Unlawful Entry--Related Story

Officer Bini's Informant: An Interview From the Shadows

"This was not a targeted house to begin with," he says. "There was no report. There was this guy on the corner I was going to buy crack from. He disappeared. This other guy came out of nowhere."

Last September 21, the informant says, he rode a bicycle around the 3700 block of High Street, looking for the corner dealer. (Bini's warrant says the informant proceeded on foot, but that's a minor discrepancy compared to the warrant's other claims.) Bini followed at a distance in a brown unmarked van, and two other officers observed what they could from an unmarked car parked even farther away. The informant couldn't find the person he was looking for, but a Hispanic male in T-shirt and jeans, a man the warrant identifies only as "Joe," approached him in the alley and asked him what he was looking for.

The informant told "Joe" he was looking for crack. "Joe" took him down the alley, to a spot behind 3742 High, and had him wait there while "Joe" entered the yard and met with another Hispanic male. "He did the deal with this guy and came back and gave me the crack," the informant says. The deal went down "between Mena's house and the actual crackhouse. I didn't see [the second male] come out; he was already there. In my mind, it could have been either house."

When "Joe" returned with the dope, the informant broke off a chip of the rock and gave it to the middleman. That may not be "good procedure" for law enforcement, the informant admits, but it's a sometimes unavoidable bit of dope-buying etiquette. "He was a crackhead," the informant explains. "He knew I was going to bump him off a piece."

During the buy, Bini was circling the block in the brown van. "He had to have seen me," the informant insists. But such a maneuver wouldn't have allowed the officer to observe the whole deal, and offered little opportunity to pinpoint the address. After the sale, the informant tried to determine where the buy took place by counting the houses to the end of the block, from the front as well as from the alley, but his count was hurried -- and wrong. Despite the fact that 3742 High is a single-story house and the house at 3738, where Mena lived, has two floors, he was confused by the number of garages in back, the proximity of one house to another.

"I gave the wrong address, simple as that," he says. "It was a huge mistake on my part. I've apologized for it I don't know how many times...There was, like, eight crackheads in the alley, and I was on a bicycle and in duress. You don't want a bunch of crackheads to find out you're an informant."

In his affidavit requesting a search warrant, Bini states that the informant and "Joe" "walked to 3738 High St. where they met with a second party...The informant witnessed 'Joe' make contact with the resident of 3738 High St. at the front door."

The affidavit makes little attempt to distinguish between what Bini actually observed and what the informant later told him about what happened. (In fact, the buy is presented in a way that implies Bini observed the whole thing.) The seller is portrayed as being the "primary resident" of 3738 High, and there's no hint that this particular address wasn't the target all along. Quite the opposite: The buy appears to be the result of an ongoing investigation into "information from residents that live in the area, that sales of crack cocaine were being conducted from the location of 3738 High St."

David Bruno, Bini's attorney, could not be reached for comment. The informant says Joe Bini is not a duplicitous man. Joe Bini "doesn't like drugs or people selling them," but he would never fake evidence. Not in scores of drug cases the pair worked together.

"Everything had always been right to a T until the Mena case," the informant says. "It was just one of those days."

And the affidavit for search warrant? The piece of paper that bears Joe Bini's signature, that brought the SWAT team into Ismael Mena's bedroom?

"It wasn't even written by Bini," the informant says. "That's all I can say right now."

He adds, "They need to reconstruct the whole no-knock thing. They have to train the officer better, and they have to train the officer to train the informant better."

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