From Informant’s Death, New Protections Likely

By Justin Rood

May 1, 2009 11:07am

Florida may soon impose new restrictions on how police use confidential informants, after the tragic death of a young female CI last year in a botched undercover operation. On Thursday, the Florida State Senate passed “Rachel’s Law,” a bill that would tighten up rules on how the state's police recruit and use confidential informants. Without providing new legal protections to the informants themselves, the bill would require Florida law enforcement agencies to draft up new policies on how they recruit and use CIs, including weighing factors like the potential CI’s age and maturity. The bill is named after Rachel Hoffman, the 23-year-old woman who died last year in a botched sting orchestrated by the Tallahassee Police Department.  Officials there had convinced Hoffman to act as a confidential informant and participate in an undercover buy-bust operation, in order to avoid prosecution on a marijuana possession charge. Hoffman’s story was featured on 20/20 last July. (Watch the report here.) In the aftermath of her death, Hoffman’s parents pushed for changes to state law to protect other potential confidential informants from meeting the same fate as their daughter. “Today is a very bittersweet day, a small triumph,” Irv Hoffman, Rachel’s father, said by phone Thursday. The bill already passed the Florida House of Representatives. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Charlie Crist to become law.  Crist’s office did not respond to an inquiry Thursday. In a remarkable turnaround, the Tallahassee Police Chief who was ultimately responsible for the botched sting that led to Hoffman’s death came out in support of Rachel’s Law last September. "We need to do a better job with this," Chief Dennis Jones said. In an interview with ABC News two months before, Jones appeared unapologetic about Hoffman’s death. "Do we feel responsible? We're responsible for the safety of this community," he said then. After the ABC story ran, two official investigations found Jones’ department broke many rules in handling Hoffman.  The lead investigator in the case was fired and several officers were disciplined. Jones was formally reprimanded, but was allowed to keep his job. Rachel’s family is suing Jones’ department over Rachel’s death. The family’s attorney, Lance Block, confirmed Thursday that the suit was active and moving forward.

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