From the floor of the House yesterday and in a phone call with Reason today, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) called for an end to the police practice of using non-violent, first-time offenders as confidential informants. He indicated that he intends to introduce legislative reforms.
Responding to a two-part 60 Minutes investigation on confidential informants which aired this past Sunday, the congressman said, "It's time for the Department of Justice to take a close look at how the behavior of confidential informants not only threatens to ruin young lives, but in some cases, end their lives."
Cohen specifically mentioned Andrew Sadek, a 20-year-old North Dakota college student who worked as a confidential informant for a drug task force and whose body was later pulled from a river, shot in the head and weighted down with rocks. Despite his dangerous work for the police and the manner in which his body was found, no law enforcement agency is investigating Sadek's death as a murder, and at least one officer suggested to his parents that Andrew had committed suicide.
Reason TV covered Sadek's story six months before CBS's flagship newsmagazine, which you can watch in its entirety at the bottom of this page.
Congressman Cohen told me in a phone interview that at a minimum, Miranda warnings should be given to potential confidential informants. Presently, many people agree to become confidential informants before they've been arrested, which absolves police officers from the legal responsibility to Mirandize suspects.
Cohen added that there should be limitations on the duties required of informants, as well as training requirements which could ensure that potential informants were capable of such work before they were placed in dangerous situations they couldn't handle. He specifically referenced Rachel Hoffman, the Florida college student who was murdered when police compelled her to make a gun purchase.
Long a critic of marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug, Cohen told me "we don't need to be arresting people wholesale for marijuana," and that he doesn't think marijuana offenders should be used as informants. He adds, "The public thinks [marijuana] is not worthy of prohibition by the government" and that drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin are much more appropriate targets of drug squads.
"It's all about the money. Drug agencies want more money, more confiscations, more toys to justify their existence," Cohen explains. "They've spent so many years drinking the Kool-Aid, thinking they're saving the world by stopping people from smoking marijuana. They need to understand their priorities, there are more harmful drugs than marijuana."
He is hopeful that there will be bipartisan support of both marijuana policy reform and his prospective legislation regarding confidential informants. On drug policy reform issues, Cohen says he used to not have many Republican allies, but that a substantial amount have grown "more bold and more libertarian."
While stressing that he does not intend to rush the legislation, Cohen expects to put forth a bill sometime in early 2016, at the latest.
Watch below for Reason TV's reporting on Andrew Sadek and the larger issue of confidential informants: