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The informant arrives through a side door, and his handler, a cop with many years of experience, greets him warmly. The informant takes a seat, fishes out a pack of menthols, and slides them on the desktop.
Last week, it was a couple of dealers selling crack in broad daylight. All the police had to do was show up, he said, and snatch them. He sneered in contempt. He insisted to the police—often loudly—that these cases were can’t-miss. The cop took his tips seriously.
Today, the informant has a lead about a murder. He has only a nickname and a story about how the murderer got the name. A couple of guys had gotten drunk and gotten to talking—not exactly the stuff that holds up in a courtroom.
The cop didn’t like the name. The name sucked. The name was as common as Peanut or Junior or Cousin.
“I’ll find out more for you,” the informant says. This is his job.
For a long time his job was heroin: getting it, selling it, robbing the dealers who profited from it. With most informants, snitching is a temporary evil. The job can be their way out of a jail cell or the bypass around a prosecutor’s plans for a lengthy prison stay in some faraway hole. By his own admission, the informant had been arrested 50 times before law enforcement made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. That was more than a decade ago.
It’s a long time on rat patrol—he’s the one hovering at the drunken craps game, the extra man in front of the liquor store, the guy willing to buy the next round, the dude suddenly all curious about a murder. The job is incredibly difficult and can often require muscles most people don’t have.
He collects and collects and soon enough hauls in giant Glad bags full of truths, hearsay, fragments, rumors, and bullshit for the cops to sift.
Ninety-five percent of it, the cop says, leads to a lockup. It’s a success rate both can work with.
The informant has helped close out roughly 2,000 cases. He’s picked apart crews and worked on some of the city’s most notorious murders in recent years. He gets paid for it, of course. Within the department, he’s become something of a legend.
“I would have been a hell of a cop,” he says. “I’m sorry I missed my calling.”
In the last couple of weeks, he did something he never does with outsiders. He told his story.
You have to be very observant and astute. You have to be a listener. You have to have a knack for the streets. You’re stepping between two different worlds.
Sometimes I’m given assignments to do. Might send me to investigate something and I do. Public corruption. I work on some large cases.…I’ve closed a lot of cold murder cases.
I work narcotics cases. I work murders. I work cases where guns were stolen from someplace. I work when I’m told to work. I’m a huge encyclopedia of information.
They’ll give me a certain amount of information. I’ll go about what I have to do and inform them about what I have gathered. The information that I have gathered sometimes fills up some empty spaces.
I’m a Washingtonian. I’ve been all over the city. I know a lot of people. Sometimes you have to mingle. You can’t be too inquisitive about shit. You really don’t come out and say a whole lot.
You don’t need a lot of conversation buying drugs. Drugs sell themselves. The less conversation, the better off you are.
You see three or four people going at somebody. You walk up and say, “Give me two. Two uptown or one and one, a stone and a bag of dope.”
A lot of people try to make a lot of conversation. The only conversation is the large scale drug buys when you’re buying weight. Then you’re buying drinks. When you’re buying ounces, quarter kilos, it’s like a social event. You don’t get to business right off.
Me, I deal with mostly street shit. I can go anywhere in the city and buy. They can give me an address they suspect they selling out of, I can go there without knowing anybody and buy. I got a knack for it. I go in places cold. A lot of people can’t do that.
The cop knows I can go in those places cold.
I’ve had some places where’ve I’ve had bad feelings. You have to go with your feelings.
I was in a place one time in upper Northwest, and I just didn’t have the feeling. The way the things were going, I just didn’t feel right about buying from the place. There was no electricity in the place. They were operating with candles. They were Jamaicans.
I passed on it.
A guy robbed me one time at gunpoint. I was buying drugs from the guy. He turned around and tried to rob me. It was in a parking lot. I said to the guy, “What the fuck you doing?”
I wasn’t [scared]. The police heard the whole thing.
You have to have a knack for leading people to what you’re trying to get at. It could take a couple hours. It could take a day. It could take a week.
Old-timers tend to be real shrewd. You got some youngsters, they just naturally paranoid of people they don’t know.
You definitely can’t go, “I heard about so and so.” You steer the conversation to how stupid somebody was.
Warrants have been issued on my word alone. I’ve done three- to four hundred search warrants.
All of them have been hard. I’ve got feelings, a conscience. A lot of things bother me. I see different things that go on. Drugs put people in positions that they shouldn’t be in. They make women compromise themselves. Adults use younger kids to sell the shit for them. I’ve seen the parents use their kids that way.
It hurts you to see this. I do what I’m told to do, and I do it. I don’t hold back.
