MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The use of confidential informants by the Minneapolis Police Department is a program that operates largely in secret. The FOX 9 Investigators have learned MPD has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to confidential informants in recent years. However, it’s unclear how effective and reliable they are.
For years, law enforcement agencies have relied on confidential informants to help build some criminal investigations, with informants sometimes giving up information in exchange for working off charges or getting a paycheck from the police department itself.
However, it’s a program that operates largely away from the public eye and with very limited public oversight.
Caught up in secrecy
Beginning in December 2019, a series of events would unfold leaving Andre Moore at the center of a lawsuit against MPD, with accusations of excessive force and questions surrounding the use of a so-called confidential and reliable informant.
It began with a traffic stop in north Minneapolis in 2019, where a federal lawsuit claimed MPD Officer Tony Partyka and other officers improperly targeted then 48-year-old Moore, mistakenly targeting him as someone with an outstanding warrant.
"A lot of cops started pulling up, so I got nervous and was like, what the heck is going on," Moore told the FOX 9 Investigators. "I was like, ‘Man, they got me mistaken for somebody else.’"
The lawsuit claimed MPD officers beat up Moore, pulled his hair, and broke his nose, among other injuries. Officers then filed an incident report with the heading "Moore Money Moore Problems."
The lawsuit claimed months later, Officer Partyka would falsely obtain a search warrant for Moore’s home, telling the judge he had "Found baggies containing drugs in a trash bin outside Moore’s resident … and that a so-called confidential and reliable source had observed Moore selling drugs at the property."
"I thought about it," Moore said. "Why would it be an informant? I wasn’t doing anything like that."
Attorney Tanya Bishop was Moore’s public defender in the case.
"In that case, to this day, I have a feeling maybe that confidential informant didn’t even exist," Bishop said. "I’ll never know, because apparently the officer brought a name… he told the judge at least a name."
"At the end of the day, it didn’t become about the confidential informant anymore because there were other things that were untrue or done in a reckless disregard of the truth, and that’s where we ended up," Bishop said.
The drug charges against Moore were ultimately thrown out after the judge ruled there was "intentional or reckless disregard for the truth" when the officer applied for the original search warrant. In the order, the judge pointed to the lack of evidence – including that the bag the officer described in the warrant in fact "Did not contain any white powdery substance" and the officer had no explanation for it.
Moore ultimately spent seven months behind bars – months he would never get back.
"I was stressed out, couldn’t eat… losing weight, I couldn’t sleep," Moore said.
Moore’s case is just one example of how the secrecy surrounding the use of confidential informants in policing can complicate things for someone at the mercy of the justice system.
Confidential informants and payments
At Minnesota State Mankato, assistant professor John Reed has more than 35 years of law enforcement experience when he served on the force in Kentucky. He told the FOX 9 Investigators confidential informants are useful in certain cases.
"I think as far as narcotics investigations, I think they’re very integral to investigations and so forth, but they’re also helpful in homicide, robberies, etc.," Reed said.
To maintain their safety, confidential informants’ identities are protected by state law. They often work with police to give information to help build criminal investigations and sometimes conduct coordinated drug buys in exchange for a lesser sentence or, in some cases, a direct payout from a police department.
"There are people that actually make a living giving information to police," Reed told the FOX 9 Investigators. "They can support their lifestyle completely by doing so."
The FOX 9 Investigators have learned over the last four years, MPD has paid confidential informants a total of $305,948 between 2019 through 2022. Exactly how that money has been spent is currently a mystery, since the department rejected the FOX 9 Investigators’ initial request for more detailed financial records.
"I think it’s a lot of money to be paid out," said Bishop. "I would like to know individually how much they’re getting paid."
Payments also raise questions about the motivation for an informant.
When asked how to gauge whether statements from a confidential informant are reliable or not, Reed said: "I think you have to approach it as a handler, and a supervisor, not to be trusting of any of that information. I think it needs to be verified second and third hand."
In some cases, confidential informants have led to police searches and even arrests.
However, a review of search warrant applications submitted by MPD shows an inconsistency when confidential informants are mentioned. Some officers disclosed than informant was in fact a "paid informant" while others made no mention of a payment at all.
Bishop said she believes disclosure of whether an informant has been paid or not should be mandatory.
"Because if someone is paid, then you can use that in court to challenge whether or not they are telling the truth," Bishop said.
Seeking more transparency
As for the case of Andre Moore, his lawsuit was recently settled with a payout from the City of Minneapolis to the tune of $275,000.
"If we don’t speak on it, then it’ll keep happening, you know, somebody’s got to stand up," Moore said. "This is people’s lives that we’re talking about – who know what else they can get away with."
MPD did not agree to participate in an interview. However, the department currently has a policy on the books laying out how to handle confidential informants, including what’s allowed and what’s not. While state law requires periodic reviews of the program, those reviews have not been made public.
Meanwhile, Bishop hopes to see more transparency across the board when police rely on confidential informants.
"At the end of the day, when they pay that person, does it end up in a conviction? Does it end up that they get a warrant and they execute that warrant and nothing is found at all? But that's never published anywhere or no one ever knows about it," Bishop said.
"So what’s at stake? Our liberty, everyone’s liberty is at stake," Bishop said.