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June 29, 2005 - Connecticut Post (CT)

Police Explorers Used In Drug Sting At Barlow High School

By Danel Tepfer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Easton Police Chief John Solomon used two teenage Police Explorers at Joel Barlow High School to uncover drug dealing activity there, and concealed this from their parents, newly released Superior Court documents reveal.

But the covert operation ended when two police officers secretly recorded the chief talking about it and notified the teens' parents, the documents state.

"No one should know. If you are an informant, you wouldn't want anyone to know. I didn't do anything wrong," Solomon said Tuesday.

But Louis Salute, executive of the Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts, which oversees the Explorer Post, said it was definitely wrong.

"Young people are there to learn about police work. They are not supposed to be put in a situation of danger and they are not to be used this way," he said.

Joseph Mason, an Easton officer suspended in connection with the incident, was arrested on eavesdropping and other charges.

He is to be arraigned on July 8. His lawyer, John R. Gulash, declined comment on the case.

Another officer, Anthony Land, son of Weston Police Chief Anthony Land, has been forced to resign.

According to Mason's arrest warrant affidavit, prepared by the State Police Central District Major Crime Squad, the two Barlow students provided confidential information to School Resource Officer Mark Pastor for a drug investigation at the Redding school, which is made up of students from Redding and Easton.

In early February, Solomon approached Pastor in the Police Department's locker room.

The affidavit states that Solomon told Pastor "that he did not want the Police Explorers who provided information to be exposed or their safety compromised, that he did not want the parents of the Police Explorers to believe that the Easton Police Department was utilizing members of the Explorer Post for drug investigations."

Solomon told Pastor that under "no circumstances" was he to identify the Explorers to Redding Police Chief Doug Fuchs.

They were unaware that their conversation was being recorded by a digital recording device hidden in Land's locker.

Several days later, according to the affidavit, the parents of the two Explorers received letters from "a concerned parent" notifying them that their sons were being used in the drug investigation at the school.

Easton First Selectman William Kupinse Jr. also received the letter.

In early January, Fuchs informed Solomon he had information that two Barlow students were selling drugs at the school, according to the affidavit. Solomon then summoned Pastor, also the supervisor of Easton's Police Explorer program, to assist in providing Solomon with information about the suspected drug dealers.

The affidavit states that on Jan. 21 the two Explorers provided Pastor with information about drug use and drug activities in the school. On Feb. 14, after the students provided Pastor with additional information, the affidavit states the Explorers told Pastor their parents received a letter from an unknown person stating that Easton police were utilizing three Explorers for "narcotic investigations" in the high school.

The affidavit states that as part of the investigation Solomon said an undercover Statewide Narcotics Task Force officer was "planted in the school to develop intelligence pertinent to this case."

Fuchs said last week that he was not aware Barlow students were giving Easton police information about drug dealing at the school.

"Even if I had that information, [Solomon's] investigation would have trumped my investigation," he said.

However, Fuchs was adamant that no undercover officer was "planted" in the high school. "I've been in Redding three years, and during that time there has never been an undercover officer in Joel Barlow High School and we have never had plans to have an undercover officer [there]," he said.

But while Solomon admitted that he didn't tell Fuchs about the students providing information, he says he did tell him an undercover officer was going to be put in the school.

"He came here to this department and I told him what we were doing with the investigation," Solomon said.

Kupinse said he doesn't recall if he received an anonymous letter about the Explorers, and doesn't know if their parents were aware their children were working with police on the investigation.

Charles Feld, chairman of Easton's Police Commission, said he had not read the affidavit.

"All I know is that two people had a recording device in the police department dressing room. I'm totally unaware of anything being done by the Explorer Scouts," he said. "Chief Solomon never told the board about the drug investigation in the high school. I never heard about it even in executive session."

During a Tuesday meeting with Solomon and several of his top officers, the chief agreed that information in the affidavit is accurate.

While it states the two students gave police information on drug dealing in the school on four occasions, Solomon said there were in fact many more.

"We have an obligation to investigate if there are drugs in school and to use whatever resources are available to us," he said.

While the officers debated whether they actually "used" the students to get information, they did agree that they approached the Explorers seeking information about drug dealing in the school.

Pastor said when he first met with the whole Explorer Post, he asked them if they had any information on two alleged drug dealers, but none said they did. However, he said he was later approached by the two who agreed to find out.

"I have spent years getting a rapport with the students. This is what I would expect they would come forward with," Pastor said. "The chief was concerned that any parent would believe that they were utilized in an investigation. "I would not want anyone in town to think that we have an Explorer Post to get information on illegal activity in school."

Solomon denied that by using the Explorers to get information on drug dealing in the school he was putting them in jeopardy.

"We didn't say 'You're a kid, go away, we need to talk to your parents.' That's not going to happen," he said.

"This is something we do on a daily basis," said Lt. Richard Doyle. "We approached juveniles on the playground seeking information on illegal activities and we don't contact their parents."

Mason and Land purchased the voice-activated-recording device and hid it in the pocket of Land's raid jacket in his locker, the affidavit states.

The recorder was found there Feb. 24 during a search of Land's locker by Solomon. The search took place after Officer Thomas Ceccarelli told Solomon that Land had told him in January that he bought the device to record the conversations of other police officers.

Officer Thomas Brennan said during the week of Feb. 14 Mason called him and told him Explorers were doing undercover drug work at the high school, according to the affidavit, and that a letter had been sent to the PTA regarding the matter.

After the recorder was found and Mason and Land were suspended, a panicked Mason told Brennan that if he were asked about the recorder he should say it was used for union business, according to the affidavit.

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