Pubdate: Thu, 13 Mar 2014
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2014 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Jonathan M. Alexander


DURHAM -- A coalition presented evidence Wednesday that it says shows 
Durham police paid informants extra money for convictions in criminal 
cases without telling defense attorneys or the district attorney's 
office. The FADE (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement) coalition 
says the documents support its claims of racial profiling by the 
Durham Police Department's drug enforcement officers; all the 
suspects in the cases were black or Hispanic.

Ian Mance, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, 
said the documents indicating $300 paid to informants as a "bonus" 
for convictions and/or testimony show the department participated in 
unconstitutional conduct.

The payments took place between 2009 and 2012. "The Durham Police 
Department has a lot of explaining to do," Mance said. "The documents 
show unambiguously that drug enforcement officers made undisclosed 
deals with street informants to pay cash bonuses that were contingent 
on the effectiveness of their cooperation in securing a conviction. 
If someone active in your case had a financial interest in seeing you 
go to jail, wouldn't you want to know about it?" Defense attorney 
David Hall said a conviction bonus could influence testimony, which 
could incriminate the defendant.

He said it violates the right to a fair trial if the state does not 
disclose all evidence to the defense. "It goes to the heart of 
veracity or truthfulness of the witness," Hall said. "Without full 
disclosure, the defendant may enter into a plea or give up that right 
to cross examine that witness.

The problem with undisclosed payments and pleas is that the payment 
arrangement should be part of the discovery provided to defense 
attorneys when advising their clients about their case. This 
information could be the determining factor between a plea and a trial.

"The withholding of this information is criminal," he said. The 
Police Department denied those allegations in a statement Thursday. 
"The Durham Police Department denies any unethical or illegal 
activity as it relates to the paying of bonuses to confidential 
informants," the statement said. "The police department has never 
paid for convictions, only cooperation through case completion.

"However," the statement continued, "we are asking our police 
attorney to review our practices, and we will be in discussion with 
the district attorney's office to ensure that there are no procedural 
or legal issues in how we handle informants and their payment."

FADE members said the district attorney's office was unaware of the 
money paid to confidential informants.

"If we had that information or known it existed we would have 
provided it to the defendant in discovery," Roger Echols, Durham 
assistant district attorney, told Mance, according to a FADE news 
release. Efforts to reach the district attorney's office for direct 
comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

In an email to Jon Peter, chief of police for Investigative Services 
Bureau, Capt. Todd Rose, of the Special Operations Division, said a 
confidential informant could qualify for a bonus if a defendant was 
charged with selling large quantities of illegal drugs obtained by 
the department. The informant gets paid the bonus regardless of the 
case outcome, though payment sometimes is not made until the end of 
trial, in case the informant's testimony is needed in court.

In four of the eight expenditure forms FADE released Wednesday, the 
officer listed the $300 payment as "Bonus for conviction/testimony." 
But Rose said the investigator used "conviction" to let his 
supervisor know the final disposition of the cases and that bonus was 
the wrong word. He also said all of the defendants entered a plea 
agreement. "In hindsight, the word 'conviction' should not have been 
used on the form," Rose wrote to Peter. "The CI (confidential 
informant) was paid the bonus for a trafficking-level case, not the conviction
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