Chad MacDonald's family charged Sunday that the Yorba Linda youth's work as an under-age drug informant for the Brea Police Department led to his torture and killing by suspected Norwalk drug dealers.
MacDonald, 17, was found strangled in a Los Angeles alley March 3, hours after his 16-year-old girlfriend, who had been shot and raped, was found alive in the Angeles National Forest.
Attorney Lloyd Charton, who represents the youth's mother, Cindy MacDonald, said MacDonald had been pressured into doing undercover drug deals for the police in the two months before his death because he had been trying to avoid prosecution on drug possession charges.
"That boy was killed for revenge, pure and simple," Charton said. "I assure you that Chad's connection to that Norwalk house . . . was exclusively because of his work with the police."
But Brea Police Chief Bill Lentini said the youth's death was unrelated to any work he might have been doing for the department, saying that MacDonald was definitely not working for the Brea police on the day he was killed.
Although Lentini would not comment on whether MacDonald had ever worked as an informant for the narcotics division, he said the department has used teenagers on "rare occasions" in the past in strictly supervised sting operations.
"We would never send someone to Norwalk to purchase large quantities of narcotics by themselves. Period," he said.
Charton agreed that Brea police never sent MacDonald to the Norwalk house, which was notorious for drug and gang activity. The youth went on his own, the lawyer said, because he felt pressured by police to bring in bigger busts or face criminal charges.
Authorities have arrested two suspects so far: Norwalk residents Michael L. Martinez, 21, and Florence L. Noriega, 28, were found in a Las Vegas motel. A warrant has been issued for Jose A. Ibarra, 19, also of Norwalk.
Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators allege that the three suspects held the teenagers captive for several days in the house before killing MacDonald and raping and shooting his girlfriend.
MacDonald first got involved with Brea police on Jan. 6, when he was pulled over during a traffic stop, and officers found half an ounce of methamphetamine in his truck, Charton said. The teenager was taken to the police station and interviewed for several hours before his mother arrived to pick him up, the lawyer said.
"He was crying, his eyes were so swollen they looked like two red tomatoes," he said.
When Cindy MacDonald asked police if she could take her son home, they told her that she had to sign a waiver permitting him to work as a police informant or he would face a lengthy jail sentence, Charton said. Police did not respond to that allegation.
In fact, Charton said, as a juvenile and first-time drug offender, MacDonald would have been sent for six months of intensive rehabilitation or to Juvenile Hall.
In the following weeks, police supervised MacDonald during at least two drug buys, in which two arrests were made, Charton said. MacDonald was told that charges against her son would be dropped in exchange for his work as an informant, he added.
Although Cindy MacDonald had initially given written permission for her son's involvement, she become increasingly concerned that Chad was under pressure to do larger buys, Charton said, adding that the boy's father died when he was an infant. At one point, Charton said, after the mother went to the district attorney's office and asked that police stop using MacDonald as an informant, a prosecutor called Brea police and instructed them to back off.
"Chad made a couple of busts for them, but they kept saying, "This isn't big enough. This isn't enough,' " Charton said. "She wanted to send him back East to get away from the drug community, but they said no."
In fact, Charton said, the district attorney's office filed charges of possessing and transporting methamphetamine against MacDonald.
"That, of course, only made Chad all the more desperate to please them," Charton said. "He set out to score a deal that would satisfy the police and rid himself of the charges. They basically sent him off into the drug culture and said, 'Get us bigger bucks.' "
MacDonald had been working the Brea and Yorba Linda area, Charton said, but ended up in Norwalk because "he was trying to please police to end his legal problems. Instead, he got introduced to the killers who took his life," Charton alleged.
But Lentini again denied that police would have sent a minor into such a dangerous situation alone. If MacDonald went to Norwalk, he did so on his own, the chief said.
"We did not ask him to go to that location," he said. "I've asked our people if they even knew of the subjects involved or that location, and the answer is no on all counts."
When Brea police have used juvenile informants, it's only under strict supervision by officers, he said. In addition, police would only be interested in dealers that worked near schools or sold to other juveniles, not in big-time operators outside county lines.
"It's one thing to make a purchase of some small quantity of narcotics a block from high school," Lentini said. "It's quite another thing to go to Norwalk and make a large purchase there alone."
There is no law prohibiting minors from being used as police informants, but the department would normally use a juvenile only after consulting with the district attorney's office, he said. The district attorney's office has historically approved the use of minors in other sting operations, such as those involving alcohol.
Other police departments said they would never or would be very reluctant to use a juvenile as an informant.
Los Angeles Police Department officials said they do not use minors for undercover drug investigations.
"It's too dangerous," said LAPD Cmdr. Dave Kalish. "Obviously, we use informants. Sometimes we use paid informants, but they're always over 18."
Anaheim Police Department spokesman Sgt. Joe Vargas said that although the department does not have a set policy on using juveniles as informants, "it is strongly discouraged."
Vargas, who worked 10 years in the department's narcotics unit, said he cannot recall detectives ever using a juvenile for that purpose.
Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this story.