The family of Rachel Hoffman, the 23-year-old who was fatally shot last spring while acting as a confidential police informant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tallahassee on Tuesday.
"In all my years of lawyering, I don't think I've ever seen a case with such pitiful ineptitude," said the family's attorney, Lance Block. "The facts of this case are mindboggling. There were so many acts of negligence, from the way Rachel was recruited to the manner in which she was selected to perform this task, which was way over her head."
Block is also working with state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to draft legislation setting statewide standards in the use of confidential informants.
"There are no checks and balances and no regulation, even though most confidential informants are civilians who are untrained in law enforcement," Block said.
Hoffman, of Clearwater, had been accused of using and selling marijuana and ecstasy, and police said she could avoid prison by acting as an informant.
She had planned to meet two suspected drug dealers at a park where a deal to buy cocaine, ecstasy and a gun was supposed to take place as police monitored the deal. Officers lost contact with her after she called to say the location of the transaction had been changed.
Her body was found two days later in Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee. The two men she was supposed to meet have been charged with her murder.
The police department's execution of its plan was a "chaotic disaster," Block said. Officers "lost visual contact with Rachel. The audio equipment in her purse went dead."
He wouldn't say how much the family is asking for. "I would just describe it as a huge case," he said.
Tallahassee City Attorney Jim English conceded the case was badly handled. "We asked the state attorney general to review our policies and procedures after the tragedy. We've made changes. ... We've disciplined four or five officers involved, including one termination."
Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones has advocated setting statewide standards for the use of confidential informants and plans to work with lawmakers to pass legislation, English said. "We think that is a very positive step."
But Frank Messersmith, a lobbyist for the Florida Sheriffs Association, told the News Service of Florida that many in the law enforcement community were opposed to elements of the proposed law.
It may be unrealistic to remove all risk from the system, he said. As it's been drafted so far, the bill would require police to advise informants of their right to talk to an attorney before agreeing to work with police. It would also require more cooperation between police and prosecutors in the use of informants.