Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 11, 2013

Proposal would restrict use of kids in drug stings


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — LANSING (AP) — A Michigan lawmaker wants to restrict the use of children in police drug stings after authorities in suburban Detroit used a 14-year-old boy to help bust a suspected drug dealer.

State Sen. Mike Kowall of Oakland County’s, R-White Lake Township, told the Detroit Free Press that he’s crafting legislation to address the use of juveniles as confidential informants.

“I was a little taken aback,” Kowall said of learning details of the March 15 sting. “We have to be careful that we don’t put minors into situations that violence is imminent.”

Some other states have similar laws. Draft legislation could be ready this month.

The legislation comes after police said they made the right decision to use the boy in the sting. The sting came to light after a parolee was arrested for trying to sell marijuana in a Lake Orion park. The child’s participation has been criticized by prosecutors handling the case as being potentially dangerous.

Edward Watkins is charged with selling drugs to a person under the age of 18, a felony punishable by up to 8 years in prison. Watkins’ criminal history dates to at least 1992, with convictions for larceny, assault with a dangerous weapon and receiving and concealing a stolen motor vehicle.

The case against Watkins, 36, is pending in Oakland County Circuit Court. His lawyer Tiffany McEvans said the 14-year-old called Watkins before the meeting that led to the arrest.

“It wasn’t a situation as they’re making it out to be that he was just targeting this young man,” McEvans said. “It clearly appears that my client was set up.”

Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh said the 14-year-old also had a friend with him, but he wasn’t told whether the other boy participated in the sting. Narsh has said Watkins was a father figure to a friend of the 14-year-old and had been pressuring the 14-year-old to buy marijuana.

“This is not a normal narcotics investigation,” Narsh said.

Kowall said he wants to set a minimum age of 13 for all confidential informants, although he called that age a starting point and said it doesn’t indicate his approval of using children that young. He also wants to require parental approval in cases involving children.

“I just don’t think a child ... has the mental capacity to realize what they’re getting themselves into,” Kowall said.

Robert Stevenson, president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said any regulations would need to be reasonable.

“I don’t know that most police agencies would have a problem with some type of guidelines, but we’d have to see what it is,” Stevenson said.