Confidential Informants: Inherently Trustworthy Until They're Not

from the all-logic-and-consistency-must-be-ignored dept

The Tampa Police Department has suddenly been put in a very uncomfortable situation. On May 27, officers executed a raid on an alleged drug dealer. By the time it was done, one suspect had been killed by the SWAT team and only $2 worth of marijuana — 0.2 grams — had been recovered.

It was a righteous kill. Letting themselves in through an unlocked door after no one answered their knock, the SWAT team came across Jason Westcott in his bedroom. Westcott had a gun (a legally-owned one) which he raised when the cops came crashing through the door. He was shot multiple times. Open/shut. Officers in danger, suspect with weapon, etc.

The problem is Jason Westcott was no drug dealer. The miniscule amount of drugs recovered should have made that apparent. Of course, this was all after the fact. The house had already been raided and Westcott was already dead.

The confidential informant that tipped to the cops to Westcott’s “drug dealing” outed himself after hearing about Westcott’s death. Ryan “Bodie” Coogle approached the Tampa Bay Times to tell his story, apparently feeling responsible for Westcott being killed. He told the paper the “tip” he passed on to the Tampa PD was a lie. In fact, many of the tips he had passed on were lies.

A 50-year-old felon and drug addict, Coogle was the principal Tampa Police Department informer against at least five suspects this year. He conducted nine undercover operations. In their probable-cause affidavits, his handlers called him reliable. Even Tampa’s police chief praised his “track record.”

Coogle said they were all wrong. He said he repeatedly lied about suspects, stole drugs he bought on the public’s dime and conspired to falsify drug deals.

Coogle’s statements indicate he set the whole thing up to appease his handlers. Westcott was no dealer. He sold a bit here and there to friends but that wasn’t enough for the PD, which was looking for high-profile busts. So, he cooked up a story about Westcott and a New York heroin connection. That he was unable to purchase any heroin from the non-dealer was of little concern to the police.

Coogle pointed out this was hardly unusual behavior. Other cases saw him falsifying the amount purchased to help officers justify the use of manpower. And everything Coogle offered was used in affidavits to secure search warrants, which were then deployed to bust dealers who weren’t dealers.

Now, Coogle very definitely should not be trusted. He asserts that he routinely lied to the police but now is telling nothing but the truth when he discusses his prior lies. Other statements from those who have interacted with Coogle portray him as pathological.

And yet, the Tampa PD trusted him. It built cases using his depictions of drug purchases. Coogle was never made to wear a wire. Everything he told police was hearsay. But it was “truthful” enough. The cops trusted Coogle because he gave the cops what they wanted. They found him completely credible… right up until they didn’t.

A CI turning on his handlers is unusual. And there’s really no way for the department that portrayed him as a trustworthy source to distance itself without looking thoroughly hypocritical. But departments do it anyway, because the reputation of police officers is easily repaired, especially when it’s continually patched by public deference, good faith exceptions and the ever-present benefit of a doubt. If a CI turns, he’s swiftly burned to the ground.

The police playbook is simple, [Scott] Greenfield said: Disavow the snitch. He said cops typically prevail because of informers’ endemic credibility problems, even when the spectacle of officers attacking their own snitches’ truthfulness looks incongruous.

“These are the same guys who are so very truthful that we put other people in life-threatening situations based on what they say,” Greenfield said, describing the typical police response. “When the snitch turns, they’re a pathological liar and we shouldn’t pay attention.”

The Tampa PD followed the playbook completely. This CI, who was so instrumental in previous drug cases thanks to his “honest” undercover work, is suddenly a pathological liar who just now began lying pathologically.

In an interview with the Times several weeks after Coogle met with federal investigators, Castor and her chief spokeswoman, McElroy, savaged the credibility of their one-time “reliable informant.” But only to a point.

They said they still believed the information he had fed to narcotics detectives about Westcott. They said it was only his recantation and accusations against his handlers that were untrue.

“You really think that this guy is in a position to question the integrity of police officers?” McElroy said. “A C.I.? Really? I mean, come on, C.I.’s are not upstanding citizens. It’s a joke.”

