Extended interviews: 3 criminal justice reformers on the use of confidential informants

Necessary Evil: The cost of confidential informants, a KSAT 12 Defenders Investigation, airs Feb. 1 at 9 p.m.

Scott Henson, left, Alexandra Natapoff, center, Jim Trainum, right. (KSAT)

This story is part of a KSAT 12 Defenders investigation into the use of confidential informants by law enforcement. The one-hour special report airs on KSAT 12 on Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. Find more here.

While making “‘A Necessary Evil’: The Cost of Confidential Informants,” the KSAT 12 Defenders interviewed multiple experts on the use of confidential informants.

Though the interviews are abridged during the one-hour special report, the extended interviews with these experts can be watched below.

Scott Henson, Executive Director, Just Liberty

Scott Henson is the executive director of Just Liberty, a bipartisan non-profit based in Austin, dedicated to criminal justice reform in Texas. The organization has worked on issues ranging from bail reform, to reducing arrests for low level offenses like marijuana possession and fighting the overcriminalization of other minor offenses.

Henson has worked as a journalist and political consultant and is the author of Grits for Breakfast, a respected blog focusing on criminal justice politics and policy in Texas.

He also served as the Police Accountability Project Director for the ACLU of Texas where he authored, Flawed Enforcement: Why drug task force highway interdiction violates rights, wastes tax dollars, and fails to limit the availability of drugs in Texas.The report highlighted numerous problems related to the state’s management and oversight of a federal grant program used to fund regional narcotics task forces.

Henson also currently serves as the Policy Director for the Innocence Project of Texas.

In this extended interview, Henson discusses the war on drugs in Texas, wrongful convictions, police accountability, and possible reforms.

Jim Trainum, Retired Metro DC Police Detective, expert on police interrogations

Trainum is a retired DC police officer with 27 years of experience, everything from being a homicide detective, to acting as department chief.

Jim Trainum is a retired Metropolitan Washington D.C. Police detective and expert on police interrogation techniques, including how they can lead to false confessions. He serves as a consultant on criminal cases, wrongful conviction cases and is a respected speaker on a variety of law enforcement topics.

Trainum served 27 years with Metro D.C. Police where he spent most of his career as a homicide detective working on high profile cases including the Chandra Levy murder. He also created and served as the director of the agency’s Violent Crime Case Review Project which reviewed old homicide cases. He was widely considered one of the best homicide detectives in the country.

Early in his career Trainum, discovered he made a mistake on a homicide investigation which led to a false confession by a suspect. That false confession changed the course of Trainum’s career and led to his mission helping other officers learn how to avoid making the same mistakes.

Trainum is the author of “How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room” and has appeared in the Netflix documentary series “The Confession Tapes”.

In this extended interview Trainum discusses how mistakes happen in law enforcement, his thoughts on the Bexar County cases that were overturned, the use of criminal informants, and what stands in the way of needed reforms.

Alexandra Natapoff, Harvard Law Professor, Expert on Confidential Informants

Natapoff, is also a former Federal Public Defender, and widely considered to be the top expert on confidential informants.

Alexandra Natapoff is a Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure at Harvard Law School. Before becoming a law professor, she was an assistant federal public defender in Baltimore, Maryland. It was in that role that she took an interest in law enforcement’s reliance on criminal informants and the damaging effect their use has had on low income and minority communities.

Natapoff testified before Congress in 2007 in the wake of the murder of Kathryn Johnston, an innocent 92-year-old grandmother who was killed in her own home by Atlanta Police officers during a botched drug raid based on a bad tip from a criminal informant.

Natapoff has written extensively about the criminal justice system, wrongful convictions and is an international expert on criminal informants. She is the author of “Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice”.

In this extended interview Professor Natapoff shares her thoughts on confidential informants, their impact on the criminal justice system, the murder of Kathryn Johnston, the need for better data and her ideas for reforms.

Read more from this series:

About the Authors:

David Raziq is the executive producer for the Defenders investigative team.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.