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At a 2003 New Year’s Eve party, Adonnis “Dog” Atchinson spent the evening snorting heroin. Then, sometime before 3 a.m., he shot and killed Marlo Willis, leaving the corpse in a field behind the Fort Stanton Recreation Center in Southeast’s Buena Vista neighborhood.
There were no witnesses. But on Oct. 30, 2004, D.C. police detectives searched Atchinson’s house and found the gun under his mattress. A ballistics test proved it was the murder weapon. They knew it would; an anonymous government witness told them right where to look. A D.C. Superior Court jury found Atchinson guilty of second-degree murder in June.
“I put a hell of a case together,” says “Southeast,” the government’s informant. “And now they fuckin’ me around.”
Southeast says he told detectives up front that he was snitching only because the police department announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case. So far he hasn’t gotten any money.
But he’s heard plenty of excuses. Two of the detectives involved in solving the Willis murder went on leave. Then, when Southeast started asking for his money this year, detectives stressed that tipsters are offered “up to” $25,000.
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Prosecutors in the Willis case could not be reached for comment.
It could be that Southeast is caught in a gray area in the department’s payout policy. “When those rewards are put out, we’re asking for information from the general public,” says Thomas McGuire, commander of the narcotics and special-investigations units.
According to McGuire, a confidential informant like Southeast doesn’t quite count as a member of the general public. Informants come to police as the result of plea deals or, in some cases, as a result of a personal vigilante streak, McGuire says. A member of the general public calls the hot line; a “CI” collaborates closely with detectives.
Southeast is a convict, but he says he doesn’t help the police because of any plea deal. He just wants to make money.
“I always wanted to be somebody, but I couldn’t,” he says. His friends were hustlers and gangsters but he failed to break into the lifestyle. “I said, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna start settin’ up motherfuckers and get the money.’ ” He says he’s made $5,000 by snitching in various cases since 2004, a figure that’s been independently confirmed.
McGuire says the normal procedure for a person who comes to the department wanting to be a confidential informant involves paperwork; that person signs various documents and goes through a vetting process. The informant is compensated according to a set pay scale. The money comes out of the unit’s fund for investigations—not like the reward money in the announcement Southeast saw, which comes from its own special fund.
McGuire would not disclose the details of the pay scale.
But being a confidential informant doesn’t automatically disqualify Southeast from getting the reward: “I don’t see why he wouldn’t be eligible for that money,” McGuire says, discussing a situation similar to this one—not Southeast’s in particular.
Southeast is just the kind of man police are looking for. In October 2005, somebody shot New York rapper Cam’ron in his car at the intersection of New York and New Jersey Avenues NW—a busy locale. Lots of people probably saw the shooting, but nobody would speak up. Police Chief Charles Ramsey lamented the situation to the Washington Post: “We need the cooperation of witnesses and victims,” Ramsey said.
The anti-snitching mind-set, as manifested in “Stop Snitching” T-shirts and videos, confounded the chief: “I can’t relate to that mentality. I can’t comment on that thought process. I don’t think much of it. I don’t see the logic at all.”
In the Willis murder, Southeast came forward even though the case was old and Atchinson had tried to influence other government witnesses from jail, according to prosecutors. “They didn’t even have the suspect,” he says. “It was gonna be a cold case.”
Southeast says paying out would be a capital investment: “I got [information on] like five more homicides, but I gotta get my money first.”