Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2012
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2012 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Did Cop's Use of Informant Lead to Her Death?

This is an ugly story.

It's tragic and damning of the War on Drugs. The story seems like the 
plot of a television detective series such as The Closer or Law and 
Order but it is sadly a true tale of law and disorder. Michelle 
"Shelley" Hilliard went missing in the early hours of Oct. 23. Nearly 
three weeks later, her burned, dismembered body was found near I-94 
on Detroit's east side. Once the body was identified, the killing was 
at first considered a hate crime because Hilliard was transgendered 
and there had been a recent trend of attacks against gays where 
burning was involved.

However, in the weeks that followed, a different scenario emerged.

According to news reports, on Oct. 20, the 19-year-old Hilliard was 
busted with a small amount of marijuana in Madison Heights. As often 
happens in cases like this, Oakland County Drug Task Force officers 
made an offer of some type of leniency if Hilliard helped them reel 
in a bigger fish.

Hilliard apparently agreed to help set up a sting against Qasim 
Raqib. She allegedly told Raqib she knew someone who wanted to buy 
$335 worth of cocaine and marijuana.

They set up a meeting at the Motel 6 in Madison Heights; police 
arrested Raqib during a traffic stop on his way there. He made bail 
and was freed several hours after the arrest. Reports say a cab 
driver who regularly drove Hilliard around dropped her off on 
Longfellow in Detroit at 1:20 a.m on Oct. 23. Hilliard, apparently 
apprehensive about the situation she was entering, kept a cell phone 
connection open with the cabbie.

When the driver heard a shout and sounds of a struggle on the phone, 
he went back to the address but didn't see anyone.

A few weeks later Hilliard's body was found, and Raqib, whose home is 
nearby, was soon arrested and charged with murder.

"This is nothing new to what we do, and we've had people hurt in 
past," says Maj. Neil Franklin, a 30-year retired Maryland police 
officer and executive director of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition, a group of current and former law enforcement officers 
trying to end the War on Drugs. "When we 'spin' someone to introduce 
us to a dealer or what have you, despite the dangers, not only do we 
not appropriately move in general to protect these people, we don't 
have the resources or the means to. Here we are pressuring people to 
do this sort of thing in the War on Drugs; it's counterproductive to 
public safety. ...

"That's what we do. That's just another travesty of prohibition laws. 
This isn't a scenario that we would have in an environment of 
regulation and control." Police use the term "spin" for the process 
of turning someone busted for a crime into an informant.

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe, who works with the drug 
unit, says that Hilliard set up one deal for them and went back to 
her drugging ways. He also says that department protocols were such 
that there is no way Raqib could have known that Hilliard was the informant.

He admits, though, Raqib may have speculated that Hilliard snitched.

 From the beginning of alcohol and drug prohibition it has been shown 
that people want to use those substances and, given the opportunity, 
will. And because prohibition makes those markets very lucrative, 
plenty of people are willing to be suppliers.

Many of those providers are also willing to intimidate, fight and 
kill to maintain their profits from the local street corner to 
international cartels.

Using low-level users as informants is yet another danger created by 
the drug war for a victimless crime of possession or use. Many others 
have been killed because they cooperated with police in the effort to 
keep themselves out of jail.

One such case is that of Rachael Hoffman, a 23-year-old Florida State 
University graduate.

Hoffman was arrested in February 2007 in Tallahassee, Fla., after she 
was found to be in possession of 25 grams of marijuana during a 
traffic stop. Police later found about five ounces of marijuana and 
four ecstasy pills at her apartment.

Police pressured her into cooperating in a sting to buy 1,500 tablets 
of ecstasy, two ounces of cocaine and a handgun for $13,000. The two 
targets of the sting changed the location of the buy, Hoffman went 
with them, and police lost track of where they were. Hoffman was 
murdered with the gun she was supposed to buy.

She had not been trained in undercover work and public outcry 
following the murder led to Rachael's Law being passed by the Florida 
State Senate in 2009. The statute established a number of 
requirements for police using confidential informants. Hoffman's 
parents sued the city of Tallahassee for wrongful death and were 
awarded $2.6 million in January, although payment of the award has 
yet to be approved by the state Legislature.

"We know we can't protect these people, yet we put them in these 
situations," Franklin says. "This is an area that doesn't get talked 
about much. There are a couple of cases that have made it to the news 
in the past, but you don't hear about them often. ... Many times, too 
often, we don't lay it out in detail as to what the dangers are. I 
would believe that they put the fear of God into this young lady 
[Hilliard] as to what would happen to her if she didn't help them 
out. Over and over again, police hear about cases such as hers that 
involve death.

There are many cases that don't end up in homicide - serious assaults 
or beat-downs. They're just another harmful side effect of our 
policies of prohibition." These kinds of things are still happening.

People are getting arrested for marijuana possession, even those with 
medical marijuana cards, and police will surely put on the pressure 
to "spin" them with the old "help us help you" phrase.

Unfortunately, police won't be able to protect their helpers in any 
meaningful way - creating further casualties in a meaningless war. 
Reports from the Gaylord area indicate that Michigan State Police are 
arresting so-called marijuana traffickers on I-75 at an alarming 
rate. A news website,, reports that arrests are up 
this year as compared to last year 87 to 25. The article quoted a 
state policeman saying that those arrested are carrying medical 
marijuana cards but they are carrying too much marijuana. "It's 
become a real problem," he said.

At the same time, some individuals who have been stopped and searched 
in the area have reported through a listserv on medical marijuana 
issues that police seem to be checking names off a list and that 
non-uniformed officers are taking part in the traffic stops and searches.

If indeed police have lists of names they're checking, I wonder where 
they got them. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act specifically 
forbids the state to turn names of cardholders over to police.
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