Even in law enforcement, some people don’t have too much respect for what I do. Some of them don’t have respect for me at all. Law enforcement wouldn’t be shit if it didn’t have informants.
I’ve had some [cops] tell me, man, that it was a no-go, that they didn’t have anything because they be wanting to go home.
I go to the [suspect’s] house. They’ll tell me: “We ain’t trying to do a whole lot. Say there’s nothing there.”
I get paid for bodies, for results. I’d be trying to do shit. It’s business with me. I ain’t getting rich. I’m paying my bills. I tell the cop about it. The cop has been like a father to me. We both about the same age, but he’s looked out for me.
I’m a professional informant. I do it for pay. Everybody is not cut out to be undercover. I don’t know how they go about choosing the undercovers.
The ones that come up under the cop, he makes sure they are properly trained. He takes them out with the seasoned UC (undercover cop) so they can learn things properly. He has put new UCs out in the street with seasoned UCs and me. He tells me to observe and to pay attention to what’s going on. He has told them that I’m a special employee. I’m not a police, but I’m not going to tell them anything wrong. What I might tell them will save their life.
You have some that will listen to me. You have some that are arrogant and won’t do it.
I can tell if they won’t make it. I can tell. Their demeanor. How they handle different situations. When you’re out there doing undercover, you are on your own for real. You have people that can get to you. You don’t oversell yourself when you’re trying to buy drugs in the street. Either you’re going to do it or you’re not—don’t press it. You don’t press nothing.
You got to have nerve. I ain’t scared of nothing or nobody. The very first time, I was a little nervous. It wasn’t like I was going to pee my pants or nothing. It was only natural that I be little nervous.
When I’ve been accused of being a snitch, I’ve punched them in the face. I’m in attack mode. I’ve hit a couple people. I can knock somebody out. I’m going to kick your ass.
I’m a survivor.
I would have really been an excellent cop.
A Teenage Junkie
I grew up in Northwest Washington. My father was a schoolteacher. My mother was a social worker. I come from a good family, a middle-class family—both parents were college graduates.
They expected a lot from me. I was the type of kid that didn’t really have to study. Things came to me naturally. I was into sports. I read a lot.
I read about dogs, animals. I read all kinds of stuff. I liked to read. I liked good books, fiction and nonfiction. My grandfather and my father exposed me to books. I played chess. I was pretty well-rounded. I participated in sports—baseball, basketball. I excelled in everything I did.
At first, I had a desire to be a doctor. But things changed, right? In the computer age, I wanted to be a computer programmer. Computers fascinated me. What you could do with them—the ins and outs.
I went to college. It was a free ride through sports. And I majored in a [business-related] field. I’m a college graduate. I went into the Army, too. I dropped out of school, and my parents told me to go back in school, and I didn’t, and I got drafted. I completed my last year of college after I came out of the Army.
I served a tour of duty in Vietnam. I’m a recipient of a Purple Heart. I was wounded in Vietnam. I didn’t think I should be there, but I was there.
I started using on and off when I was 14.
It was given to me. The guys that I hung out with were much older than me. I started then purchasing heroin myself and later I started selling heroin when I was in school.
It was a fad. Everybody called it “doogee”; people were snorting it, shooting it. It seemed like a hip thing to do. I indulged. I liked it. The way it made you feel, mellow out, you didn’t have a care in the world. I snorted it at first.
My parents didn’t know I was using till I was about 17, 18 years old. They were devastated. I was embarrassed. I felt as though I was a failure and let people down by becoming addicted like that.
I was the oldest child. I had to graduate, man. It was goals. I had to graduate from high school. I had to go to college. It was expected of me. I did it. It was a juggling act, man.
It seemed like everyone was demanding shit from me.
[In high school], I sit in there and nod, not paying attention. I had a teacher, she knew. She grew up in upstate New York and she knew. She pulled me aside.
She asked me about it, about my drug use. I denied it at first and she had me in and we talked. She told me about her childhood. She knew what was happening with me, you know?
She exposed me to my mother at a parent-teacher conference that all I did was sit up there like an oyster. I only did what was necessary.
They had me seeing a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told my parents that I was my greatest enemy. I let my mouth get me in trouble and my thoughts get me in trouble. I always thought of ways of getting over. I think it was born out of necessity.
When I was about 16, I started selling heroin to support my habit. I had to get a source of income. It was better to sell it than be out there robbing people or stealing. I had my own clientele. I could buy dope: a $75 quarter you get four spoons of dope; out of that I could get 300 caps. I stretched 75 to 300 caps at a dollar apiece. That’s $300.
