Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Oddities in the Noah Hayes Shuler drug-paraphernalia case suggest he might have become a confidential informant, which can be "risky business," indeed

Noah Shuler and Aubrynne Russell
Has my nephew, Noah Hayes Shuler, become a confidential informant (C.I.) in the wake of his arrest near Sparta, Missouri, for possession of drug paraphernalia? By the seedy nature of informant activity, plus its demands for secrecy, prosecutors and judges are not forthcoming about details of this law-enforcement staple. So, it is almost impossible to reach a definitive answer to the question raised above about Noah. But if he accepted an offer to become a C.I., it certainly would explain some of the oddities surrounding his case.

For example, we know Noah's case disappeared from public view on case.net; and that could point to the secrecy needed for an informant. We know Noah received barely a slap on the wrist for what we call a "wild-ass speeding case" (driving up to 88 mph, the equivalent of a DUI under Missouri law) that was pending at the time of his drug case; that points to the leniency informants often are provided in exchange for their cooperation with law enforcement. We know Noah's speeding case was delayed at least twice, seemingly for no reason, while the drug case still was pending, according to records we viewed and copied before they disappeared from case.net; that suggests Noah might have been assisting law enforcement while his speeding case took a few unscheduled delays.

Noah's case sends mixed signals. On one hand, he was found with a marijuana pipe, which indicates he is nothing more than a casual user, perhaps with little or no value as a C.I. On the other, he was found with three empty sandwich bags, all containing marijuana residue. If the baggies held one ounce each and had all been full at some point, that is an awful lot of MJ, according to our research. Three ounces is way more than a casual user normally would have and could point toward distribution. That could make him a valuable C.I.

Noah comes from a family with money, so that might have heightened law-enforcement interest in him, especially in an age where expensive, high-quality marijuana from Colorado and other legal states has become the rage in the Missouri Ozarks. Was Noah able and willing to spread the "good stuff" among the moneyed class in southwest Missouri? If so, that could have led to his value as a C.I. -- also known as a snitch, a rat, and other not-so-flattering terms.

How does the C.I. deal work? Here is how it is described in an article at cracked.com:

If you want to live the glamorous life of the confidential informant, you don't need to be a former mafia assassin who gets busted by the feds. If you've committed even a minor crime -- especially if it involved drugs -- The Man might come calling with an offer to turn into a CI and start feeding them information from the inside. . . .

First, working with the police as an informant doesn't come with many guarantees, but there are some rough rules of thumb: You can rely on the prosecutor dismissing a charge for every two arrests of equal or greater value. Get busted for possessing and intending to distribute cocaine? You'd better be able to help the police bust two other coke dealers. Two-for-one is a great deal whether you're talking about felonies or Little Caesars pizzas, which is why cops are so willing to work with young ne'er-do-wells . . . 

Is it always two-for-one? Well, a Legal Schnauzer reader suggested in our comment section that a common refrain is "Snitch on three, you go free!" Perhaps it depends on the jurisdiction. Either way, the use of informants is common in drug busts here in the Missouri Ozarks. The following articles and press releases help make the point:

* Six Southern Missouri Residents Indicted for Large-Scale Meth Conspiracy (April 2016)

* 4 indicted on drug charges (January 2017)

* Travis Dibben Taken into Custody for Drug Treatment Following Guilty Plea (May 2013)

* Charges filed in drug bust (December 2008)

The last article makes a reference to COMET (Combined Ozarks Multi-Jurisdictional Enforcement Team), a drug task force that covers seven southwest Missouri counties, including Greene (where Noah lives) and Christian (where he was arrested). Did information about Noah's case make it's way to COMET? Whether Noah was used as a C.I. or not, I'd say the answer to that question likely is yes.

A downside to the informant trade is that targets do not take kindly to being informed upon. Consider this headline from the Springfield News-Leader:

* 3 charged with killing of suspected drug informant (September 2015)

From the article:

Three people were charged with murder Thursday in connection with the June 2014 killing of Christopher Younes at the Mark Twain National Forest near Chadwick. One could have been in custody, records show, long before he allegedly did the killing.

The suspected informant was found dead as authorities were investigating a drug distribution ring, and records show they had enough evidence to arrest and charge one of those now accused of doing the killing — months before the alleged murder.

Albert Romero, 40, Timothy Murray, 28, and Gabriella Shields, 27, were each charged Thursday with first-degree murder and armed criminal action after authorities say they shot Younes to death June 6, 2014 in Christian County because they believed he was helping investigators learn about their drug activity in Springfield.

You will notice that the article does not say whether the victim, Christopher Younes, actually was a C.I. That is typical of the secrecy that tends to surround informants.

(Note: While Noah Shuler's drug paraphernalia case has disappeared from case.net, the speeding charge against his girlfriend, Aubrynne Russell, remains in plain sight, for anyone to see -- 160572245, CITY OF SPARTA V AUBRYNNE LAINE RUSSELL. A hearing for her was set on April 12 (the same date Noah's was set), but attorney Russell Dempsey (the same attorney Noah had) asked for a continuance; a new hearing has been set for 1:30 p.m. on May 10 at Sparta Municipal Court. Why does Ms. Russell's speeding charge remain visible to the public, while Noah Shuler's drug-related charge has disappeared? Is she being treated differently from the son of a local lawyer? Is that "justice" in the Missouri Ozarks?)

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