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May 15, 2008 -- Tallahassee Democrat (FL)

Slain Woman's Friends, Supporters Protest Police Departments

Demonstrators Call For TPD To Be Held Accountable

By Nic Corbett, Democrat Staff Writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Friends of slain Tallahassee woman Rachel Morningstar Hoffman at a protest Wednesday clamored for accountability from the Tallahassee Police Department.

"There should be some kind of justice," said Muhammad Ashraf, 22, who knew Hoffman for about a year. "Ultimately, it was the police's duty to protect her."

Hoffman, 23, a 2007 Florida State University graduate, died last week during a botched police operation. She was last seen by police about 7 p.m. Wednesday near Forestmeadows Park, where she was to go undercover during a drug sting.

She left the area to meet the two men she was to buy the drugs and a gun from, despite a vice officer's efforts to stop her. Hoffman became an informant after police found drugs in her apartment in April. Police have not revealed the exact circumstances of her death. The two men were later arrested in her kidnapping and armed robbery. Murder charges are expected.

Between 80 and 100 people gathered at the Old Capitol to raise awareness about what happened to her last week. The group marched once in a circle, crossing the street at Monroe Street, Apalachee Parkway and Jefferson Street. They waved signs with messages like "TPD: No More Lies." They chanted slogans. Anytime someone driving by honked, the crowd cheered.

"What we're trying to do is make sure TPD is accountable for their actions," said Matthew Zimmerman, vice president of the Florida State University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The march was organized by Zimmerman and John Mola, president of the chapter. Mola said he contacted Hoffman's friends through Facebook after last week's events to talk about what happened and form a plan of action.

MacKenzie Smith, 21, who said she knew Hoffman since they attended middle school, held a sign that said "Honk 4 Resignation."

"I just think it was stupid that this all happened over drugs," she said. "I don't think her life was worth busting two dudes."

Hoffman's cousin, Rebecca Shillings, 32, of Boynton Beach, stood before the protestors and read from her Blackberry the same eulogy Hoffman's mother, Margie Weiss, gave at her daughter's funeral Tuesday in Palm Harbor.

"I think Rachel was just looking for a solution," Shillings said. "I'm sure she didn't know it was going to end up like that ... If I'd been in the situation, I don't know if I'd have done anything different. You trust police to keep you safe."

Barry Gulker, a Tallahassee lawyer, talked to the protestors about how they need to exercise their civil rights. He urged them not to allow police to search their car or home without a warrant and to consult a lawyer if they find themselves in trouble like Hoffman did. Gulker, a musician in the band Stillwood, said he often gives the same speech to young people who attend music festivals where his band plays.

After the protest, the group headed to the Palace Saloon on Jackson Bluff Road to reminisce about Hoffman at one of her favorite spots in Tallahassee.

Photo: Rachel Hoffman was killed while working as a police informer in a drug case in Tallahassee

More on Rachel Hoffman:

May 14, 2008 -- Tallahassee Democrat (FL)

OpEd: Innocence Lost On Both Sides Of The Law

By Bennett D. Fields

The killing of Rachel Hoffman is coming on heavy to Tallahassee residents and college students alike. It raises legitimate questions about the nature of narcotics investigations and how they are conducted by the Tallahassee Police Department.

Did the TPD truly think that these hardened criminals couldn't tell the difference between a deal and a set-up? This question stands tall as the facts of the case are assessed in the short days following the discovery of Rachel Hoffman's body in Taylor County last Friday.

The circumstances of the case seem clear: A small-time marijuana dealer, after being apprehended with 23 grams of marijuana in April, was pressured by TPD investigators into the lion's den with convicted felons over an extraordinary amount of felonious drugs. TPD investigators asked her to purchase 1,500 hits of Ecstasy, 2 ounces of cocaine and a handgun.

TPD is now charged, in the court of public opinion, with shoving the burden of making a case against known felons on a young, first-time offender apparently without giving a hoot about what could happen, should things go wrong. It shows gross negligence that TPD investigators seem to have never considered the worst-case scenario of what might happen if Hoffman was not believed, let alone able to close the deal.

TPD's immediate reaction to public outcry was, "Well, she didn't follow directions." This makes the department look demonstrably pathetic and out of touch, and it shows how much apathy and negligence surrounded the investigators who put themselves in charge of Hoffman's life when they asked her to meet with Andrea Green and Daniello Bradshaw.