It was easy to sell at the time. A lot of people using. People that I hung with, different people I knew who had it. At that time, it was hard for young people to buy, right? So they would always try to get someone older to buy it for me. I had good heroin and some of the older people would buy from me.
I had regular hours like everybody else. I would hang out—12, 1 o’clock at night; weekends, I’m out all night. My parents didn’t have a tendency to question me, I guess, because I was a boy. I wasn’t bringing no babies home.
One time I got straight F’s, and I got the living shit beat out of me. I was asleep and woke to an ass-whooping. It was in the ninth grade. Never did it again.
A lot of times, I used because of that. People expect so much out of you, man. My father was a teacher, and he would sit and talk to me, and he would always be trying to make use of your mind and think. He was always questioning me, making me think. He was a serious guy.
I fucked up, man. It wasn’t nothing slick or glamorous about using drugs. The only thing it gets you is being in and out of jail or you sick or die.
I have a real extensive arrest record. I’ve been arrested a whole lot of times. Not a lot of convictions but a lot of arrests, a lot of arrests. I want to say 50 times. We’ll say 50.
The Rap Sheet
The first: 1965. Burglary. They said I broke into a store. I was with some people that did. I didn’t do it. It was embarrassing. I was a juvenile. I had to be released into the custody of my parents. I didn’t do it. I think they [believed me].
My addiction was full time in Vietnam, and I was addicted when I was discharged when I came home stateside. It was rough. I was a full-fledged heroin addict.
[I was put in] an Army hospital on a locked ward because of my addiction. Not only me but about 30 other people. They kept me on a locked ward for about 30 days.
It would have been longer, but me and four other guys went down on the elevator and secured ourselves some clothes and left the base and went to New York. We left and got ourselves some dope. We came back to the base about three days later.
I got discharged from the Army in the early ’70s. I came home. I didn’t have a habit. I wasn’t physically addicted. I was still mentally addicted.
I had in mind a job. All that shit fell through. I mean all of it fell through. I was a dope fiend, bottom line. About a week later, I started using. After that, it was over.
I started doing all kinds of shit.
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I just bought some uncut heroin and started selling. At that time, I made quite a bit of money—a couple thousand a week.
I used to do everything. [Eventually], I started robbing to support my habit. I shot three, four hundred dollars of dope everyday. I would rob drug dealers at gunpoint.
I would case them out—who I was going to take from and who I wasn’t. Some people you don’t rob because you know there’s going to be too much retaliation. The little Spanish boys up in Adams Morgan, you know there’s not going to be no retaliation.
Ontario Road. Fuller Street. I come up through there. Mount Pleasant. Sometimes I didn’t have to use a gun. I had a stick or piece of pipe.
Some people knew it was me. I didn’t give a fuck. I had people one time give me dope to keep me out of the neighborhood. I had robbed their workers. They’d give me a 10-pack or two 10-packs to make me leave out the neighborhood. Keep the cheat off them.
I was still dealing, too.
Once I started working with the police, I couldn’t be dirty.
I’ve relapsed, and I’ve checked into detox. The cop knows I’ve relapsed. And I went into the hospital detox. Right now I’m clean. I’ve been clean for a while. They don’t deal with me, man, if I’m using.
I’ve been clean for over four years. Straight, you know? I got other people depending on me. I can’t be all fucked up. I like the person that I am when I’m not addicted.
I was in a halfway house 20 years ago. Fifteen years ago, a guy was coming back in, and he was ringing the bell to get in, and these guys were after him, and they killed him right on the steps. The lady on the desk was too scared to open the door. I’ve seen guys beat so bad.
That’s the not the worst shit I’ve seen. I’ve been stabbed. I’ve been shot. Retaliation for shit.
I’ve OD’d several times. Once, my wife was waiting in the car for me. She seen the fire trucks come up. She ran over. The firemen told her I was dead.
I was found in these people’s backyard. People dragged me out there. Somebody called 911. Kids took my money off me. This was about seven years ago.
My wife got to screaming and hollering my name. I came around.
I said, “Goddamn! That was some good shit here.”
I’ve been ratted on quite a few times, and I know it. People have been telling on me for years about shit that I did. I felt as though what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I was facing a large jail sentence. The first time, I got arrested and I had a bunch of charges. I contacted this U.S. attorney. I wrote them a letter and told them about a murder. I never did hear anything back from them.
I got sentenced on the charge. I was in the federal system. They called me back…to go to the court on one of the open charges I had. Also, another U.S. attorney was taking over the job. He came across my letter and read it.
