The prestigious Cato Institute, with its National Police Misconduct Statistics and Report Project (NPMSRP), tracks police misconduct on a daily and annual basis. And there is a lot of misconduct to track. In the institute’s 2010 statistical report, which compiled data from January through December of that year, the NPMSRP recorded 4,861 “unique reports” of misconduct involving 6,613 sworn law enforcement officers and 6,826 alleged victims. The misconduct was associated with 347 fatalities and a total of $346,512,800 was the estimated amount spent on misconduct-related civil judgments and settlements, court costs, and attorneys.
In 2010, Carlous Horton was stopped by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and an ensuing vehicle search discovered he was transporting a pound of cocaine. This drug bust somehow made its way to the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) which saw a potential opportunity to cultivate an informant to assist in the agency’s ongoing investigation into what the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 25, 2014 described as “drug activities in the Springfield-Branson, Missouri area.” But Horton didn’t want to be a snitch. So the DEA decided to put Horton in their investigation sights.
And as most always seems to happen in these kinds of cases, the DEA, according to the Eighth Circuit, “learned of a potential informant who claimed to have been buying cocaine from Horton.” DEA agents didn’t waste any time. They set up “controlled cocaine buys” with their newly discovered snitch and Horton—drug transactions reportedly monitored by the agents. Through these transactions, the DEA learned that Horton had a partner named Christopher Holmes. The agents then arranged for controlled cocaine buys with their informant and both Horton and Holmes together. The Ehth Circuit explained what happened next:
“The DEA used the information from these controlled buys to obtain wiretaps on phone numbers associated with Horton’s cocaine activities. Over the next year, the DEA gathered extensive evidence that Horton and Holmes were heavily involved in cocaine distribution. The DEA recorded thousands of drug-related phone calls and text messages. Finally, on March 11, 2011, the DEA executed search warrants on three residences in Southwestern Missouri known to be connected with Horton and Holmes’s drug enterprise. In its search of the residences, the DEA recovered large amounts of cocaine and several guns.”
The Government obtained a 70-count indictment against Horton and Holmes, along with several other individuals. Horton faced 59 of these counts while Holmes faced only 3. While most of the other co-defendants pled guilty, Horton and Holmes elected to face a jury. Following a six-day trial, the Eighth Circuit reported that the jury convicted Horton of:
1) conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, to manufacture 280 grams or more of cocaine base, and to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base; 2) distribution of cocaine; 3) possession of cocaine with intent to manufacture; 4) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; 5) money laundering; and 6) wire fraud.
The jury convicted Holmes of: 1) conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, to manufacture 280 grams or more of cocaine base, and to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base; 2) possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute; and 3) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Because of their prior criminal histories, both men were sentenced to life imprisonment. Both men appealed their convictions and sentences to the Eighth Circuit.
On appeal, they raised four arguments: 1) the Government violated their Fourth Amendment rights by engaging in extensive pre-arrest surveillance; 2) the Government violated their due process rights by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence and by engaging in “outrageous conduct” throughout its investigation and prosecution; 3) district court erred by not holding a Remmer hearing to investigate “a potential juror problem during trial; and 4) the Western District of Missouri’s juror selection plan violated their Sixth Amendment right.
As part of their argument that the Government engaged in “outrageous conduct,” Horton leveled these charges: 1) the DEA should have charged him once they had sufficient evidence to arrest him; 2) the DEA’s recording of Horton and Holmes violated their Fourth Amendment rights; 3) the DEA did not follow proper protocol to secure the wiretap; 4) the DEA used a confidential informant known to use drugs; 5) DEA agents intimidated a witness; and 6) DEA agents stole approximately $9,000 during one of the searches of Horton’s residences.
This case definitely has the distinct scent of police misconduct. Oklahoma authorities could have prosecuted Horton under the state’s Trafficking in Illegal Drugs Act and secured a prison sentence from five years to life with Horton having to serve 85% of flat time on any sentence imposed. Instead they gave him up to the DEA who were willing to forgive the possession of one pound of cocaine in exchange for him becoming an informant. And when he refused the snitch offer, the DEA came up with drug using informant to help them make a case against Horton—and all the while the informant was working with the DEA, he was making illegal drug purchases that the DEA admittedly became aware of.
The DEA has a sordid history of working with criminal informants. Between 1984 and 2000, Andrew Chambers worked as an informant for the DEA, receiving upwards of $2 million from the agency which made him the “highest-paid snitch in DEA history” according to federal court documents. He was late exposed for giving false testimony in at least 16 criminal prosecutions nationwide before being exposed in the late 1990s, according to a June 5, 2013 USA Today report.
Although his services as an informant were terminated in 2000, Chambers once again found himself on the DEA’s payroll in 2010 earning exorbitant fees for making more drug cases.
In a October 7, 2012 USA Today report, the DEA conceded to the newspaper pursuant to an “open records request” that while there are “strict limits” on when and how an informant is granted permission to commit a crime, the agency does not keep track of how often such permission is given. Put simply, any DEA agent can give his/her informant permission to engage in criminal conduct whenever the agent feels like it. So it is not a stretch for us to believe Carlous Horton’s claim that DEA agents helped themselves to $9,000 they found in the drug dealer’s home.
The Eighth Circuit upheld Horton’s convictions and life sentence, ensuring that he will spend the rest of his life in a federal prison. But we strongly suspect there were a number of DEA agents involved in the Horton/Holmes investigation who violated the law, and their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution, to get their prey.