Hoffman was not a trained, undercover federal agent being asked to pull off a sting, but rather a 23-year-old FSU graduate who was extorted by the department with having her life turned upside down, should she not cooperate and agree to the investigation.

What is the message in this story? Is this a statement from the department, warning college students that they are as disposable as toilet paper, should they make a few bad choices (one of which, obviously, is becoming an informant)?

Or, if TPD simply did not know the nature of the conditions into which Hoffman was put, then why should Tallahassee-area residents have any faith that the department, as a whole, is capable of making much of a difference at all when it comes to protecting the community from criminals like Hoffman's killers? Clearly the criminal element has the upper hand until it is far too late, given the outcome of this operation.

"There is no hunting like the hunting of armed men, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter," wrote Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway's quote is extremely relevant and ominous when you consider that law enforcement's indifference at the loss of life hangs like a cloud over the justice system in Tallahassee at the moment.

What trust is there to be had for a police department that disrespects its collegiate populace (both students and parents alike) in such a disgraceful way?

Early this week, TPD still refused to publicly acknowledge statements of concern and questions made by Hoffman's parents as to why their daughter was put into such a deadly situation.

Recently, a TPD homicide detective said about a suspect in the killing of a gas station attendant, "Whether he meant to murder the victim or not, had he not intended to rob the victim, the victim would still be alive." Can the same now be said for TPD's overzealous, narrow-minded, drug-enforcement detail?

Such is the sad case of one Rachel Hoffman that a truth remains abundantly clear: The TPD officers involved in this botched operation have blood on their hands because of either recklessness or apathy. They single-handedly undermined the integrity of the department at large, not just among concerned Tallahassee residents but among parents all over the state and country who once wished to send their offspring here, but now aren't so sure.

Note: Bennett D. Fields is a student in his last semester at Tallahassee Community College. He didn't know Hoffman personally, but saw her at the Warehouse often, most recently around Christmas during the Polyester Pimpstrap show.

May 14, 2008 -- Tallahassee Democrat (FL)

State Attorney, Public Defender Question Tallahassee Police's Use Of Hoffman As Informant

By Julian Pecquet, Democrat Staff Writer

Rachel Hoffman's participation in a court-ordered drug-treatment program should have precluded her from buying drugs for police, legal and mental-health professionals said Tuesday.

"It is my strong preference that the people who are in drug court not be around this kind of thing," Assistant State Attorney Owen McCaul said. "Drug court is to help them overcome drug addiction, and it's difficult for them to do that if they're living the lifestyle."

Hoffman, 23, was found dead Friday in rural Taylor County following a police-controlled drug buy gone awry. Deneilo Bradshaw, 22, and Andrea J. Green, 25, have been charged with kidnapping and armed robbery in connection with her disappearance.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Tuesday that it would conduct the investigation into Hoffman's murder. Murder charges have not been filed, and Assistant State Attorney Jackie Fulford said prosecutors would wait for the investigation to be complete.

Nancy Daniels, Public Defender for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, said the drug court has an "informal practice" of not having people in drug court work as informants -- "the thinking being that someone in drug court is trying to get away from drug activity and drug use," she said.

David McCranie, spokesman for the Tallahassee Police Department, said the department is committed to reviewing its procedures in the wake of the Hoffman case.

"Based on what we know now, there appears to be some miscommunication between our investigators and the protocol (of the judicial system)," he said. "We will work with the State Attorney's Office and the Public Defender's Office to make sure we understand what the others want."

Hoffman entered Leon County's felony drug court in April 2007 after being pulled over in February 2007 with 25.7 grams of cannabis in her car. The program offers first-time drug offenders a chance to overcome addiction and clear their record by following a regimen of drug tests and group counseling for 12 to 18 months.

Police recruited Hoffman as an informant last month after they found drugs in her home, but they never charged her with a crime and didn't tell anyone in drug court what they found. McCranie said investigators knew Hoffman was in the drug diversion program.

"Her participation in the program -- (investigators) evaluated it and didn't think her participation would impact her ability to complete the program," he said.

Jerry Burghout, director of A Life Recovery Center, said the secretive nature of confidential informant work makes it incompatible with rehabilitation. The center provides drug testing and counseling for drug court participants in Leon County.

"We work diligently in breaking down barriers and secrets, but it's kind of hard to work with someone who's invested in keeping secrets from their therapist," Burghout said. "I always say, you're only as sick as your secrets."

Also visit our "Informants: Resources for a Snitch Culture" section.

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