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Rachel Hoffman was young. Oh, she was so very young. And like many young people, she smoked some marijuana and occasionally used ecstasy. She might have even dealt both on a small scale. She had just completed her bachelor’s degree early, in psychology and criminology with a B average at Florida State University, not an easy feat. She was deservedly cherished by her proud family. One night, she was stopped by cops and busted for some weed she had in her car.
During the booking photo process, Rachel’s mugshot shows tears streaming down her face with a forlorn look to the side. There’s a slight tint of anger and confusion as well, as is to be expected of anyone who actually thought the Drug War wasn’t real… until it touched their lives directly.
A few months later, Rachel’s apartment was searched and up turned some 5 or so ounces of cannabis and 4-6 ecstasy pills, according to various reports. Tallahassee Police attempted to convince her to turn over marijuana dealers in exchange for dropped charges but she refused. They didn’t relent and pressured her to participate in a drug sting. They wanted her to buy a gun*, two ounces of cocaine and an astonishing 1,500 pills of ecstasy. If she did this, she wouldn’t incur any further charges from the drugs found in her apartment. They would give her $13,000 in cash to complete the transaction. She was 23, had no police training whatsoever and was scared to death. She was right to be.
The day of the sting, I am sure Rachel was frightened but probably did what most of us do in stressful situations – we talk ourselves down, take stock of what we’ve got and try to get some perspective in order to finish a job and be done with it. She knew that almost twenty cops were watching, listening through her wire and perhaps if everything went right, she could go home and spend the rest of the day with her boyfriend; this whole weird and scary situation a thing of the past. She could get on with her life.
Well, “shit got crazy,” on May 7, 2008, according to one cop after he confronted Rachel’s surprised boyfriend at their apartment after police lost track of her during the sting. They thought perhaps she made off with the $13,000. He thought she was with them but two days later, Rachel’s body was found in a ditch fifty miles away in Perry, Florida. She was shot five times point blank in the chest and once in the head. When she was found, her Grateful Dead sweatshirt was shrouded over her. Yes, six holes in her body and in a ditch with her favorite jam band shirt. She wanted to become a chef and teach troubled kids how to cook while providing therapy in a practical but fun setting. She, Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, with the big, toothy smile who liked to spin in circles at festivals and wanted to help troubled kids have a better life. Murdered. Executed. Just like that.
According to Prison Legal News:
“The government does not nor is it obligated to keep track of the informants it creates, how many crimes they commit, or how many crimes they help solve. While the federal government has started keeping some records, most state and local governments simply have no mechanism for counting their snitches” but “(drug) enforcement is the biggest generator of informants.
Police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges all describe drug cases as relying on or creating informants in one way or another: informants typically provide information or make controlled buys; once arrested, drug suspects routinely become informants themselves; and a drug defendant’s cooperation may be the single largest factor in negotiating a plea bargain or determining a sentence. Indeed, some police assert that they could not investigate drug cases without informants. Since drug cases make up about one third of the U.S. criminal justice system—the largest single type of case—this means that a large percentage of our criminal process is heavily dependent on informant use.”
Two men, Deneilo Bradshaw and Andrea Green, intended to rob Rachel but when they discovered she was wearing a wire, executed her under a canopy of woods and Spanish moss with the same gun she was supposed to buy from them. But arguably, the police using her as an informant are just as, if not more, guilty of her murder.
In a statement to the Tampa Tribune shortly after her death and prior to her funeral, her stepfather said:
“The reality is, untrained civilians of any age should not be put in that position by a police force, and they put a 23-year-old relatively naïve person in a life-threatening situation”.
On May 7, please remember Rachel Hoffman. Do not ever, ever forget her and the thousands of countless others who are killed in the line of duties they ought never have participated. Each year, there should to be vigils for her and countless others who were put into these impossible situations and lost their lives.
Nora Callahan of The November Coalition, a non-profit organization of grassroots volunteers educating the public about the destructive increase in prison population in the United States due to our current drug laws, suggest that perhaps along with vigilance, all of us on May 7th (a Tuesday), ask our officials for their rules and procedures with regard to the use of informants. Ask, “How old are they? What criminal histories? What are the rules? How much money are they paid? Do they sell drugs? If so, how many drugs — what kind and number? Can you measure success? What is considered success? How many communities would do that all the same day?”.
We need to keep their feet to the flames, let them all know we are watching and counting, that we want to stop burying their “collateral damage”. This War on Drugs is a War on People and we cannot wait for another Rachel Hoffman to be found in a ditch, her dreams evaporated like the heat from her body after she was cast aside like a piece of trash.
To learn more about use of confidential informants in narcotic operations and the tragedy of Rachel Hoffman:
Here is a festival in honor of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman that takes place each year in Live Oak, FL:
Purple Hatters Ball