Last January, a Louisiana woman working with local police entered a drug house wearing a hidden microphone and camera to help police gather information about the dealer. Once inside, the woman’s police handlers essentially abandoned her, and the dealer raped her twice, forcing her to perform oral sex on him while threatening to put her “in the hospital.”
“It was one of the worst depictions of sexual abuse I have ever seen,” a local official who viewed the footage told the Associated Press.
Police were able to use the intel gathered by the woman to arrest the drug dealer on charges of second-degree rape, false imprisonment, and distribution of meth, the AP reported. But weeks after the sting, they arrested the woman who had been their informant and charged her with possession of drug paraphernalia—despite the fact that she was violently raped while successfully helping them nab a drug dealer.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” the woman’s attorney, Harold Murry, told the outlet. “She has a drug problem, and I don’t know if she’s going to be able to beat it or not. But when you become a snitch, they keep your drug problem going, and then they arrest you for it.”
Local police said this kind of thing is pretty par for the course.
“We’ve always done it this way,” lieutenant Mark Park told the AP. “She was an addict and we just used her as an informant like we’ve done a million times before. Looking back, it’s easy to say, ‘What if?’”
In comments given to the AP, the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office has spoken dismissively about how it essentially set the woman up to be attacked during the sting—only to arrest her weeks later. Per the AP, officers who were part of the operation and waiting down the block were unaware that the dealer was assaulting their informant, because the microphone and camera she wore didn’t allow the officers couldn’t see or hear what was going on in real time. Officers overseeing the operation also claimed they hadn’t considered that an attack like this would happen.
“It was recording but not to where my guys were monitoring it,” Rapides Parish Sheriff Mark Wood told the AP, chalking the incident up to his own inexperience, as he’d been in the job just six months at that time. “There are always things you learn that you can do better.”
Wood has since tried to assuage backlash against the situation by claiming the operation “changed everything, the way we do business,” and that “technology has grown unbelievably.” The department says it’s updated its equipment with some of this technology since the sting. But experts for the AP pointed out that the supposedly new tech in question has existed for years, and could have been used to keep the woman safe.
A former Drug Enforcement Administration official who used to work undercover told the AP the incident was “a massive ineptitude,” and called the Louisiana officers running the operation “cowards.” But Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell said “there is no indication in my file that law enforcement did anything wrong” in the sting, as he says, again, they “never thought of” the possibility that the man, who had a criminal record spanning three decades, would try to hurt the woman.
Alexandra Natapoff, a Harvard law professor and leading expert on informants, told the AP that informants are often “treated as disposable pawns” by police. And qualified immunity, which shields officers from being sued for violating plaintiffs’ rights in most cases, denies most plaintiffs any recourse. “As a matter of common sense and humanity, police should take obvious, straightforward precautions to protect their informants, but there is no law that says they have to.”
The operation itself is a jarring display of incompetence that resulted in a woman being raped, while officers’ flippant language shrugs the woman off as “an addict,” her trauma a minor mistake they can “learn from” to “do better next time.” Her subsequent arrest is a stark reminder, too, that criminalized and incarcerated people are often survivors of sexual assault, further harmed by law enforcement agencies that—as in this Louisiana woman’s case—often do nothing to protect them.
Just last month, audio footage showed New Orleans police officers who were a block away ignoring a woman’s 911 call reporting an ongoing rape. On Friday, Jezebel reported that New Orleans has a systemic rape response problem: Officers are taking hours to respond to calls; rape kits are left untested; and rapes, in general, are swept under the rug. Unsettlingly enough, this latest incident in Louisiana reported by the AP clearly isn’t an isolated one.