The Worth of a Snitch

The argument made to the jury about the person whose crimes are forgiven, who is taken into the DEA fold, is that when angels are involved in drugs, witnesses will be angels. Until then, the government is constrained to use the services of scoundrels to win the War on Drugs. And it works. All the time.

So what if the “confidential informant,” the euphemism for the mutt who yesterday was the worst lying scum alive but today, in the service of the DEA, is somehow rehabilitated into a reformed sinner repenting for his misdeeds. And, usually, working them off any way he can.

But just how bad must a snitch be to fall below the threshold of DEA love? Edward Quintana tested the depths to which the government would go, and the DEA failed the test. Or, according to the Tenth Circuit, the DEA won, because qualified immunity precluded culpability for their allowing Quintana to be out and free to sexually molest Jason Estrada’s minor son, and then murder Estrada.

The backstory of the DEA informant is so much easier to take than the backstory of the lawsuit, so we’ll start there.

The events began in 2011, when Mr. Quintana was arrested by state authorities after a search warrant executed at his home uncovered drugs and stolen handguns. After his arrest and release from custody the DEA registered him as an active informant. He remained registered as an informant until April 4, 2013. As part of Mr. Quintana’s agreement with the DEA the defendants “controlled the evidence and the status and direction of the State of New Mexico charges” against him. Aplt. App., Vol. I at 24 ¶ 83 (emphasis omitted). At the time the DEA engaged him as an informant, Mr. Quintana’s criminal record reflected his violent propensities.

The footnote attached to “violent propensities” reads”:

Mr. Quintana’s criminal record includes “Domestic Violence, Battery upon a Household Member, Child Abuse, False Imprisonment, Battery upon a Household Member with a Firearm, Attempted Murder, Kidnapping, Conspiracy, Felon in Possession of a Firearm . . . Trafficking a Controlled Substance, Receiving or Transferring a Stolen Firearm, and threats of Battery and Arson.”

Here’s more on the DEA informant, via the lower court’s decision:

In particular, in 2005, Quintana was convicted of Aggravated Battery Against a Household Member with a Deadly Weapon after battering his wife in front of his wife’s children, arming himself with a handgun and pressing it against his wife’s mouth, saying “I want to kill you, you fucking bitch.”

Going in, there was little question that Quintana wasn’t just a bad dude, but was a violent, dangerous person. The likelihood that this was a person who would do extreme harm to someone was impossible to miss, so naturally, the DEA took him under their protection because of his promise to ferret out drug dealers. What could possibly matter more than a dirty snitch willing to do the DEA’s bidding?

In August 2012, during the period in which he was acting as an informant, Mr. Quintana and his family moved into the residence of Jason Estrada and his family, with the Estrada family’s permission. Plaintiffs allege the DEA was aware or should have been aware of Mr. Quintana’s residential location and circumstances. For its part, the Estrada family was unaware that Mr. Quintana was serving as a DEA informant. Nor did the government warn the family of his violent nature or history.

Within a month, Mr. Quintana began sexually abusing Jason Estrada’s minor son, JGE, who was then five years old. The abuse continued until February 20, 2013, when Mr. Quintana and his family moved out of the Estrada residence.

As Tim Cushing subtly notes, molesting a child might seem worse than the drug crimes Quintana was enlisted to stop. After all, it’s not as if Quintana is the only snitch in town, and there is no reason why the DEA is forced to use this psycho as its best law enforcement source.

This is horrifying enough. But it gets worse.

When JGE told his father of Quintana molesting him, and his father sought information about Quintana, things got worse.

On April 3, 2013, Mr. Quintana and two other men travelled to the Estrada residence.In the presence of JGE, they beat and shot Jason Estrada, who died from his injuries.

Only then did the DEA decide that Quintana crossed the line, and deactivated him as an active CI. The Estrada family brought a Bivens action, complaining of the DEA failed to warn, to protect, the Estradas from this snitch, this vicious animal under their wing, knowing full well that they cut loose Quintana to molest, to kill, just so they could use him to catch a dealer.

