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EDITORIAL: Local authorities make fatal mistake with informant

Police and prosecutors everywhere have long used informants to build criminal cases against well-guarded individuals and organizations. There are risks to informants and authorities. There aren’t supposed to be risks to the public.

But a local gang leader who had killed before now stands accused of slaying a valley man after being freed from custody to inform on fellow gang members — and it appears he wasn’t informing or under any sort of police supervision when he killed again.

The case calls into question the judgment of all parties involved in the deal that released 33-year-old Raul “Sparks” Gonzalez, as well as the procedures for screening, selecting and supervising informants.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Francis McCabe in a Feb. 13 copyrighted story, Gonzalez faced 12 counts of robbery and attempted murder, a habitual criminal designation and a potential life prison sentence when he was offered the chance to become a gang informant for the FBI-led Las Vegas Safe Streets Gang Task Force and Clark County prosecutors. The offer was made despite Gonzalez’s voluntary manslaughter conviction in connection with a 1999 gang fight, a plea bargain that allowed Gonzalez to avoid a murder trial.

On Dec. 20, the district attorney’s office dropped 10 of the 12 counts against Gonzalez in exchange for guilty pleas to armed robbery and conspiracy. Prosecutors asked that Gonzalez be released without intensive supervision pending his April 21 sentencing. District Judge David Barker granted the request but ordered Gonzalez to stay out of trouble and in contact with police.

He did neither. According to police, on Jan. 14, Gonzalez shot to death an associate, 35-year-old father of four Eric Paul Montoya, because he believed the man knew he was an informant. Gonzalez confessed to the killing and now faces seven new felony counts and, again, a habitual criminal designation.

So who was watching Gonzalez? Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief Al Salinas told Mr. McCabe that Gonzalez was never officially signed as an informant for any police agency, that the department does not allow criminals with a history of violence to become informants, and that Gonzalez was never given a specific task by law enforcement when he was released. Mr. Salinas, in investigating why Gonzalez was freed, said the department is trying to determine whether Gonzalez provided any useful intelligence to the gang task force.

What was the role of the FBI, which led the task force and, according to Mr. Salinas, responded to Gonzalez when the defendant reached out to the agency? In a statement to the Review-Journal — keep in mind that the FBI almost never releases statements — Special Agent David Staretz referred questions to Las Vegas police, saying, “The FBI was not involved in the release of Raul Gonzalez from state custody, nor was he a source for the FBI. The FBI reviewed this matter carefully and has determined it has nothing more to add.”

Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies have serious accountability problems. When people die, the public pays and pays and pays some more, through lawsuit settlements, investigations and diverted resources. Some folks in public safety should pay for this mess as well — with their jobs.

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