When they brought me back, somebody from the homicide division carried me upstairs to U.S. District Court. He said, “We want to talk to you about a letter you wrote about a year or two ago.” He said, “Tell me something that will make me smile.”
I mentioned a name to him.
Would I be willing to testify? I said yeah. For my freedom, I told them what was what. Everything I said they double-checked.
I said some things that had never been mentioned in the newspaper. They knew I was on the up-and-up. I told them the people that were out there on that particular night—it was a shooting. It was a hit. It was an execution.
I had to sign an agreement, and they put it in writing about my cooperation, what would be attempted for me in exchange for my testimony. But nothing would be done for me before I went before the grand jury.
I testified in the case. It was one of the only times in my life I was actually scared. I felt vulnerable. When I was on the stand, how the defense and prosecutor be cross-examining me, I felt kind of defenseless. The defense tried to tear me down and belittle me. It made me very upset. You can’t fight back.
He badgered me and shit. It really got to me, but the only thing I could do was tell the truth, and I stuck with the truth. Eventually, he let it go. The more he badgered me, the more damage he was doing to his client. I stuck to the truth. Asking me shit 10 different ways. The answer was still the same. He killed them people.
They were convicted and given life in prison.
I was eventually released. They got me paroled. I came out on parole. My lifestyle changed. I was extremely paranoid in the street. Word was going around that I had testified but a lot of people didn’t believe it. They offered me witness protection, but I refused it. I thought nobody could protect me better than I could protect myself.
Years went by, and I started using and selling. I accumulated all these different drug charges, and I got locked up on the conspiracy charge, distribution of heroin.
I contacted the old prosecutor that handled that other case, right. He had me brought in. We talked about a lot of different things. Then he had [the cop] there while this was going on. We talked. He said nothing was agreed upon. They’ll get back with me.
They did verify different things. Everything I said panned out.
The cop I worked with and work with to this day is an old-school cop. He had been around. You could tell he was a straight-up person. There was no bullshit with him.
Men can sense real men. He was an honest person, and I could sense that. He asked the [prosecutor] to leave the office and he wanted to talk to me one-on-one. He asked me about a whole lot of stuff. He said, “Damn, you know damn near everyone in the city.”
Nobody wanted to take the risk of letting me out because of my record. They were worried. He told me that he would get back with me. About a week later, the cop wanted me and wanted me out on the street.
The cop drew up an outline. I had a contract that I agreed upon: no criminal involvement; I had to submit to urine testing. If they paged me, they expected to hear from me in no more than five minutes.
I was supposed to comply to all conditions of my release. If I lied about something and they found out I lied about something, there would be consequences. We went to court, and the judge said it was very hard for him to even consider releasing me.
The prosecutor said, “I’m going to stick my neck out for him.” And the cop said: “I’m willing to stick my neck out for him.”
Eventually, the charges went away. I was finished and did my part. If I wanted to continue doing this, I could. But it was up to me, and it wasn’t about working no charges off. It was a monetary thing. I chose to continue doing it. I felt as though they gave me my self-esteem and my integrity back. I really got myself together.
Me and the cop, I think we had a feel for each other, you know. I trusted him. One day we were out doing something and some people threw some drugs down, and he didn’t see them do it. He just didn’t put it on nobody. He’s straight-up. This dude is a good dude.
First case with him: It was a very big case. We were in contact with each other daily and nightly. I had to write reports just like officers had to. It was a drug and murder case, [a gang case]. At that time, we established a rapport with each other. We were in sync about a lot of things.
The police had eyes on me for my protection. But sometimes, there were times they didn’t have eyes on me.
I infiltrated the people. I was hanging out with them, went to football games and clubs, all this shit together.
I really liked doing that gang case. I did so many people and it was so intense. About 20 people. I was on the street every day, all day and sometime at night. I hung out and did everything with those individuals. I brought UCs in, too. There was another undercover with me and we both got in close. I mean close, close, close.
They didn’t know who the fuck we were.
I didn’t like none of them. I thought all of them were pieces of shit. And I did everybody. Every swinging dick.
The Close Calls
I’ve worn Nagras, jackets with cameras. I’ve had surveillance equipment on me, audio equipment.
I was locked in a building one day. They locked this reinforced steel gate behind me. There were seven or eight people in front of me waiting in line to buy eight balls of crack. They would pat you down before you could buy.
I had the audio and video equipment. I’m thinking I’m done. I can’t turn around. That shit was frightening.
The dealer looked down the stairs and saw me.
“Oh, let that nigger on through! That man, that’s a soldier! That’s my man!”
I’m saying to myself, Thank God.