And yet, the police had no problem granting this non-upstanding citizen credibility when it was useful to them.

When can CI’s no longer be trusted? Well, it’s apparently when their lies no longer aid the officers they work for. Cue cop spokesperson statement comprised of hubris, obtuseness and hypocrisy.

“A C.I. is credible, and their information is verifiable, until they no longer are,” McElroy said.

Astounding. Honest when useful. Dishonest when not. If the PD wants to treat Coogle as though he were the most honest man who ever snitched right up until he started talking to the local newspaper, fine. But it should be willing to open up the files of every investigation completed with his assistance to the public — especially those convicted using information provided by Coogle.

The department resolutely maintains its dissonant stance on Coogle’s honesty. Despite predicating the raid on Coogle’s apparently bogus assertions that Jason Westcott not only sold heroin but carried a gun at all times, the department still claims the results — 0.2 grams of pot and a legally-purchased handgun — confirm every wild claim Coogle made.

The Tampa PD refuses to discuss Coogle or his statements any further. He’s now just a self-serving liar, something he apparently wasn’t during the years he spent turning in alleged dealers in exchange for money or get-out-of-jail-free cards. This has been the problem with CI programs for years: people normally considered by cops to be inveterate liars who would sell out their own mothers to stay out of jail are suddenly treated as truth personified when passing tips and performing drug buys for investigators. And when the whole facade collapses, law enforcement agencies just walk away from the informant and the collateral damage, never once appearing concerned that their CI programs are reliant on the least-reliable members of society.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Confidential Informants: Inherently Trustworthy Until They're Not”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: “Westcott had a gun (a legally-owned one) which he raised...”

Maybe yes, maybe no. Based on stories I have read about how poorly most SWAT teams behave, I find it not the least bit surprising that the deceased reacted as he did. I, for one, am sympathetic to the deceased, since he was murdered by police over lies from a criminal informant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: How do we know he pointed a gun at them?

Way to completely miss the point. Who’s to say he ever touched his gun in the presence of the cops? Much less pointed it at them?

Dead men tell no tales, so the only ones saying he pointed a gun at them are the cops who shot him dead. They’ll have to justify that killing, so they have a powerful incentive to “remember” him pointing the gun at them. It wouldn’t do to admit for example, that he had his gun on his nightstand, and some cop shot him because he thought he was going for it. Or he had his gun in his hand, but his hands were in the air and some cop shot him as he tried to obey a command to put the gun down.

Or to put it more simply, how do we know the cops didn’t just shoot him in error, or in cold blood, and blatantly lie about it to protect themselves? We don’t. It would not be the first time that’s happened, especially in recent times where the odds of someone recording the encounter and it contradicting the cops account is much greater.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: “Westcott had a gun (a legally-owned one) which he raised...”

they will get far more than you think… lets put a gun in your hand and have “unkown” assailants busting in your door unexpected and see how you react.

I would be a juror that would acquit any citizen on trial for murder of an officer in a no knock/surprise raid inside their own home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: “Westcott had a gun (a legally-owned one) which he raised...”

Many years ago now, a women in a bad neighborhood in Chicago slept with a loaded double barrel shotgun. Some police executed a no-knock warrant and kicked in her bedroom door. She killed two and injured a couple more. The judge ruled it was self defense because the police were in the wrong apartment building. Their warrant was for the building across the street.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: “Westcott had a gun (a legally-owned one) which he raised...”

Since he thought he was being subject to a home invasion He deserves more sympathy than the police that broke into his home and pointed loaded weapons at him before they knew if he had a gun.

Or should people just wait and see if the thugs breaking into their home in the dead of night are state sanctioned thugs or run of the mill criminal thugs intent on murder and burglary. I am fairly certain people have a right to defend themselves in both situations. While the police have no right to gun someone down in their bed even if they have a gun until said person shoots at them. Even then in this situation opening fire at what you think is a home invasion is a normal logical reaction for the average person

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: “Westcott had a gun (a legally-owned one) which he raised...”

Or should people just wait and see if the thugs breaking into their home in the dead of night are state sanctioned thugs or run of the mill criminal thugs intent on murder and burglary.

