Website exposes 'snitches' Informants blast back, while police monitor unusual Shamokin project
SHAMOKIN - Snitches beware. An online presence has targeted the tattletales of the Shamokin criminal world.
The creators of a Facebook page and website say they are doing a public service because informants "are the same types of people that feel they can act with disregard for the law because they can just point a finger at somebody else to save themselves."
But the whistle-blower site doesn't have the Shamokin police chief worried; in fact, it's quite the opposite. "Someone must be feeling the heat. We must be doing something right," Chief Edward Griffiths said last week about the Shamokin Snitch List, which claims to expose confidential informants the police use for drug busts.
The Facebook page, which still exists minus profiles and photographs of the alleged snitches that were present originally, boasts nearly 700 friends as of Friday.
The website, which requires visitors to create a profile before entering, has
six females and 10 males listed as snitches, some of them with photographs, as well as information on their alleged snitch offenses and their current city, township or borough of residence.
There are also message boards, an option to make a donation to the cause and a place for merchandise to be sold. More than 250 people have signed up for the website by creating a profile.
On the Facebook page, the group has found support through its followers.
"We need to know who the f---ing snitches are ... keep up the good work," said one male who commented.
"I think this is the best thing I've saw all year... GET EM," said a female writer.
As expected, some accused snitches aren't happy with the page.
"Yea, I'm a huge snitch!! haha," one female, whose photo is posted on the website, wrote with sarcasm on the "snitch" Facebook wall. ... "It's pretty sad that u have time to put a page like this together ... get a LIFE!!!!," she wrote.
Under her photo is a link to a News-Item story about her involvement in a criminal case.
'Measure of security'
The News-Item was contacted by Shamokin Snitch List via e-mail about doing an article on "what will be the hottest story in Northumberland County come Christmas," and to defend their decision to start the list. The writer said three people are involved - "two of the three of us smoke marijuana" - but they would not provide their names.
"Some of us were victims (of police informants)," they said in answering a question. "We all know people that got into problems due to confidential informants. We don't like informants."
The idea started nearly eight months ago and is dedicated to police informants regarding drug activity. They say they stand to gain a "measure of security" in their personal lives, and that their work would end the system of police cutting deals and allowing criminals back on the street.
The informants, said the e-mailer, are allowed to get away with small crimes because of their relationship with the police. The person did say that, in cases of child abuse, sexual assault or similar offenses, the offender should be punished, and their problem is not with snitches in those instances.
"Our problem is that, all too often, the police use informants in drug cases that are just criminals that can't pay the price once they are caught. We've found that the police are giving some informants free passes to point a finger at somebody else who is doing the exact same thing the informant got caught doing. How does that make any sense?" the e-mailer wrote.
Not only does Shamokin Snitch List expose informants, its creators defend drug use.
"We feel adults have a right to choose to put whatever they want in their bodies, regardless of whether it is a controlled substance or not," wrote the e-mailer. "There is a market for illegal drugs and people want to use and sell them. We see no problems with this as a matter of personal choice."
The writer even claims there is no drug problem.
"The reality is that these people (the police) have a hidden agenda. They need a 'drug problem' to justify their jobs," the e-mail says.
Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini says such thinking ignores the larger problem of drugs.
"The reality is our communities have a serious drug problem, and that attacks the quality of life for everyone," he said. "We have seen a lot of heroin, a lot of crack cocaine" and a lot of prescription drug abuse, he said.
"I would love to say to the Attorney General we could disband the (Northumberland-Montour) drug task force," he said, "but they're working overtime."
There is a level of danger involved with revealing the identity of snitches.
On the Facebook page, one male posted, "I still remember the days when we lured them out of the mountain and beat them into oblivion."
"It's about time these low-life, scumbag (expletive) got the public humiliation they deserve," said another online user.
The creators say they bear no responsibility if someone is harmed or killed as a result of the information, but don't want anyone to go too far.
"We do not want anybody to try to do anything illegal, we just want them to avoid the informants for their safety," the e-mailer wrote.
