Andrew Sadek was a college student in North Dakota when he was arrested for selling $80 worth of marijuana in November 2013.
Sadek faced up to 41 years in prison based on state law, but cops told him there was a way out: He could become a campus drug informant.
Sadek, who was a student at the North Dakota State College of Science, took the deal and bought drugs three times on campus while wearing a wire.
Then, he stopped contacting the police, and on June 27, 2014, Sadek’s body was found in the Red River in Minnesota.
He had been shot in the head and was wearing a backpack full of rocks.
To this day, there’s no official ruling on if Sadek’s death was a murder or suicide.
Sadek’s mother believes he was murdered in retaliation for his work as a confidential informant.
Although a review into his case concluded the task force did not mishandle their interactions with Sadek, his death has reignited a debate on the use of confidential drug informants by the police.
The debate on confidential informants also speaks to the larger point of how America has mangled the “War on Drugs” with outsized sentences and lack of treatment options.
Discussions on the morality, efficacy and legality of confidential informants follow the tragic deaths of several young men and women across the country, who were used by police.
Informants agree to do their work to avoid greater punishments, which could include jail time, getting kicked out of school or simply having their parents find out.
Florida passed “Rachel’s Law” in 2009 following the death of Rachel Hoffman. Hoffman was arrested when she was 23 years old, with marijuana and ecstasy.
She took an offer to be a confidential informant for the police. During an undercover deal, Hoffman, who hadn’t been trained beforehand, was murdered.
The law named for her requires the police must have proper training for recruiting informants, and have to take into account a potential informant’s age and maturity.
Also under the law, informants are allowed to request a lawyer. The right to request a lawyer is important.
Confidential informants, and especially younger people, don’t always know their rights and the full legal extent of situations.
Sadek never had an attorney or court appearance.
Although he was told he could potentially go to prison for 40 years, he may not have known maximum punishments are rarely enforced in full and that, according to North Dakota defense attorney Mark A. Friese, most first-time marijuana offenders are not imprisoned.
Aside from the legal and physical safety grey areas of confidential informants, there’s also the informant’s personal heath and mental wellness to consider.
Informants can face hefty guilt and confusion over their roles, and it’s not guaranteed police will properly look after their emotional well-being.
A student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was found dead of a heroin overdose in his dorm in fall 2013.
His father and stepmother, who found his body, had no idea he had been using drugs.
But, a year before his death, the student was caught by campus police selling LSD and Molly. They also found a hypodermic needle in his dorm.
The police told the student he could stay in school and his parents wouldn’t have to find out if he became an informant for them.
He took the deal.
Campus police said the student had denied an offer for drug treatment, and they weren’t aware he was an addict (texts found showed him talking to others about his addiction).
Along with his addiction, the student was racked with guilt over being an informant.
“Kinda hard to live with myself . . . that was honestly the worst day of my life,” the student wrote in a text days after helping to bust a dealer on campus.
Under school policy, the student’s parents would have been told about his drug offenses, but he was able to keep it a secret because of the informant deal.
His parents said if they had known about it, they would have worked to get their son help.
The failures of the confidential informants system across the United States is yet another example of the country’s inability to effectively deal with drugs.
Using informants may be useful for police, but it puts the informants, especially younger individuals who may not be as knowledgeable or emotionally mature, in potential physical and emotional danger.
Moreover, these informants are placed in this position under, essentially, coercion: Do this or you’ll be locked up for years.
At this point, it’s clear the War on Drugs is not working, with everyone from President Barack Obama to the New England Conference of United Methodist Churches, which passed a resolution earlier this month, calling for an end to it.
In mid-July, Obama commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders.
He explained their sentences far outsized the crimes they committed, and they should already have been out of prison.
This move is seen as part of Obama’s push to reform the criminal justice system, which tends to systematically target minorities.
Presidential hopefuls on both sides have also come out against the War on Drugs in recent months.
Bernie Sanders spoke about reforming drug policies in a Reddit AMA in May and has been a vocal opponent of the war on drugs for years.
Meanwhile, Rand Paul said in April that the War on Drugs “created a culture of violence,” and helped to increase tension across the nation because of the racial disparity in punishment and enforcement.
Regardless of potential state and federal reforms on drug policies, an investigation by campus police, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Minnesota State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on Andrew Sadek’s death is ongoing.
It’s possible the Sadek family may never know for sure if their son's death was a murder or a suicide.