$375,000 settlement in death of drug informant

The four law-enforcement agencies that make up the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a dead confidential informant $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging detectives failed to protect their son after they used him to snare a local heroin dealer.

Jeremy McLean, 26, was a small-time drug dealer and user who agreed to work for the task force in 2006 to avoid drug charges of his own. He was killed Dec. 29, 2008, in a Longview trailer home by William Vance Reagan Jr., a heroin dealer who had been arrested by task-force detectives after McLean — working undercover and wearing a wire — bought drugs from him.

Reagan, who pleaded guilty to the killing in 2009 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole, told a Cowlitz County judge he had an associate lure McLean to the trailer, according to news reports of court proceedings.

When McLean arrived, Reagan — who was out of jail on bond — said he came out of a bathroom with a .22-caliber handgun and shot McLean three times in the head and once in the face.

McLean’s body was found in the Columbia River two days later, on New Year’s Eve.

McLean’s parents, Shelly and Mitchell McLean, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in 2011 alleging that police did nothing to protect their son even though Reagan had told several people that he intended to kill McLean after concluding he was an informant.

It was not a difficult conclusion to reach, the lawsuit alleges, since police had repeatedly used McLean to conduct “buy-bust” operations, exposing him as an informant to an ever-widening circle of drug dealers and users.

Police, in court documents, say detectives warned McLean to keep a low profile and offered to help him leave town, but he refused.

The task force “required Jeremy McLean to work as an undercover informant in increasingly dangerous drug transactions involving high-volume narcotics dealers,” in exchange for a promise not to charge him for selling eight methadone pills to another task-force confidential source, the lawsuit alleges.

“They had no policies about confidential informants,” said Darrell Cochran, the attorney who represented the family. “They knew Jeremy was in danger. They were shooting from the hip.”

He called the settlement “significant,” and said the family was “happy” with the result.

Robert Novasky, an attorney who represented the cities of Kelso and Longview and Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, said the settlement concedes no liability.

“But we recognize how difficult this is, and we had no desire to put the family through a trial,” he said.

Court papers say McLean made at least 12 controlled buys, resulting in five arrests. The lawsuit said his “confidential identity was becoming compromised” but that the detectives kept using him anyway.

The lawsuit alleges McLean was provided no training and that his task-force handlers — Detective John Johnston and Sgt. Kevin Tate — downplayed the danger of what he was doing.

McLean purchased drugs from Reagan and his girlfriend in June and July 2008, with Reagan being arrested on Aug. 20, three weeks after McLean had worn a hidden microphone to a drug purchase. Reagan bailed out of jail the following day and, according to the court documents, immediately started talking about killing McLean.

At one point, Reagan even called McLean’s mother and told her that her son had better “watch his back,” the lawsuit alleges. When McLean reportedly told the detectives about it, he was told “not to worry about it.”

The lawsuit was settled shortly after the task force and its members filed a motion to dismiss the claims and invoke immunity for the officers involved. The settlement was finalized last week.

It states that McLean signed an agreement that recognized that being a confidential informant was dangerous and that he would assume those risks and hold the agencies “harmless” from liability.

Moreover, it says that McLean had fulfilled his obligation to the task force for his own troubles, and that he had approached Johnston in 2008 and asked if he could continue working for the task force for payment.

Johnston said he warned McLean to be “safe and smart” after Reagan began making threats, and urged him to stay away from drug deals. Johnston said McLean agreed and said that he “wasn’t stupid.”

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com


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