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Law Signed Limiting Use of Youth Informants

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to the slaying of a Yorba Linda teen who had been enlisted as a drug informant, Gov. Pete Wilson has signed into law a measure that would restrict the use of youths as police informants.

Wilson said Friday that the measure by Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) would help to assure the safety of children who are ill-equipped to serve as police informants.

“Solving crimes is the responsibility of law enforcement officials and other qualified adults, not of children,” Wilson said in a statement. “While certain juvenile informants can be an invaluable tool for law enforcement, we must ensure their safety.”

Baugh’s bill was sparked by the torture and slaying of 17-year-old Chad MacDonald in March.

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An attorney for the MacDonald family contends the youth was killed because of his work as an informant for Brea police in exchange for dismissal of a drug charge. Police, however, say they stopped using MacDonald as an informant weeks before the slaying.

“There’s absolutely no need to fight the war on drugs with children,” Baugh said Thursday. “If this law was in effect a year earlier, Chad MacDonald would still be alive.”

The new law, which was approved as an urgency measure and thus went into effect with Wilson’s signature, prohibits the use of children age 12 and under as informants. Youths age 13 through 17 can be used, but only after police get permission from a judge.

Baugh said he doubts that any judge would grant that.

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“They’d essentially be signing a death warrant for a kid to go into the center of those drug war zones,” Baugh said. “This will essentially stop the use of juvenile informants.”

Under the law, a judge would have to consider the age and maturity of the teenager, the gravity of the youth’s alleged offense, the interests of justice and other factors before allowing a child to be deployed as an informant.

There would be one exception: Police could avoid getting a judge’s permission if the juvenile informant was working undercover on a case involving surveillance of retailers selling cigarettes to underage children.

Baugh originally sought a ban on all juvenile informants but eased off under pressure from law enforcement officials, who said they needed some flexibility to use underage informants in critical cases. Baugh agreed to prohibit the use of informants age 15 and under, then lowered the threshold to 12 at the request of Senate Democrats.

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MacDonald agreed to work as an informant after being arrested on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine in January. He made one drug buy for police but was dropped from the program after being arrested a second time on suspicion of purchasing narcotics.

In early March, he went to a suspected drug house in Norwalk. MacDonald’s badly beaten body was later found in an alley in South Los Angeles. His girlfriend was raped, shot and left for dead in the Angeles National Forest, but she survived the attack.


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