The Police Department has used informants who have records of violence, one of whom is now suspected of murder.
Two residents who are threatening lawsuits against the city of Las Vegas are alleging misconduct by the city police involving the issue of police informants.
In the last few weeks, they have filed tort claim notices, which inform the city of possible litigation.
According to two of the notices, filed by Las Vegas residents Anthony and Clara Benavidez, police used Michael Strand Jr. to set up the Benavidezes. The notices also allege controlled buys, which the police allege Strand made from the Benavidezes, were fabrications and never actually occurred.
Strand is the man who is now in custody for the murder of a Mora man, Roberto Mendez, whom Strand is alleged to have set on fire after stabbing him multiple times. The state is now reviewing whether Strand is competent to stand trial.
Strand had a string of arrests on his record, including multiple counts of assault on a household member and battery on a household member. He was on probation for aggravated battery on a household member at the time of his arrest in the Mendez murder.
He was also awaiting trial on a separate charge of aggravated battery on a household member at that time.
A third tort claim, filed by Eumelia Gonzales, alleges that after finding her in possession of prescription drugs and a small amount of marijuana, police cited her for the marijuana but offered to not charge her for dealing drugs if she named a cocaine dealer within five days.
The police only charged Gonzales after a week had passed and she failed to name any dealers, which is when officers called Assistant District Attorney Tom Clayton and agreed to charge her with drug trafficking, two counts of child abuse and tampering with evidence.
The affidavit for arrest warrant in the case indicates that Gonzales had been set up by a man named Greg Martinez after Martinez had, in turn, been questioned regarding an alleged fraud. The affidavit states that Martinez told police he knew someone he could buy heroin from, and he set up Gonzales for a controlled buy.
Martinez, 23, has a history of multiple arrests for drugs, drug-related charges and various violent crimes, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and convictions for battery against a household member, felony drug trafficking and felon in possession of a firearm. He has never been sentenced to prison time, only probation, and despite numerous probation violations, has not had his probation revoked. He currently faces outstanding charges of battery against a household member and interference with communications.
Martinez also underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation in 2007. The results weren’t included in court documents.
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District Attorney Richard Flores said the Optic should pursue comment from the police.
“They deal with them (informants) on a street level,” Flores said.
Citing confidentiality, Las Vegas Police Chief Gary Gold said he couldn’t comment on police informants and would neither confirm nor deny that either Strand Jr. or Martinez were being used as confidential informants by the Police Department.
Flores said he did not give Strand any deals and was not even aware of Strand’s status as a confidential informant until recently.
“Michael Strand picked up a domestic violence charge a month or so before,” Flores said, “and there was talk (from the victim) about ‘can we let this go away?’ I didn’t even know that Michael Strand was a confidential informant. My office isn’t involved in Michael Strand being a C.I. at all, but it came to my attention when he picked up the domestic violence charge, and I said, ‘Absolutely no way in hell am I going to drop any charges on Michael Strand,’ and those domestic violence charges were not dropped.”
Flores also said that his office had tried to get Martinez put behind bars.
“We’re on record that we’re trying to get him into prison,” Flores said. “The courts have not put him in prison.”
Flores said law enforcement deals with confidential informants on a street level. He said his office has a strict policy that there are no deals cut with confidential informants unless the information they provide leads to a conviction.
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J. Michael Jones, who represents an organization that opposes the drug war, was more than willing to comment on the practice of using confidential informants, or “snitches” as they are known among both police and drug dealers.
Jones, who now lives in Ranchos de Taos, N.M., is a retired deputy chief of the Gainesville, Fla., police department. He served his first year on the police force as an undercover narcotics officer and is now a member of the speakers bureau for the organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP.
Jones said confidential informants were unreliable and that he didn’t like to work with them.
“The whole relationship is generally built on power,” Jones said. “It’s like a slave-master relationship. You go out and you find me somebody dealing coke — and if you don’t, you’re going to jail.”
“So that kind of relationship does not really reward truthfulness, it rewards results and it doesn’t matter how they are obtained,” Jones said.
Jones said that it is common police practice to try to “flip” arrestees for minor and even mid-level offenses into serving as snitches, offering to get their sentences reduced or even get them off scot-free if they will set up someone they know or introduce them to an undercover narcotics officer. The ultimate result?
“We take violent criminals and put them out on the street — in an effort to arrest people who might be holding a couple of joints, or a few pills, or even dealing occasional small amount of marijuana; when you look at the danger posed to society, it’s obvious that the dealer is far less dangerous to society than the snitch.”