On the website, the front page says it is for information purposes only, and the first rule reads: "You will not use this information to violate the law or the rights of others. We cannot be responsible if you choose to take this information and use it for any illegal purposes. We do not condone any form of harassment, threats, or assaults. DO NOT DO IT. Please use this information to keep you and your friends safe."
Defending their site, the e-mailer said, "If somebody gets hurt because of what somebody decided to do after reading our site, the blame clearly lies with the person committing the assault. It's a matter of personal responsibility."
Pennsylvania State Police Captain Bret Waggoner, director of special investigations in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said if someone were injured or killed as a result of the information, "It might be crossing over into civil liability rather than a criminal case."
The prosecuting attorneys in such a case would determine that liability, he said.
Police need 'snitches'
Although the list may appear to be detrimental to police investigations, Griffiths said the information the people behind the list say they have is easy to obtain.
"The people on the snitch list are everyone who has been arrested," said the chief. "It's stuff people had access to. It's already published information that was already accessible to the public."
The names of snitches appear in newspaper police blotters and public police reports, but real confidential informants are never referred to by name, he said.
"Even in arrest papers, confidential informants are only known as numbers," said Griffiths.
The chief wouldn't provide the number of informants used on a regular basis by his department, but said they are usually people who have arrest records.
"We need these people, who know the lingo, who know the talk," he said. "That's how we do it; that's the way law enforcement works."
The e-mailer would not reveal how the Shamokin Snitch List obtains its information, saying, "The steps we use to verify some documents is extremely sensitive."
Although Griffiths doesn't view the list as a threat, that doesn't mean police are ignoring it. They continue to monitor activity to make sure no one crosses any lines. He admits it's a tough situation that enters the territory of constitutional rights.
"Everyone has freedom of speech, but you have to watch that there's no criminal investigation or pending investigation that might be compromised," he said.
The department has been in contact with Rosini about the situation. The D.A. acknowledged it's a concern, because when informants are identified, "it does impact on the ability to get information."
"You don't know who's dealing heroin; I don't know who's dealing heroin; but the guy who's using heroin knows," he said.
Waggoner said the issue wouldn't be what information the Shamokin Snitch List has, but how the group obtained it.
"If it's public information, I see nothing that would preclude them from posting that," he said. However, if the information is confidential, he said an investigation into how that was obtained would have to take place.
"If it's all public information, what steps could they take to shut us down?" asks the e-mailer. "They can monitor us all they want. We hope anybody considering becoming an informant monitors us, too."
$10 million rule
The website's home page says information is obtained through private research.
"Do not ask for documentation or 'proof,'" it reads. "If you don't like something you read on this website, contact an attorney and file a civil action against us."
Other rules on the site state that it may not be accessed by law enforcement or anybody acting on behalf of any form of law enforcement, and the information contained on the site may not be distributed, copied, relayed, broadcast or disseminated in any form without the express written consent of the website.
Failure to abide by the listed rules "will result in forfeiture of $10 million to this website."
The e-mailers made similar demands in their earlier contacts with The News-Item, saying that if a reporter violated a confidentiality agreement, "you personally and as an agent of the Shamokin News-Item and/or its parent company and/or subsidiaries agree to compensate us in the amount of $10,000,000.00 USD per instance."
"If this is some bull.... to help the police track us, just stop now," their reply to questions from The News-Item warned.
The News-Item did not agree to any confidentiality demands, and the creators did respond to the newspaper's questions.
'Grasping at straws'
Griffiths said he nor his officers have harassed anyone, but they have an idea who is behind the list.
"It's someone bitter because someone's been arrested. They're grasping at straws," he said.
If someone is going to such extremes to stop police informants, Griffiths said he believes his department is doing something right.
"When we get lists like this, the heat's on, and the heat will continue to be on," he said.
But the e-mailer said the police have no idea who is running the site. This is why they shut down the Facebook page and moved it to a private website. "We're mainly worried about them targeting the wrong people," the people behind the list said on the wall of their Facebook page.
"It was bringing the heat on people that had nothing to do with the page," they wrote. "The police are calling people that post messages and harassing the people that they think turned over the information to us. We'd hate to see anybody get in trouble because of this page, especially when they have nothing to do with it."
On the Net: www.shamokinsnitchlist.webs.com