it wrong, they did it in this case," said Fitzgerald, author of "Informants and Undercover Investigations: A Practical Guide to Law, Policy, and Procedure."
He also said police should have been able to keep track of Hoffman even if the planned meeting moved.
Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones said he's confident officers followed department procedures, and that normally those protocols protect informants.
It was Hoffman who didn't do what she was supposed to, police say.
Police said they found Ecstasy pills and "high-grade" marijuana when they raided her apartment last week. Police haven't said what she was promised in return, but that Hoffman agreed to become an informant and help them reel in a bigger fish.
"All indications were she would be a very good choice as a confidential informant, she would follow directions and there would be no issues," Tallahassee police spokesman David McCranie said Monday.
But police say at the last minute, she changed the location of the meeting with the two men, Andrea J. Green and Deneilo Bradshaw, in a Tallahassee-area park to buy drugs and a gun from them as part of a sting. McCranie said Hoffman led police to the two men, not the other way around.
The police officer handling the case pleaded with her to call off the meeting, McCranie said.
"For whatever reason she did not call it off," McCranie said. "And that ultimately led to her murder."
Green and Bradshaw are in custody, and charged with kidnapping Hoffman. McCranie said Monday that murder charges were pending. It wasn't clear Monday whether either Green or Bradshaw had hired a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Hoffman's family was preparing for a funeral today in the Tampa Bay suburb of Palm Harbor.
They're furious that police allowed their daughter to get into such a dangerous situation.
Hoffman's stepfather, Mike Weiss, told The Tampa Tribune Monday that police should stop falling back on what Hoffman did because she shouldn't have been put in the position in the first place.
"They took a 23-year-old relatively naive person and put her in a life-threatening situation," Weiss told the newspaper.
Michael Grimes, a federal drug enforcement agent for nearly 30 years and author of "A Guide for Developing and Controlling Informants," said that undercover drug operations are never completely safe.
But generally, he said, if something goes wrong, it's because an informant messes up, or police don't clearly explain beforehand exactly what they're supposed to do.
ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon said her death "raises all sorts of serious questions about the use of undercover informants," Simon said. "This just screams for an investigation."
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Pubdate: Tue, 13 May 2008
Source: Ledger, The (Lakeland, FL)
Copyright: 2008 The Ledger
Author: David Royse, The Associated Press