More than one attempted home invasion caught on tape and submitted to youtube has run-of-the-mill criminal thugs approaching the house wearing jackets emboldened with “POLICE” on the back (as it is not very difficult to purchase these things online or at the cop shop.) I remember seeing one with a bunch of gang-bangers showing up in a stolen black sedan jumping out and approaching the house, then attempting to break a window to gain entry before being shot at by the homeowner and running back to the car, and another one in the dead of night where they approached the house and got shot at before they even reached the doorstep.

And I seem to remember, but can’t find, a newspaper article where two men and a women attempted a home invasion where one of the men was shot and killed, and the police arrived to find him wearing a makeshift police jacket. And there was the VA invasion where two men wore police jackets and the one in NC that involved shocking a baby with a stun gun.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Shame...

The only possible way I could see anything eventually improving that way is if so many cops are getting killed in raids that they decide to do them less often. However, it seems more likely they would alter their tactics. Like more use of flash-bangs and tear gas to give the police an even bigger tactical advantage in these raids.

Maybe a combination of flash-bangs, tear gas, and smoke grenades with the SWAT team equipped with thermal vision so they can see and nobody else can. Then they get to keep doing what they’re doing (and play with more cool toys) but the cops don’t get shot. So I think it would actually make things worse, not better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Shame...

I’m having a vision… a vision of SWAT future.

The police get an anonymous tip. Eight cops don body armor and head for — the paintball range. Meanwhile, the police chief contacts the local Department of Homeland Airstrikes and requests a Predator Hellfire attack on ‘people who are probably guilty of something, since an anonymous phone guy said so’.

The important thing? Every single cop made it home safe that night. Except Ted. He was killed by a paintball through the eye-socket into the brain when he took off his helmet to eat a cruller.

Anonymous Coward says:

Marijuana is the flame, heroin is the fuse, LSD is the bomb. So don’t you try to equate liquor with marijuana, mister, not with me. You may sell that jazz to another pothead but not to somebody who spends most of their time holding some sick kid’s head while he vomits and retches sitting on a curb stone at four o’clock in the morning. And when his knees get enough starch back in them so he can stand up and empty his pockets, you can bet he’ll turn out a stick or two of marijuana.

Joe Friday

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Here in Canada in the ’80s and ’90s, we had a bunch of high-profile cases where someone convicted with the help of jailhouse informants was later exonerated.

For example when police wanted a confession, a career criminal named Douglas Martin would be picked up. (He had over 100 convictions.) Charges would be dropped if he obtained a confession. Or they’d move him to the prison of his choice. Or they’d pay him, fix his car, put him up in a hotel, etc. They’d stick him in the same cell as the suspect, and in a few hours he’d walk out claiming that the suspect described the murder to him.

Martin earned the nickname “Father Confession”, racking up nine murder “confessions.” Even when police knew that he had made up the “confession” that put Thomas Sophonow through 20 years of hell, they still used him in other cases.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s a tip for any cops who happen to read this. When the conscience of a thieving drug addict objects to something so much he’ll give up an easy avenue for money and drugs to speak out against it, if your conscience doesn’t bother you equally or greater, you are the bad guy. You aren’t the good guy making tough choices to keep upstanding citizens and their kids safe. You are the bad guy who does things that make even veteran, hardened criminals blanch.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

CI Roulette

Wit the pressure to make showy cases, the police tend to overlook justice in pursuit of arrests. To them, credibility of the CI is irrelevant–so long as they can dress up that CI statement enough to make probable cause.

It’s like CI roulette. Got a suspicion on someone? Spin the CI wheel and see which one we can get to make enough of a statement for probable cause for a warrant.

At least there was a real CI in this case, pathetic as he is. A lot of times I suspect one officer calls the other from a phone on the street. I like to imagine them arguing over whose turn it is to be the informant.

Peter says:

“Letting themselves in through an unlocked door after no one answered their knock”

Hmmm. So they ‘knocked’ did they? What? Couldn’t they get a no knock warrent?

And then (presumably after a reasonable wait) tested the door to see if it was unlocked?

This, for a SWAT raid on a drug dealers house who LEFT HIS DOOR UNLOCKED.

