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THE PERILS OF A GOOD CITIZEN TURNED POLICE INFORMANT

March 24, 2001

If you are a naive good citizen type and you find yourself someday in possession of information about a crime, beware of the risks you take in case you try to do your duty and inform the police.

This month a young Mountain Park, Oregon, high school student, Tod Marshall Burrows, 16, found himself in just this situation - and he did the "right thing." Before any action or actual preparations had taken place, he told his mother that his friend, Matthew Alan Richards, 15, was plotting to kill a teacher and several students.

Todd, or "TJ" as he's called, hadn't considered the plotting anything except a total fantasy, but he concluded that Richards was far more serious and decided to report the scheme.

According to the Bend Bulletin (3/22/01), TJ admitted he was involved in conversation with his friend to decide where the shooting was to take place. The shooting never happened, but TJ was told by police during interrogations that he could be charged for being involved in the planning stages. He is currently suspended from Mountain View High School.

Much to his mother's dismay, Tod Burrows was treated as a criminal for his apparently reluctant and passive role. Caught in the web of intrigue, the naive young man had recoiled from evil only to unwittingly place himself at the mercy of aggressive criminal prosecutors, many of whom are ambitious, some having become ruthless in advancing their careers and getting re-elected.

The young inexperienced informant learned very quickly that the police and prosecutors go after everyone they come into contact with. They usually don't believe anyone unless they have something against them, some basis on which to at least threaten criminal prosecution; having real charges is best - for dealing charges vs testimony. Credibility with prosecutors and police depends upon their having a ready means to threaten and punish an informant who recants or refuses to support the eventual case that prosecutors decide on.

Two days later, Mike Dugan, Deschutes County district attorney announced that Burrows would not be charged after all, since no overt preparations had been undertaken while he participated. Indeed a close call, but such hard-line policy is not at all helpful in convincing youngsters, especially those who may have carried the play-acting a bit further, to back out at a later stage, perhaps after weapons have been obtained. Likewise, TJ's experience could serve as a caution to the rest of us who remain naive regarding the mentality beyond the "thin blue line."