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Informant lists are found in county jail

January 22, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - A Washington County police sergeant alleges that copies of a list of police informants found their way into the hands of Washington County Detention Center inmates late last year through the Office of the Public Defender.

"We have reason to believe, through the investigation, that the list originated at the public defender's office here in Washington County," said Sgt. Mark Holtzman, director of the Washington County Narcotics Task Force.

Acting District Public Defender Stephen Harris denied that his office had anything to do with the list's appearance at the detention center, where Holtzman said copies first surfaced in December 2006.

Informants help police build cases against people suspected of crimes like drug dealing, and they have been the victims of witness intimidation in the past, Holtzman said.

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"I feel unfortunate for the people whose names are on that (list) because they'll be thought of in that way," Holtzman said.

While inmates believed the list provided information about informants, Holtzman would not confirm if the people named on the list ever worked for the police. Jail staff talked to inmates whose names appeared on the list, and the jail underwent a "complete shakedown" in which staff hunted out and removed copies of the list.

"We knew immediately - as soon as I looked at the list - it didn't come from the police, which was my No. 1 concern, that we had a bad apple in the department," Holtzman said.

Harris said the public defenders do not take lists of informants out of their offices.

"I don't know where they've defined that this individual got this from. It would be interesting to know," Harris said.

Harris said even street-level drug dealers could have compiled a list of possible informants similar to the one that was found.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist. It really doesn't," Harris said.

Holtzman said that if the police can prove the lists were produced and distributed to intimidate witnesses in particular cases, the person or people behind the lists could face felony charges. He said he believes the public defender's office shares the task force's concern about the list.

"They felt it was serious and were concerned, and that's why they were willing to cooperate with us," Holtzman said.

Harris is interested in keeping the names of informants as confidential as possible, since informants also are among his clients.

"We certainly don't want to publish the list to anyone," Harris said.

Without informants, Holtzman said, the task force could not do its job.

Informants sign waivers that state they know their identities can be revealed during trials, Holtzman said. The identities of informants come out during the pre-trial discovery phase when defendants are deciding whether to plead guilty or fight the charges, Harris said.

Holtzman said informants who have testified at trial still can be useful to the police.

"Put it this way, all the drug dealers do not talk to each other. They're not all on the same team," he said.

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