This is the price we're paying to
win fight stand our ground during participate in a drug war. We take criminals under our wing, turn them into informants, and send them out into the general population to engage in criminal activity -- all under the assumption this will eventually lead to the dismantling of a drug cartel.
Of course, this is the same rationale propelling civil asset forfeiture. But no matter how much property is taken from people never charged with crimes, drug cartels remain intact and their products continue to flow into the country. But that's only dollars and cars and houses lost. This case [PDF] -- presided over by the Tenth Circuit Appeals Court -- deals with the loss of innocence and life… all at the hands of a DEA informant.
The backstory of the DEA informant is so much easier to take than the backstory of the lawsuit, so we'll start there.
The events began in 2011, when Mr. Quintana was arrested by state authorities after a search warrant executed at his home uncovered drugs and stolen handguns. After his arrest and release from custody the DEA registered him as an active informant. He remained registered as an informant until April 4, 2013. As part of Mr. Quintana’s agreement with the DEA the defendants “controlled the evidence and the status and direction of the State of New Mexico charges” against him. Aplt. App., Vol. I at 24 ¶ 83 (emphasis omitted). At the time the DEA engaged him as an informant, Mr. Quintana’s criminal record reflected his violent propensities.
The footnote attached to "violent propensities" reads":
Mr. Quintana’s criminal record includes “Domestic Violence, Battery upon a Household Member, Child Abuse, False Imprisonment, Battery upon a Household Member with a Firearm, Attempted Murder, Kidnapping, Conspiracy, Felon in Possession of a Firearm . . . Trafficking a Controlled Substance, Receiving or Transferring a Stolen Firearm, and threats of Battery and Arson.”
Here's more on the DEA informant, via the lower court's decision:
In particular, in 2005, Quintana was convicted of Aggravated Battery Against a Household Member with a Deadly Weapon after battering his wife in front of his wife’s children, arming himself with a handgun and pressing it against his wife’s mouth, saying “I want to kill you, you fucking bitch.”
The DEA viewed this horrendous person as an asset, releasing him back into the public to continue being his awful self while occasionally providing agents with tips. The record doesn't show how many investigations Quintana aided. It may have been zero. It may have been dozens. No matter what the total was, it cannot possibly offset the criminal acts he committed that led to this lawsuit.
In August 2012, during the period in which he was acting as an informant, Mr. Quintana and his family moved into the residence of Jason Estrada and his family, with the Estrada family’s permission. Plaintiffs allege the DEA was aware or should have been aware of Mr. Quintana’s residential location and circumstances. For its part, the Estrada family was unaware that Mr. Quintana was serving as a DEA informant. Nor did the government warn the family of his violent nature or history.
Within a month, Mr. Quintana began sexually abusing Jason Estrada’s minor son, JGE, who was then five years old. The abuse continued until February 20, 2013, when Mr. Quintana and his family moved out of the Estrada residence.
This is horrifying enough. But it gets worse. JGE told his parents about the abuse after Quintana moved out. JGE's father began asking Quintana's friends and associates about this molestation or any other criminal acts Quintana had engaged in. Quintana found out about this and decided to shut JGE's father up.
On April 3, 2013, Mr. Quintana and two other men travelled to the Estrada residence. In the presence of JGE, they beat and shot Jason Estrada, who died from his injuries.
Here's the coda, which is far too little far too late:
Approximately one day later, “the United States and the Defendants deactivated DEA Informant Edward Quintana.”
And that's the end of the story. The lower court granted qualified immunity to the DEA agents, stating no policy or guideline or action/inaction could have foreseeably led to this tragic turn of events. It also allowed the US government to duck the federal court claims, finding the complaint failed to state a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
None of these rulings were appealed so that leaves the Appeals Court with the plaintiff's last-ditch Rule 59(e) motion to consider. This appeal route asks the court to reconsider the lower court's ruling in total to find reversible errors and/or consider new evidence. The court finds no errors and no new evidence, so JGE and his relatives all just have to live with the sacrifice his father apparently made for this country and its war on drugs. The lower court's ruling is affirmed.
Maybe there really is no clear path to holding the government accountable for the damage done by its war on drugs. All we can do, for the most part, is count the costs: the trillions of dollars and the thousands of lives. Some of this is lost in massive chunks -- abstract amounts relegated to spreadsheets and yearly reporting. Some of it is lost individually, with enough detail we're all able to see the blood on our hands. This is one of those cases. And like the Drug War itself, there's no closure to be had.
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