Undercover prostitute uncovers in drug stings

By Mark Harrison, November Coalition contributing writer

The North Central Washington Drug Task Force knowingly used an HIV-positive prostitute as an undercover informant to lure men into selling her drugs.

John Danny Shearer was arrested for delivering marijuana to the 31-year-old woman who made sexual advances toward him, according to a lawsuit filed by attorney Rodney Reinbold. Shearer stated in court documents that the prostitute showed her "surgically augmented" breasts to him and a friend in a Twisp, Washington laundromat, persuading Shearer to give her a small amount of marijuana. Shearer obliged and the three proceeded to smoke together. The following day there was sexual contact between Shearer and the woman.

Other men, fearful that the deadly HIV virus may have infected them after providing drugs to the informant, have come forward. One man who can't smoke because of emphysema was able to scrounge up a bit of pot when he was propositioned in a Twisp Tavern on January 20. It had been a while since the 62-year-old man had sex, according to court documents, and if it weren't for the seductive overtures of the "the strikingly good looking woman," he wouldn't have bothered tracking down the marijuana.

Several men insisted in sworn statements that the woman made sexual advances before persuading them to get small quantities of drugs for her. When they did, four said there was sexual contact. One man who knew the woman claimed "she intended to infect as many men, women and children as possible before she died."
County Prosecutor Rick Weber said her testimony helped convict eight or nine drug suspects but insists the woman­­arrested 28 previous times, mostly on prostitution and drug charges-did not have sex with any of them. One man said in his affidavit that the woman was a porn star featured in film available in his Omak community's video store.

The woman was busted for drugs last year and signed on to the Task Force after undergoing drug treatment. Apparently, smoking marijuana during drug stings is part of her "treatment" regime. In a public relations move, the police no longer pay the woman $75 a day for snitching, but she continues to testify against the suspects she lured.

The Task Force reviewed her rap sheet and knew they were hiring a prostitute, but Okanogan Sheriff Mike Murray said he didn't know that she was HIV-positive. He defended his ignorance by saying it's illegal to question someone about AIDS for hiring purposes. He said he found out about the virus later, but was not sure when. It became clear in a June 19 hearing, however, that officers were aware their informant was HIV-positive.

Twenty-two million people have already died from AIDS, and there are 40,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. each year. Yet, law enforcement had more important public safety matters to address­­about forty grams of illegal drugs, 90 percent of it marijuana seized with the help of an HIV-infected informant from nine different people. By exposing innocent people to a contagious killing virus the Sheriff's Department has again demonstrated the "drug warrior's" blind obsession to arrest non-violent drug users.

Superior Court Judge Jack Burchard refused to dismiss drug charges against the men arrested with the help of the informant, as she and the Sheriff's Department deny that sex played a role in the drug stings. Without evidence of sexual contact with the men, the judge ruled no risk was posed to the public. He did wonder if sharing a marijuana cigarette could expose people to the HIV virus. Judge Burchard, who served as director of the North County Drug Task Force from 1986 to 1992, chose to believe the paid police informant, with 28 prior arrests, over nine citizens living in small towns in north central Washington.

Prosecutor Weber defended the practice of using prostitutes carrying a deadly virus to entrap (induce to commit a crime) people for drugs. He pointed out that using felons as confidential informants is a well-established procedure in law enforcement.

Attorney Reinbold is filing a class action civil rights suit seeking to prohibit the use of confidential informants convicted for drugs and prostitution. Prohibition has driven intravenous drug users--a high-risk group for spreading HIV/AIDS-underground, exacerbating the spread of contagious diseases.

Prostitutes are also in a high-risk category. The lawsuit seeks to protect the public from viruses and diseases now spread by police work. Infections through direct contact with police informants, through families of those targeted in police stings and others in the general public are at risk when police send infected informants into compromising situations.

Law enforcement defends using informants with drug and prostitution felonies, claiming they are necessary to convincingly infiltrate cultures in certain neighborhoods. In practice this means older neighborhoods where poverty and unemployment are high. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit this sort of profiling by economic class. To illustrate, Reinbold points out that it's hard to find a doctor's son or daughter who was set up by police as a snitch to beat a rap for an amphetamine habit. The social implications of the federal suit are enormous, the constitutional logic indisputable.

John Danny Shearer faces 22 months behind bars for the small amount of marijuana that a seductive, HIV-infected informant persuaded him to provide. If police work is about protecting the public from harm, then the North County Drug Task Force should be on trial. But as it is, Reinbold will be defending Shearer whom the attorney calls "a brave man." Shearer had not accepted a plea bargain that would reduce his sentence to 40 days at press time. The prosecution and the Drug Task Force are surely praying the case will be concluded without incident, and that the public will have amnesia. Sounds like a great day for about 50 people to dress up like prostitutes and fill the Okanogan County Court to seduce a little justice out of a system gone to pot.

The court date is set for September 11 at 9:00 am. The Okanogan County Court is located at 149 3rd North, Okanogan, Washington. Those interested in impersonating a prostitute to decry this adulterated miscarriage of police ethics can email: protest@november.org.