A Dangerous Time for Teen Drug Informants

Parents say police are using their kids to collar drug dealers, then leaving them to die.

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Between police and drug dealers, the war on drugs continues, and often it's the informants who are walking the deadliest path. According to a New Yorker investigative piece, police are increasingly using young untrained men and women to tangle with high-level dealers. For some of the families of informants who have died at the hands of criminals, it's time to take legal action against their local law enforcement.

Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, occasionally as young as fourteen or fifteen. Some operate through the haze of addiction; others, like Hoffman, are enrolled in state-mandated treatment programs that prohibit their association with illegal drugs of any kind. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used without regard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.

The recruitment of young informants often involves risks that are incommensurate with the charges that they are facing. And the costs of coöperating can be high. A case that has dragged on for years in the courts involved LeBron Gaither, a sixteen-year-old student at a public high school in Lebanon, Kentucky. One afternoon, Gaither, who, according to his family, was generally mild-mannered, had an outburst in which he punched the school's assistant principal in the jaw. He was taken into custody for juvenile assault. An officer from the Kentucky State Police came to see him, and told him that he could face a prison term or he could agree to become a local drug informant.

“Our mom had a drug problem,” his older brother Shawn, who subsequently became a corrections officer, recalled. “I think LeBron wanted Mom to be off drugs so bad that when they approached him he saw it as an opportunity to go after the guys who were selling her drugs.” Gaither signed the paperwork, and soon found himself performing undercover drug stings in two counties.

Read more at the New Yorker.

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