Cops Use Undercover Students in Drug Busts at UW Campuses

By Brent McCluskey 09/16/14

One student refused to turn snitch and pleaded guilty to drug charges.

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Police have been flipping drug offenders from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater into confidential informants, using the students to aid in further drug arrests. But when one drug offender was offered a “get out of jail free” card in return for snitching on his friends, he declined.

Javonni Butler, 25, was arrested in 2011 after he was caught selling marijuana to another student who was wearing a recording device. Deputies from the Walworth County Drug Unit told Butler they could sweep his two felony charges and up to seven years in prison “under the rug,” but Butler pleaded guilty instead of turning on his fellow students.

“It’s just pitiful, it’s disgusting,” Butler said. “They pretty much put kids in a spot until they have no choice but to snitch.”

Many, like Florida attorney Lance Block, believe the practice of involving students in undercover drug investigations exposes them to unnecessary risks. In 2008, Florida State University graduate Rachel Hoffman, 23, became a confidential informant after police discovered marijuana and ecstasy in her apartment. She was later killed during a buy after her recording device was exposed.

“The police are supposed to protect us from harm, not subject us to harm,” Block said. “And when law enforcement intentionally expose untrained civilians into these highly dangerous operations, they’re not protecting them from harm.”

While every undercover buy has the potential to become dangerous, UW-Whitewater Police Chief Matt Kiederlen says every possible safety precaution is taken.

“We try with everything we have to predict putting them in the safest position we can, but there are always the unknowns,” Kiederlen said.

In the past, police agencies have also turned to their own to help bust youthful drug rings. In 2012, California cop Alex Salinas, 22, slung a backpack over his shoulder and enrolled as a senior at Exeter Union High School. After figuring out who was involved in the drug ring, Salinas donned his police uniform and arrested 12 students and two non-students.

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.