The court rejected the action, noting that there was no way the DEA could foresee that Quintana might be just as bad, if not worse, after becoming a CI as he was before.

Among other points, the district court reasoned that “Plaintiffs’ existence and harm were not reasonably foreseeable to the DEA,” and “the DEA could not have reasonably foreseen the terrible tragedy that befell Plaintiffs, and so could not have imposed any conditions on Quintana’s activities that would have limited his contact with the Estrada family.”

The court then fell back on the government’s need for discretion to manage its rats, so critical to the performance of its law enforcement function of protecting people by allowing them to be molested and murdered, to cover the DEA’s sins.

The government’s decisions about whether to use Mr. Quintana as an informant, how to best supervise him in order to protect the public, and whether to notify others about dangers he might pose “required the exercise of judgment based on considerations of public policy.”

Similar policy-based considerations, weighing factors such as the risks of disclosure of informants and operations and jeopardizing the success of investigations against public safety, apply not only to the government’s duty to notify potential victims of harms but also to decisions concerning whether to employ a particular informant and the appropriate measures to be taken to protect the public from potential harm caused by government informants.

In its zeal to continue its fight in the War on Drugs, isn’t it worthwhile for the government to be able to enlist anyone it needs, even someone like Quintana, and to neglect protecting anyone who gets in the way of their keeping him on the street, in their home, so he can do his snitch duties? Yes, the Tenth Circuit said.

12 thoughts on “The Worth of a Snitch

  1. B. McLeod

    This case does pretty much out Quintana as a rat, which likely diminishes his prospects of a bright future in the prison system.

  2. Bryan Burroughs

    Seems like the correct decision by the court. Even though this guy was clearly a scumbag, whether to use someone as a CI is well within the realm of the discretion that should be afforded to the government. If we don’t like the decisions those folks make, vote em out, or change the laws to limit that discretion.

    Likewise, faulting the govt for not warning the Estradas that this guy was dangerous is a stretch. He had a documented, existing criminal record that they could have checked before allowing him into their home. It’s unreasonable to expect the govt to warn every single person a CI might come into contact with that they are dangerous. Even warning landlords might blow that CI’s cover.

      1. LocoYokel

        We can vote out the people who hire the DEA and (implicitly) condone this behaviour. We can also vote out the people who nominate and approve federal judges (don’t know why you are picking on them, they didn’t create the environment that led to this) and tell them to make better choices, or rather to explicitly fix the system and laws that make this possible.

        I know, pipe dreams. So many broken things, and no will, time, or money to fix them.

        1. SHG Post author

          Why must every really stupid comment beget an even stupider one? There is no rule you have to take a bad idea and make it worse.

      2. Bryan Burroughs

        I wasn’t aware that “the government” consisted only of the DEA and federal judges. As Loco pointed out, our elected representatives should be a check on both. Ad hominem aside, I’m not sure what is “stupid” about suggesting that elements of the government be allowed some discretion in their decisions while limiting that via legislation as needed. I’m also not sure what is “stupid” about suggesting someone do a little due diligence before taking someone into his home on a long term basis. To this humble libertarian, both seem, if I may use one of your favourite terms, reasonable.

        Being a CDL, that you might have an unfavourable opinion of CIs is understandable. But the notion that all CIs are untrustworthy is just as preposterous as the notion that they are all telling the complete, unadulterated truth. We shouldn’t blindly accept their testimony, nor should we blindly reject it. Their use (or not), then, seems a proper exercise of government discretion.

        1. Ron

          Isn’t oversight of individual DEA teams a huge national issue in congressional elections? And yes, every snitch working off a crime is a presumptive lying rat. If you’ll flip on your mother to save your ass, you’ll lie about anything to anyone. You’re a clueless moron.

  3. David

    I would like to see the district court’s face when a defendant’s attorney argues that their client should not be held before trial because”…harm were not reasonably foreseeable” and “…could not have reasonably foreseen the terrible tragedy.” If they couldn’t foresee this guy causing problems, how could they possibly argue they can predict someone else being a danger and hold them in jail? (I know the court would ignore it and continue on as usual.)

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