A trial date in the civil lawsuit filed against the City of Tallahassee by slain police informant Rachel Hoffman’s family has been set for March 2011. Hoffman, 23, was arrested in April 2008 for drug possession and was given the opportunity to avoid multiple felony charges by acting as a confidential informant for the police.

Three weeks later on May 7, the Tallahassee Police Department supplied Hoffman with $13,000 and directed her to purchase cocaine, ecstasy tablets, and a handgun from local drug dealers while wearing a wire. After the location for the deal was changed twice, the narcotics officers tailing the recent FSU graduate lost track of the vehicles and her body was later discovered in nearby Taylor County, after the two men being held in custody led police to the scene.

In May 2009, “Rachel’s Law” was signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, requiring  that police departments provide training to officers who recruit confidential informants, explain to informants they can’t promise a reduced sentences in exchange for their work, and allow potential informants to consult with a lawyer if they ask.

“Being a confidential informant is, obviously, a very dangerous, challenging thing to do. It takes courage to do it,” Crist said during the bill signing at the state capitol.

The bill “makes it more safe for people to be able to cooperate with law enforcement officials across our state,” Crist said.

In addition to this legislation, Ford Banister, a family friend of the Hoffmans and campaign director of the Committee for Sensible Drug Policy, recently began an initiative to decriminalize marijuana in Florida — a move that would make possession of pot in an amount less than 20 grams equivalent to a parking ticket. The policy change could have saved Rachel Hoffman’s life.

Following the botched drug sting and the ensuing internal affairs inquiry, the TPD investigator who had initially recruited Hoffman, Ryan Pender, was fired and four senior officers were suspended with pay. However, Pender was reinstated in April of this year despite protests and has been transferred from the narcotics unit to the patrol division.

The attorney representing Hoffman’s family in the civil suit, Lance Block, was not surprised by Pender’s reinstatement.

“You have to just shake your head about this and have faith that someday, justice for the death of Rachel Hoffman will come,” Block said in a written statement. “Despite the fact that the TPD’s official Internal Affairs investigation concluded that Ryan Pender and his colleagues violated almost 100 policies and procedures in causing the death of Rachel Hoffman, they are all back at work as if it never happened. The only way the TPD will ever be held accountable for its role in the wrongful death of Rachel is through the civil case.”

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