Am i the only one seeing the story concocted by a pathalogical liar?

Beta (profile) says:

instructions for jurors

So just to review, we’ve seen recently that:

Police lie under oath.
Police officers who perjure themselves are rarely punished.
Police informants are often paid in drugs or reduced sentences, and will say anything their handlers want to hear.
Lab technicians in forensics labs are rewarded according to how much their results help the police, and can falsify results for years — even at an implausible rate — without being caught.
Police “drug-sniffing” dogs will “react” when their handlers want them to, and are not removed from service for false positives.
Warrants are often issued on the basis of all of the above.

If you find yourself on a jury, remember these facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: That's one thing we don't talk about when we talk about guns

Yes, they actually where…

Whether intentional or not, that is just exactly what they were designed to do. The idea is to be able to rush a suspect before they can dispose of contraband, but it is not just exactly any secret that a increasing everyone stress levels suddenly tends to lead to escalation when people begin to fear for their life.

Especially now that the police are looking more and more like random death squads instead of law enforcement agents, people will just see police and start to fear that the shoot first check suspect after mentality is more reality than not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ways that Jason Westcott could be alive today

This is by no means exhaustive, but:

– If the Criminal Informant had been honest with his handlers, they may not have pursued this raid. -OR-
– If the handlers had conducted an honest and fair assessment of the Criminal Informant’s past results, they may have doubted this allegation enough that they would seek more evidence. -OR-
– If the handlers had been honest with the judge about the Criminal Informant’s past results, the judge may have refused them the search warrant (at least until they came back with more reliable evidence). -OR-
– If the officers had staked out the home and detained Jason Westcott when he was easy to catch, instead of invading his home. -OR-
– If the intruders had adequately announced themselves before entering the room. -OR-
– If the intruders had waited to see whether Jason Westcott posed a true threat to the officers. This last one could go either way. As another poster points out, we have only the officer’s claims that the deceased was a threat to the officer. The Techdirt piece says “which he [the deceased] raised when the cops came crashing through the door…” This is ambiguous as to whether he raised it in the sense that he was already pointing at an officer and ready to fire when they shot him or if it merely means that the gun was in his hand and not resting on a table.

As far as I can see, the only ones blameless in this are the deceased, Jason Westcott, and possibly the judge, on the assumption that 1) the officers misled the judge, 2) the facts presented to the judge, if true, would have justified this assault, and 3) the judge reasonably expected the officers not to mislead the court.

Anonymous Coward says:

You are probably not going to be able to outgun a no knock warrant detail(which wasn’t the case here, since they did knock) since there will be quite a few officers involved in the raid. The woman in Chicago killed two and injured a couple more and she was left alive? That is hard to believe also, as once she fired the shotgun and killed officers, the typical response would be overwhelming use of firepower and force.

Truthfully, all you Internet Rambo’s should just stop.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Truthfully, all you Internet Rambo’s should just stop.

There’s a big difference between advocating that the homeowner ought to always fire on invading cops versus arguing that:

1) The cops have only themselves to blame for all injuries that occur, whether to officers, bystanders, or suspects, during these raids. The cops deliberately engaged in a high-risk assault that no one at the scene wanted or expected.
2) High-risk assaults, even when conducted successfully and with no injuries, have so little reward that they are not worth the danger to the public.
3) Homeowners surprised by intruders trespassing in a private area can reasonably be expected to respond with surprise, grab a weapon if one is available, and may well use force if they reasonably believe the intruder is a threat. This is so blatantly obvious that the cops should know better than to intentionally create this situation, yet we see story after story after story of cops intentionally creating exactly this situation, then blaming everyone except themselves for what happens.

Zonker says:

“You really think that this guy is in a position to question the integrity of police officers?” McElroy said. “A C.I.? Really? I mean, come on, C.I.’s are not upstanding citizens. It’s a joke.”

No, the police obviously ruin their own credibility when they rely on known pathological liars as “informants” to fraudulently obtain search warrants in the first place. McElroy himself admits that “C.I.’s are not upstanding citizens” and yet has no problem relying on the “information” they provide.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Coward Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...