The Disturbing Police Tactic Endangering Kids Caught With Pot

Last year, the body of a North Dakota college student, Andrew Sadek, was found at the bottom of Red River, just north of Breckenridge, Minnesota. The 20-year-old sophomore had been shot in the head once, and his backpack was filled with rocks. As his parents and roommate would later learn, Sadek had been working as a confidential informant for a local drug task force after he was arrested for selling a small amount of marijuana back in 2013.

In North Dakota, the laws governing drug policy can be unforgiving. There's no difference, in the eyes of the court, between selling a kilo of cocaine or a few grams of marijuana. So when the Southeast Multi-County Agency (SEMCA), a collective of police officers and law enforcement agencies in three counties across the state, performed a "consent search" on Sadek's dorm room at North Dakota State College of Science in November 2013, even the marijuana residue on the grinder they found proved damning. 

According to the Star Tribune, the day after the bust, Sadek met with several SEMCA officers at the Law Enforcement Center in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where they told him that he could be charged with a Class A felony, which carries a sentence of more than 40 years in prison. Rather than take his chances in court, Sadek agreed to serve as a confidential informant for the department, carrying out "controlled buys" that would implicate other dealers.

But something happened. After his first buy, which took place in the same campus parking lot that Sadek used to sell pot, he appeared to fall off the radar. He didn't contact SEMCA, though he was supposed to carry out at least two more controlled buys in order to stay out of prison; his friends reported him missing on May 1. SEMCA assumed Sadek had fled and issued arrest warrants, formally charging the student with two felony counts. Then, on June 27, 2014, Sadek's body was discovered in Red River. 

"His wallet was not on him. He was wearing different clothes than the ones he wore when he was last seen leaving the dorm. He had been shot with a bullet from a .22-caliber weapon. An autopsy ruled that he died from the gunshot wound. No drugs or alcohol were found in his body," the Star Tribune reported. Campus police at NCSCS were put in charge of the investigation into Sadek's death. They treated it like a suicide, much to the dismay of the student's family and friends, who expressed serious doubts about the integrity of the department's investigative approach. 

The case remains unsolved. 

This isn't the first time that police have used college students as confidential drug informants. It continues to happen all across the country. For the students, the tradeoff is often between security and freedom; they're asked rat out friends and former drug contacts in exchange for a real-life "Get Out of Jail Free" card. 

Just this year, a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was also found dead after working as an undercover informant for the campus police department. He had been busted for selling $20 worth of LSD to another undercover in December 2011, according to Business Insider. After his death, UMass-Amherst announced that it would end the department's program, saying that "enlisting our students as confidential informants is fundamentally inconsistent with our core values." 

But the program is alive and well at places such as Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit (associated with the University of Mississippi), which recruits an average of 30 confidential informants each year, many of them college students. "Thanks to money from the city and county governments and the University of Mississippi, Lafayette County Metro Narcotics continues busting college kids and turning them into informants by threatening them with hard time or the shame and lifelong burden of a drug record," BuzzFeed News reported

"[W]hat concerns me most is they work off of fear," Dean Worsham, a counselor at Ole Miss, told the news organization. "It happens so fast that the young person doesn't have a chance to gather their wits... You know, what I hear most, over and over, is 'I didn't know what I was getting into.'"