6/12/14 UPDATE following Morgan’s conviction
The confidential informant, an ex-con working with Durham police on a drug bust, couldn’t find a dealer.
Jennifer Burrage, a 36-year-old from Bahama, was trying to make a controlled drug buy in exchange for leniency on a pending set of charges. On the sunny afternoon of July 6, 2012, a pair of undercover police officers sent her to the Duke Manor apartment complex in northwest Durham, where she knew some of the dealers. She carried a concealed handheld audio/video recorder to gather evidence of any transactions.
But after scouring the parking lot, Burrage found only one person, an old acquaintance, Milton Morgan, a 61-year-old who worked as a janitor for the Durham V.A.
During a brief visit inside his apartment, Milton showed her a small stash of drugs. He suggested they get high, and made sexual advances on her. Burrage, however, wasn’t interested. She left the apartment and joined the police officers in their truck.
“He’s not a dealer,” Burrage explained. “He ain’t have but like two little pieces there and a dime of weed.”
“He didn’t want to sell any of it?” said one officer.
“Well he asked me but … I guess I was too nervous,” she said. “He has a tendency to try to … pressure me to do things that I’m not gonna do.”
“Think you can go in there and buy it and leave?”
“I mean, yeah,” she said.
Then she asked a question: “It don’t matter if they’re a dealer or not, as long as they sell me something, it don’t matter?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” said the officer.
The grainy video footage of the conversation between Burrage and the two officers played on a screen in front of Durham County jury on Tuesday. Morgan, who is charged with four crimes, including sale of drugs, possession with intent to sell, and maintaining a dwelling for drugs, sat at the defendant’s table, having declined a plea deal.
His case touches on the debate over the war on drugs, particularly the targeting of low-level users, and law enforcement’s use of confidential informants.
Morgan admits to giving Burrage a small dose of crack. But he argues that he isn’t the type of person law enforcement should be worried about, and he questions whether the police entrapped him.
“All over twenty dollars,” said Morgan in an interview before the trial. All he wanted to do was to get high with Burrage and, perhaps, hook up, he said.
“I wanted to build her up to get in her pants,” he said. “She’s a fine young lady.”
On the witness stand on Tuesday, Investigator Jonathan Craig, who worked the Morgan case as a narcotics specialist with DPD’s Special Operations Division of the Major Crimes Unit, spoke to jurors about the importance of using confidential informants. Because informants are familiar with dealers, they are more effective than undercover officers in scoring drugs. The operation Burrage participated in was part of a Drug Market Initiative to improve the Duke Manor community, where there had been several police calls about drugs and violence two summers ago.
“It was an area that needed attention by the police,” Craig testified.
Once police found willing informants, he said, “you can kinda hit the ground running.”
Before Burrage’s walk to the apartment complex, Craig and his partner searched her for any drugs and money, finding none. They gave her $20 to buy drugs from anyone; there were no specific targets. They watched her through their windshield when she arrived at Duke Manor, and listened to her conversations throughout the operation.
Between Craig’s testimony the jury watched two videos, totaling about 45 minutes, that tells a large portion of the story.