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Police say informer who led to Dontae Morris will never be named

TAMPA — The name of the informer who turned in Tampa Bay's most wanted man will never be publicly released, Tampa police say.

His name is closely guarded behind detectives' zipped lips and secret files. The only clues authorities have released about the person who orchestrated the capture of Dontae Morris after an exhaustive manhunt is that he is male and a "confidential informant."

Morris has been charged with the murders of two Tampa police officers during a June 29 traffic stop and two earlier murders. And a Tampa police report has labeled Morris a Bloods gang member. By revealing the name, police think Morris' associates could hunt him down.

"There could be retaliation," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

It's why the public may never learn who gets some or all of the $100,000 reward money.

The cloak that protects police informers is sewn into state law, prohibiting police from revealing their names. It's a cover of anonymity that can stay with informers for life since some cases never close while others, especially involving drugs and gangs, are related to countless other crimes.

"Many investigations go on for extended periods of time and get reactivated," said Dave DeKay, St. Petersburg assistant police chief.

Tampa police are not saying when the man who turned in Morris became an informer. But he was not cooperating to get a pending criminal charge reduced when he spent more than 30 hours working with detectives during the manhunt, McElroy said.

Informers are motivated by revenge, fear, money, legal problems or the desire to be secretly helpful. They are not whisperers who dial tip lines or Crime Stoppers, but are typically insiders who help police on an ongoing basis within criminal circles.

While many have colorful arrest records, not all do.

"Confidential informants don't have to be a bad person. It could be my brother, a son, my mother — anybody who can assist with investigations," said state Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Palm Harbor.

Nehr sponsored "Rachel's Law," passed in 2009, after informer and 23-year-old Clearwater native Rachel Hoffman was killed in 2008 while on an undercover drug buy in Tallahassee. The law requires law enforcement agencies to have written policies and procedures for dealing with informers.

In Tampa, police are required to complete an informer personal history form, get a recent color photograph and make a 3- by 5-inch index card with the informer's name, address, date of birth, date of activation, complete criminal history and the name of the officer turning someone into an informer.

That officer has to tell his supervisor about the person, and if the informer's criminal record is questioned, the supervisor needs to check with high-ranking brass and even prosecutors. Before an informer is activated, the supervisor needs to meet with him and the sponsoring officer.

From that point on, two officers have to be present when meeting with informers unless a supervisor allows otherwise.

Informers must pledge to tell the truth, stay crime free and not do anything related to a case without supervision.

"When a confidential informant is acting under the cover of police, he is literally acting as an agent of law enforcement," said Tampa defense lawyer Lyann Goudie, who has handled cases involving them.

Police have discretion on what informers can earn. Sometimes it's regular payouts for information and other times it depends on arrests or convictions. Prosecutors review those deals.

When informers are paid, police have to fill out an expense voucher that asks if information led to arrests or seizures. Informers have to sign it, and a second police officer has to witness a payment being made.

Informers can either actively work with police or be considered inactive, meaning they haven't provided information for more than six months. They are officially released from duty only after police fill out a confidential informant deactivation form.

"If somebody is working off charges and they're a cooperating defendant," McElroy said, "we would fill out a deactivation form at the conclusion of the case."

But some informers want to continue for the money, and police are not in a hurry to release sources who could be helpful down the road.

Some informer's records gather dust in police files. "We may have had them many years ago, and they're just here," DeKay said.

"You don't have confidential informants that are Boy Scouts," said Goudie. "They're not usually doing it for their civic duty."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Police say informer who led to Dontae Morris will never be named 07/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:31am]

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