ABC News reports that a 61 year old Black man died after police raided the wrong house in Lebanon, TN after they had obtained wrong information from an informant. A 61 year old man, John Adams, is a casualty in a war on drugs that is reliant on a system in which informants name alleged drug users to police in return for reward or reduced sentences.
The ABC News story indicates the two officers involved were placed on administrative leave with pay. Police officers are routinely placed on administrative leave following a shooting while the incident is being investigated. The police chief, however, did not believe that his officers were at fault:
“We did the best surveillance we could do, and a mistake was made,” Lebanon Police Chief Billy Weeks said. “It’s a very severe mistake, a costly mistake. It makes us look at our own policies and procedures to make sure this never occurs again.” He said, however, the two policemen were not at fault.The police say in the article that Adams believed that it was a home invasion and fired first at them. According to the police account, they returned fire and killed Adams. He later died at a hospital. Missing from the article, however, is any account from the family about whether or not the police account is accurate.
The family did not believe that race was an issue according to the article; however, racial profiling is still a recurring problem in the country today. The group One America posts statistics on racial profiling and advocates a law banning the use of profiling based on race or nationality. They say that Members of African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic communities are stopped and searched more often, for example, when "driving while black or brown" than whites; they also say that since September 11, 2001, members of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities have increasingly been searched, interrogated and detained in the name of "national security", often times labeled "terrorism suspects" when in reality many were only charged with misdemeanors or minor immigration violations, if they were charged at all. They also say that Hispanics are also a target of profiling.
Such incidents could possibly trigger a lawsuit against the police department. The website "Justice for Jordan Miles" states that from April 2009 to June 2010, 382 fatalities were linked to police misconduct. Over $347 million has been paid out in related settlements and judgments. In just part of 2010, there were 2541 reports of police misconduct and 23.3% of those involved the use of excessive force. The actual number of cases is higher since it does not cover incidents that were not reported. Tennessee, according to the figures, is the 5th highest state in the union for reports of police misconduct.
Such cases could be even worse if it turns out that the informant in question has a history of being unreliable. In 1994, the Seattle Times reported about a case in which a 75 year old minister died during a police search based on a tip from an informant. The police acted on the informant's tip even though the informant had previously been found to be unreliable.
The ACLU says that informants are an unnecessary evil. They note that unreliable informant testimony is one of the largest sources of wrongful convictions in this country. They call for requiring corroboration for information given by informants, the collection of data to do reliable assessments, and limiting their use to serious crimes. The ACLU says that the over-reliance on informants in policing minority neighborhoods destroys the fabric of the community and its trust in law enforcement.
Many popular shows about police work such as Law and Order and COPS show the victories of the justice system over criminals. However, what they do not show is the kind of interaction that goes on between police and informants. The public is left with a misleading picture of how the criminal justice system operates.
Even though the incident happened back in 2000, the story is still being circulated because of the outrage that it has generated. Posters are still commenting on the ABC website today (April 23rd, 2013). Incidents like this will undermine the "war on drugs" long after everything has been said and done.