Students on the Oxford, MS campus of Ole Miss are reportedly being threatened
with physical violence, and the prospect of spending their adult lives in prison, by agents working for a local drug task force.
Buzzfeed's Albert Samaha, who has written extensively on this subject, got his hands on 20 minutes of audio where members of the Lafayette County Metro Narcotics unit can be heard "intimidating suspects and exaggerating the potential legal consequences they could face" in an effort to get them to agree to join their ranks of confidential informants (CIs). These tactics, commonly used on college students who are frequently first-time offenders implicated in low-level drug crimes, are the modus operandi of Metro Narcotics, so much so that "in Oxford, the use of CIs is so prevalent that it has created an atmosphere of paranoia."
In this case, a female college student at the University of Mississippi was approached by a classmate who asked her to sell a few pills of adderall (for which she had a prescription). The classmate was an informant working for Metro Narcotics, and the student was soon brought in for questioning. Her boyfriend joined her at the meeting with the agents, secretly recording the goings-on with his cell phone.
The meeting started on a contentious note, with one of the agents accusing the boyfriend of making a threatening phone call to the department the day before. The boyfriend denied making any such call, to which the agent replied, "I don't give a fuck where you at — I'll turn this shit in and I'll come beat the fuck out of you."
Later in the meeting, the boyfriend offered to possibly work as a CI in place of his girlfriend, who was pregnant with their child. The agents seemed game to allow this, even though the boyfriend told them that he doesn't even use drugs recreationally and that his social network around the town was aware of that fact.
The agents suggested he make some new contacts among the town's drug-dealing class, approaching them on the pretense that he was looking to get into selling drugs to make some extra income. As reported in Buzzfeed:
He also asked what consequences his girlfriend faced if they didn't take the deal. The man identified as Davis told him she would be charged with sale of a controlled substance, for a schedule two drug.
"It's about a 30 year charge, that's what it means — maximum penalty," the agent said. "But since you're a first time offender, I seriously doubt you will get maximum penalty."
UPDATE: Minutes after I published this post, Buzzfeed reported that Captain Keith Davis, lead officer of Metro Narcotics, resigned his position last week. Davis said "nine years was enough" and denied any link between the recent media scrutiny on he and his unit and his decision to quit.
Once again, Albert Samaha is on the case:
But according to one local source with ties to the law enforcement community, the University of Mississippi had pressured Davis to step down in response to an April BuzzFeed News investigation that revealed the drug unit's tactics in pressuring college students to turn informant. The university provides $100,000 of the unit's $425,000 annual budget.
"His quotes in there had this cavalier attitude that caused a response from the university and the university wanted to see some change in the way they have done things in the past," the source said. "He didn't care about that and so they were going to allow him to move jobs and try to get somebody in there who is more open to changing the way they have done things in the past. His resignation was just fallout from somebody calling them out on what they were doing."
College students who have never previously been involved with the criminal justice system can become understandably flustered when threatened with prison, and presented with an under-the-table option that is deliberately depicted as their only way out. Many are so bewildered by the situation that they don't tell their parents of their predicament or even ask for a lawyer.
Drug cops bullying young people into becoming CIs has had tragic consequences, notably in the case of Rachel Hoffman, who was murdered after police compelled her to make a gun purchase.
Earlier this year, I reported on the case of Andew Sadek, a 20 year-old North Dakota college student who was threatened by a local drug task force with 40 years in prison unless he agreed to work as a CI. When he turned up dead in a river with a bullet in his head, wearing a backpack filled with rocks, the same agencies that busted him didn't even bother investigating his death as a potential murder.