One time I was out, and the equipment was strapped to me, and it was the summer time. You know how you sweat? The equipment started falling down my leg.
I got the long baggy shorts, the jersey. And the shit start falling down my leg. I got [a dealer] with me.
I said to the guy, “You all got to hold up. I got to piss.”
He told me why don’t I just go in an alley. I told him I don’t do that. I walked inside a place, got into a stall, tried to re-tape it. I was able to do it. I couldn’t ditch the equipment. That equipment cost thousands of dollars.
I was with an undercover officer and they were patting her down, and her gun went down her leg. She and I were working together for a long time. She knew that whatever happened I would fight. She said: “We’re going to have to fight.” We were able to talk our way out of the shit, stop the feely-feely shit.
Once, they tried to make an undercover smoke [crack].
I said, “Fuck, she’s buying for me.” You got to be on your toes.
I said: “Nigger get the fuck on.…You going to give us some of your shit to smoke?”
You got to come off strong, right. And remain strong. You come off like a pussy, they going to try you.
A couple years ago, things were changing.
Night was like the day, but all-out drinking. People would be sitting on their fronts, on their porch, people would be bringing their chairs and putting them on their sidewalk. The addicts were like zombies with the crack.
All night long. West Virginia Avenue. Mount Olivet. Prostitution all up and down there. But especially on West Virginia. It got to be a regular ho stroll.
There were some brown apartments—inside you had those whores. They were using them as trick spots. On Capitol. Take the tricks around there and fuck them, and they were robbing some of those tricks.
There was a girl up in that area. They called her “Crack Monster.” All she did was smoke crack. Her and another girl—they robbed one of the tricks and stabbed them to death. She’s locked up now. This was about three or four years ago.
You got a lot of ex-cons entering back into society. And they have different beefs with different people. They had beefs before they went in. Those beefs happened eight, 10 years ago, and those beefs haven’t been settled. Some of them about drugs, past-due debts. Some of them about who they might have felt were instrumental in them going to jail. Shit they heard while they were in. And they’re dealing with it.
Some of them feel they owed shit, people didn’t look out for them, they making money, and they felt slighted. They robbing them and killing them. I know a couple that settled beefs that way.
I know one up in Trinidad who had a beef. It was settled in death.
I didn’t see it. But with certainty I know that that’s what it was. It was about some shit that happened before he went in, and it carried over. He felt as though he was slighted when he came out. People didn’t kick him nothing. He felt he should have gotten some money. He had feelings about it, and he dealt with it the only way he thought he could.
People get jealous, too. Say that you got some product here out on the street. And you sell yours at Trinidad and Owen. And I’m up the street from you at the next corner, Trinidad and Mount Olivet. Your stuff is a little better than mine. When you out there, I can’t make no money. I kill you. That’s what they’re doing.
Then you got buddies mad because they all come up together. You got a Caddy. I’m driving a Crown Vic. And [our friend] is driving a Buick. A lot of it be friends on friends. A lot of it.
The majority is those crews and the ongoing beefs. This is my opinion.
The cost of cocaine has gone up. I don’t know for what reason. It’s a little scarce. Dealers doing all kind of dirty shit.
They taking a spray bottle and an ounce of coke. They’ll hit it with the spray bottle once or twice. It will dampen it. They’ll go to weigh it out. Twenty-five grams will weigh out for 31. For a seasoned person like me, when I would go to buy, I will take a couple brown paper towels. They put it on the brown paper towel. It will absorb the wetness.
People try to play games. A lot of killings come behind that.
They’ll take [the cocaine] and cook it up in a glass coffee brewer or a pan. They’ll spray PAM around it. It will blow up and get catacombs in it. When you crack it open, you see the catacombs. Jamaicans do a lot of that.
What you do in the dark comes to light eventually. Somebody will crack it and see that they were being ripped off. It will end up in a good killing.
They use PMS pills. They cook it up—over the counter from the goddamn drug stores. They cook up just like crack. It would be snap, crackle, and pop just like crack do. And these motherfuckers will be buying it. It’s got the aroma of crack. You can only get so high. Eventually, the dealer end up getting killed.
It’s hard for the cop to go in there now. The police are so visible. Business is going on as usual but differently. They working off telephones and meeting you. They ducking in alleys. More clandestine.
Weeks ago, they started that checkpoint shit. I went through there. A couple people I know selling shit, they were working off telephones and meeting in alleys. I was up there trying to gather some information on different shootings. But the [police] presence up there means people keeping it real low-profile. It’s hard for an outsider to get anything right now.
I got some information. It might have been pertinent.