Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide

by TChris

Chuck Plinton killed himself after he was kicked out of the University of Akron for drug dealing. The case was built on the word of a paid informant and on a police officer's belated claim that Plinton had provided an unrecorded confession. Plinton's tragic story illustrates the danger of relying on paid snitches.

The informant, Richard Dale Harris, 35, was a career criminal and a paid operative of the Summit County Police Department. Among the long list of people he had fingered was his own sister. He claims he ratted on her to save her children from her.

The police paid Harris $50 for every drug buy he claimed to make. He told the police he'd purchased from Plinton twice, but Plinton's work records at the University showed that he was signed in at his job on the other side of the campus when the buys allegedly occurred.

Even the identification of Plinton based on the alleged March 11 buy was so shaky that the informant tried to confirm it with tapes from a dormitory surveillance camera. But that showed Plinton dressed differently from the man police said sold the drugs.

The case was falling apart until the detective who arrested Plinton suddenly recalled, three months after the arrest, that Plinton had confessed to him.

The detective couldn't explain why he didn't put the confession in writing or why he had failed to include it in his original police report.

Here's an explanation: the cop made it up. That explanation must have made sense to the jury, which acquitted Plinton after only 40 minutes of deliberation.

Shockingly, the verdict (and the facts upon which it was based) failed to persaude the university's disciplinary board, which voted 3-2 not to reinstate Plinton. Why? They believed the snitch.

Plinton spent the next year trying to rebuild his life before deciding to end it.

"He was devastated," his father told me. "He couldn't afford more lawyers to fight the school." ...

Meanwhile, the university has been rocked by student protests and forced to answer tough questions, particularly from elements of Akron's black community.

"We hold ourselves to the highest standards of fairness," [university president] Prozenza said in his statement yesterday.

Too bad Chuck Plinton didn't live to see that.

< U.S. Family Network Benefits DeLay and Buckham Families | Report: 'Drug Free Zones' Contribute to Racial Disparity in Criminal Justice >
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    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#1)
    by BigTex on Sun Mar 26, 2006 at 02:38:47 PM EST
    Are unrecorded confessions admissable in the jurisdiction where the alleged crime took place? If not then the police shouldn't be able to make a statement that they have an unrecorded confession. If they can't provide a copy of the confession that is signed by the confessor, or provide a recorded version of the confession, then they should not be able to discuss confessions. Getting someone to type out the confession isn't difficult. Heck, for that matter the alleged criminal can write and sign the confession out on some notebook paper. I've got great respect for law enforement. They are by in large an honest, underpaid, hardworking group. But to not have a signed copy or recording of a confession is sloppy police work. A spiral notebook and ball point pen, or tape (audio)recorder and cassette isn't going to break the budget.

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Mar 26, 2006 at 02:49:53 PM EST
    Boy, you're having quite the great awakening this weekend, big tex. The cops shouldn't be able to do a lot of things they're able to do and there is a taliban wing of the republican party. They pull crap like this and innocent people actually end up getting hurt and/or worse.

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#3)
    by HK on Sun Mar 26, 2006 at 02:56:26 PM EST
    Good point, Tex. But also troubling is this practice of using paid informants or jailhouse informants to get a conviction. Why should some law-breakers be given rewards while others do the time? To me, this is both unfair and counter-productive. It is a flaw in the criminal justice system that should be eradicated.

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#4)
    by jen on Sun Mar 26, 2006 at 03:17:38 PM EST
    not to mention, why was he not allowed to return to school?

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#5)
    by Kitt on Sun Mar 26, 2006 at 05:19:54 PM EST
    not to mention, why was he not allowed to return to school?
    Maybe because he was in a graduate program; I don't know.

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#6)
    by Kitt on Sun Mar 26, 2006 at 05:39:35 PM EST
    Maybe because he was in a graduate program; I don't know.
    OK, well scratch that. I lived in Cleveland and the surrounding area for quite a few years. I found it the most racist place I've ever lived, visited, passed thru, etc. Everything was about race. I have a friend who writes a column for the Cleveland paper who also wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal. I'd be willing to lay down good $$ - that this poor kid, regardless of everything it boiled down to his being black and the insidiousness of racial sterotyping. I lived off of University Circle in a neighborhood in which I was I 'the only one'. During one election when I entered the church up the street to vote, everyone assumed I was there from City Hall to check on something.

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 27, 2006 at 09:40:50 AM EST
    This what you get in an informant-based criminal justice system. Innocent people getting screwed by two-bit rats. Without informants and snitches, law enforcement couldn't catch a cold half the time.

    Re: Wrongly Accused Student Commits Suicide (none / 0) (#8)
    by cpinva on Mon Mar 27, 2006 at 12:13:19 PM EST
    i find it interesting that none of you has raised the issue of: what prosecutor, based on this obviously shaky evidence, decided this was a case worth taking to trial? the police don't operate in a vacuum, they bring the evidence, it's the commonwealth's or district attorney's decision on whether to prosecute. hence, the term "prosecutorial discretion". they don't have to prosectute every case brought to them, and they don't, there just aren't enough courtrooms in the land. so, while the police most assuredly deserve the lion's share of the blame for this, the prosecutor deserves the highest degree of scrutiny, for failing to exercise his/her discretion.