In southern Colorado, a tale of police incompetence and ruined lives

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(Photo: Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons)
<p>A photo of Trinidad&#039;s city hall.</p>
Photo: Booking bachicha 2
Crystal Bachicha was one of two police informants.

Westword tells the story of how an effort to round up drug dealers in the Trinidad area failed badly. The story highlights how police relied heavily on informants who provided bad -- even vengeful -- information.

In the process, the reputations and careers of innocent people in southern Colorado were ruined.

Alan Prendergast, a reporter for the Denver newsweekly, writes:

Starting on December 19 of last year, the Trinidad police began rounding up suspects in a drug-sting operation, eventually arresting forty people. The four-month investigation -- which had involved the use of two female informants to make modest buys of heroin, cocaine, meth, prescription narcotics and even marijuana -- was presented as a joint effort by the Trinidad and Raton police departments, the latest innovation in southern Colorado's war on drugs. Local newspapers and television stations dutifully featured the names and mug shots of the accused and referred vaguely to the smashing of a drug "ring" -- as if the suspects were all part of one vast conspiracy, the purchases more significant than the sort of random, garden-variety street buys they appeared to be.

A surprising number were not only loudly proclaiming their innocence, but were insisting that the transactions they were accused of making couldn't have happened at the times and places described. Yet none of this appears to have triggered any skepticism among police or prosecutors -- not until the entire operation began to unravel, just weeks after the big bust.