Botched Sting: Killed With Gun She Was Supposed to Buy

Alone with no training, a young woman dies when sting falls apart.

July 25, 2008— -- No training. A botched drug sting. A dead 23-year-old college graduate.

But authorities in Tallahassee, Fla., have yet to take any action against the police responsible for an undercover operation that led to the death of Rachel Hoffman, a recent graduate of Florida State University.

Police Chief Dennis Jones, interviewed for tonight's 20/20 broadcast, says he does not accept that his department is in any way responsible for the death of the young woman.

"Do we feel responsible? We're responsible for the safety of this community," Jones said, labeling Hoffman a "criminal" because she was caught twice with a baggie of marijuana.

"People we use as confidential informants are people that are familiar with the drug trade," the police chief said.

In the case of Hoffman, her friends say she refused to inform on friends who smoked grass.

Instead, say the friends, police pushed Hoffman to work undercover against two men considered much bigger in the drug scene, and to try to buy a gun. A transaction involving a gun can bring much more serious charges.

Former FBI agent Brad Garrett, an ABC News consultant, says it made no sense to use an inexperienced person like Rachel for a gun deal.

"You have her make the phone call, you have the bad guys come into the picture and you never have her go to them," said Garrett, a veteran of scores of such undercover deals.

"You arrest them in the park and she's never exposed to the gun or the dope," said Garrett.

In the Hoffman case, police sent her out alone, with only one or two officers trailing her.

The chief concedes she had not received any training as a confidential informant, or CI, before the dangerous mission.

"As far as the training she receives, as far as training for, as a CI, we don't provide training for CIs," Jones told 20/20.

After the suspects twice changed the location of the meeting place, police say they lost contact with the young woman.

Both her cell phone and her hidden microphone were apparently out of range, police say.

"It's beyond my imagination how the police lost them," said Garrett. "It's clear no one followed her, and once they lost her she was just on her own."

Chief Jones confirmed his men were not trailing her and did not have sight of her.

"My understanding is that there was not eyes on at that point," Jones said.

Garrett, who reviewed the operation for 20/20, said police should have aborted the sting once the location was changed, even if it blew the deal.

"Who cares if it blows the deal? It's all about safety. It's just a drug deal, that's all it is. There'll be one tomorrow," said Garrett.

Hoffman's body was not found until two days later, with multiple gun shot wounds traced to the gun she was supposed to have bought.

The Florida attorney general's office says it is reviewing the handling of the case by the Tallahassee Police Department.

Jones says his department is continuing its own internal investigation, but at this point he sees no reason to take any disciplinary action against any of his officers.