Snitches need protection from overzealous officers

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Posted 4/04/17 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

Most of us have watched some cop shows on TV.
Actually, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them.
And because we’ve watched them, we’re all pretty familiar with the idea of cops using snitches to help solve crimes.
Does it really happen in real life North Dakota?
Testimony at legislative hearings this session acknowledges that it does.
Those same legislative hearings have made it clear no one really knows how frequently confidential informants, as snitches are officially called, are used.
More importantly, there are no required standards, or training, for that matter, governing their use.
We know this because of Andrew Sadek.
He was a 20-year-old student at the State College of Science in Wahpeton when he got picked up in 2014 for selling small quantities of marijuana on campus.
Andrew didn’t know that people with first offenses like his usually get pretty light sentences, primarily probation.
So when a law enforcement officer told him he potentially faced years in prison, he was as frightened as any 20-year-old might be.
When the officer explained that he could help his cause by making two controlled buys to get evidence on others, he listened.
When the officer wasn’t satisfied with two buys, he pressured Andrew to make more.
He tried.
Then he went missing.
Two months later his body was found in the Red River, his backpack filled with rocks and a bullet hole in his head.
Last month, Tammy Sadek, Andrew’s mother, brushed back tears as she told legislators she believes her son was killed because he was a confidential informant.
She believes he was a confidential informant because law enforcement preyed upon his youthful indiscretion and subsequently pressured him to do their bidding.
Officially, investigators say they haven’t been able to determine whether Andrew’s death was a murder or a suicide.
But it seems unquestionable that he’d likely be alive today if it weren’t for law enforcement putting enough fear of God into him to convince him to turn snitch.
The story moved Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker enough that he drafted and introduced a bill to establish practices and guidelines for use of confidential informants, requiring that they be notified of their legal rights and requiring agencies to report on the prevalence of their use.
The House passed the bill 92-0.
On the Senate side, a long line of prosecutors and law enforcement officials proclaimed the bill to be cumbersome and an overreach.
The bill was completely rewritten, eliminating all the proposed standards and specifying only that standards be developed. No reporting would be required.
It passed the Senate 46-0.
Rarely do you see such complete disagreement between the House and Senate, especially on an issue that has no political ramifications.
The result will be a conference committee in which representatives of both houses try to iron out their differences.
How that plays out is anyone’s guess.
But as a state we owe it to the Sadek family and anyone else who might have a son or daughter who makes a mistake, to be sure that law enforcement doesn’t convert that mistake to life and death.
It should include reporting requirements so citizens can have the ability to understand and evaluate how they’re being represented by public employees.
Too often laws are made because one situation shines light on a potential problem.
This is one of those times, because who, after all, wants to lose another 20-year-old?