Local news was filled with stories about Chandler Police officer Carlos Ledesma after he was killed in the line of duty on July 28, 2010. The stories describe a former Marine and Persian Gulf War veteran, a proud father and husband with two young boys. He was shot while conducting an undercover “reversal operation” in Phoenix.
From what I’ve read about the case, the facts sound all too familiar. An informant tells the police he has buyers who want to buy a large quantity of marijuana. Police set up a meeting where the informant meets with the buyers and establishes the terms of the deal. The buyers check out a sample of weed provided by officers and prove they have the money. Later, at the buy spot, officers arrive with the full load of marijuana. Before the transaction is over, the SWAT teams arrives and arrests everyone involved. The police and the informant go home after a long day of work. The buyers go to jail.
There’s always a lot more to the story. Informants don’t cooperate out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re usually working off their own charges. They get busted selling or transporting drugs themselves, and in exchange for a probation deal or a lesser prison sentence, they help the police find other traffickers, buyers, and brokers.
It isn’t even that simple though. Like I just mentioned, these reversal operations usually start with that felon informant telling officers someone is looking to make a big marijuana purchase. Informants can, and do, take advantage of people who are desperate. The person looking to make a large marijuana purchase may be looking to do it because the informant told him it was an easy way to make some money.
The person the informant targets may not even be the person with the cash. The informant’s target may just be a poor, desperate person who sees brokering a marijuana sale as a way to survive. In this economy, people are desperate, struggling to feed their families. Informants prey on that, turning ordinary citizens into drug buyers and drug brokers. Five or ten percent off the top of a six figure transaction is going to sound awfully appealing to someone who’s starving.
Officer Ledesma’s murder is a tragedy. My heart goes out to his family. I never knew him, but by all accounts it seems like he was a good man. Undoubtedly, he was a brave man. He was willing to risk his life, a risk that was ultimately realized.
Thinking about all my beliefs, even those most strongly held, I can’t say for sure that there’s any government function I’d personally feel was worth the risk of leaving behind a spouse and young children. People like Carlos Ledesma are probably the best and the bravest among us, but his valor was misdirected. The greatest tragedy of all is that he died in a situation that was probably created by a crooked agent of the police and where the police themselves brought the drugs.
My firm has handled these cases. Officers whose names now appear in the news are familiar to me. I’ve read their reports and prepared for interviews with them. My involvement, however, is with the alleged brokers, lookouts, and buyers. They are victims too. Their children also may be forced to go without parents; not forever, but often for years.
When the police become drug dealers, all of the rules break down. Officers put themselves in danger to do these operations and are closely involved in the subsequent criminal cases. Accordingly, the offers are especially harsh. In negotiating, some prosecutors use a twisted logic that really embodies the hypocrisy of the situation.
They say they can’t make a lenient offer, not even for someone who simply helped the broker and brought neither the money nor the drugs, because “there were guns involved.” Obviously there were guns involved. Officers brought them because these deals are dangerous. Do prosecutors really think a first-time broker coaxed into assisting with such a deal by an informant isn’t smart enough to do the same?
They say they can’t show mercy because “it was a lot of marijuana.” Of course there was a lot. The informant set the price and the quantity. The officers showed up with a van full of drugs. If they set up something involving under two pounds, it would be a lower level felony without mandatory prison. The police came with more because they decided to come with more.
I spent some time a few weeks ago talking about these cases with a seasoned defense lawyer who said the Phoenix Police did reversal operations in the 90’s but quit it because they were just too dangerous.
Phoenix woke up, so why is Chandler still doing it? Why do Chandler Police still insist on sneaking into other cities, selling drugs to dangerous criminals and leaving a trail of drug war victims in their wake? Why are they still subjecting themselves to the possibility they might eventually become victims as well?