Oxford Community Officials Respond
In a CBS 60 Minutes segment on Sunday, December 6, correspondent Lesley Stahl brought national attention to narcotics units’ controversial use of college-aged students as confidential informants (CI). The Lafayette County Metro Narcotics unit was mentioned in the 60 Minutes‘ coverage as seen on CBSNews.com.
Whether or not University and Lafayette County law enforcement officials actually use entrapment as a means of arresting and convicting drug offenders is debatable, but is now most certainly on the national conscience.
In an effort the keep the lines of communication open between law enforcement officials, the press and the public; and so that a total understanding of Lafayette County’s involvement in the C.I. program is understood, Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson has scheduled a discussion for Tuesday, Dec. 8, between himself, several press outlets including HottyToddy.com, Ward II Alderman Robyn Tannehill and Oxford Chief of Police Joey East.
Mayor Pat Patterson said, “There are things in the CBS report that concern us but there are two sides to every story. We will be meeting with representative of the press, including HottyToddy.com, tomorrow at 2 p.m. to more fully discuss the 60 Minutes report.”
According to Oxford Chief of Police Joey East, there are two sides to every story and the public received only one in yesterday’s broadcast.
“The 60 Minutes broadcast last night didn’t depict what we do in this county at all,” East said. “I believe they were false in some of their statements and the way they led viewers to believe that we recruit individuals for the program. I can’t speak for every single incident and arrest, but I’m confident that that’s not the way we conduct our business.”
“They seemed to try to lead the viewers to believe that this is a college campus crusade, one where we are targeting only college students. That’s not accurate,” East said. “We’re here to enforce drug laws in this city and we don’t distinguish between a college-age student or an older adult who can’t afford college.”
“That’s not how we do business at all, and it never has been,” he added.
“The best way to avoid this situation, is to keep clean and don’t break the drug laws,” East said. “It’s that simple.”
60 Minutes Looks Into the Practice of Using College-Aged Confidential Informants
Recruitment into the program to avoid jail time is voluntary, but according to the 60 Minutes feature, the C.I. option is one that many students find impossible to refuse when given the alternative choice – jail time.
In an effort to produce greater numbers of drug charges and offenders – thereby generating more money via grants for the department – C.I. programs are abundant across the country. Students who find themselves unfortunate enough to be on the negative end of a drug charge are sometimes given a choice; become an informant for the task force or go to jail – for a long time.
According to 60 Minutes, there could be as many as 100,000 confidential informants working with police across the country and many of these informants’ families have no idea that they are involved. In fact, in the case of Metro Narcotics, students were prohibited from telling their parents of their involvement. The price for breaking this rule; jail.
Legally, law enforcement officials cannot notify the students’ parents if he or she is over the age of 18. Offenders younger than 18 are simply sentenced to a drug court program where, after successful completion, likely have the charges reduced or totally expunged from their record.
A former UM official who asked not to be identified told HottyToddy.com this morning that the practice is one that has been maintained at the University of Mississippi and Lafayette County for many years.
Lance Block, a Tallahassee, Florida attorney who opposes using young people caught for relatively minor offenses as confidential informants, said during the 60 Minute segment; “They’re being told they’re looking at prison time unless they agree to do deals for the police department. These kids are being recruited to do the most dangerous type of police work. They’re going undercover, with no background, training or experience,” he said.
When Stahl and 60 Minutes asked one unidentified college student whether he was pressured into becoming a C.I., he stated, “I felt like I had a gun to my head.”
‘We’re Not Catching Criminals, We’re Creating Criminals’
Enter Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi.
Individual police departments across the country set and use their own recruitment standards and, ultimately, the policies on how to use its informants.
According to 60 Minutes, “critics say this has resulted in overly-aggressive recruitment tactics that has traumatized and even caused suicide in some situations.”
These aggressive tactics were clearly on display Sunday night as 60 Minutes disclosed video they had obtained of Metro Narcotics’ former head identified as Keith Davis, arguably threatening the life of a C.I. participant. Additionally, the video showed a narcotics officer threatening to “beat the ‘f***’” out of the same C.I.
According to 60 Minutes, the C.I. program seems to create situations where C.I. students are given incentives to entrap other kids.
As an example of UM’s involvement in the C.I program, “Greg” (the unidentified UM student) was, according to him, falsely arrested by Lafayette County’s Metro Narcotics and then given the choice of going to prison for more than 20 years or participating in the C.I. program by wearing a wire and buying drugs from 10 dealers – all of whom he had to find and set up himself. The random number of 10 set by Metro Narcotics was felt to be a “virtually impossible” number to reach.
Asked by Stahl if he knew 10 people from whom he could buy drugs, Greg said, “Absolutely not. But you don’t care at the time, when you sign it (the Metro Narcotic’s offer). It just made me sick, but what made me more sick was the thought of spending 20 years in prison.”
With the additional pressure of buying drugs from 10 dealers (as in this example), students find that they have little choice but to set up roommates, frat brothers … anyone. “It creates a perverse incentive for kids to entice other kids to break the law,” local attorney Ken Coghlan said in the 60 Minutes segment.
Coghlan is a defense attorney in Oxford who has represented several UM students who became confidential informants. According to him, if a student approaches another student to buy weed from his personal stash, for example, and tapes the interaction – “That’s entrapment and that’s not allowed under the law.”
In other words, the student who is asked to sell weed from his personal stash, initially “is only guilty of possession – a misdemeanor under Mississippi law; but if he says yes and sells a little to his buddy, he’s now become a dealer – a felon, facing possible prison time,” according to Coghlan.
It was pointed out in the segment that drug enforcement officers do not necessarily suggest that the kids go out and set up their friends and acquaintances but rather it’s simply what most of them do to meet the “virtually impossible” standards set by Metro Narcotics.
“They (police agencies) want to drive up their arrest numbers,” Block said. “And it doesn’t matter whether they’re going after a college kid with a couple of joints in his pocket, or whether they’re going after a drug kingpin.”
“The university does not have a statement in response to the ’60 Minutes’ report,” a representative from University Communications at UM said.
The more arrests, the more money
Funding and grant money for drug task forces are directly related to the number of drug arrests made by individual police departments. Metro Narcotics received nearly $55,000 in federal grants last year, according to 60 Minutes. This amount along with the university’s, the city police and the county sheriff department’s assistance of $100,00 each keeps the task force in operation.
As for its part, the University feels as if it is “caught in the middle,” according to the unnamed university official. Although they support the program with its $100,000 annual donation, UM has very little to do with day-to-day activities or the indoctrination of the task force.
The University of Mississippi cooperated with 60 Minutes during its initial investigation for the feature by offering a note of thanks to the news program. It read: “Thank you for your part in encouraging a deeper look at the Metro Narcotics Unit. Because of ‘increased attention’ – attention from 60 Minutes and the news organization BuzzFeed – changes are being made, including; more direct oversight of the program, an audit of the program by a third-party organization, policies to ensure suspects fully understand they have a choice in whether to become a confidential informant and a change in its leadership.”
Davis resigned from the task force in September and is now working in the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department.
HottyToddy.com will update its readers regarding Lafayette County’s C.I. program after that meeting.
Jeff McVay is a staff writer and graphic designer for Hottytoddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org