On Friday, June 1, after four hours of deliberation a jury found Brother K. McPherson, 25, not guilty of two counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a controlled substance. The acquittal, in spite of video and audio evidence and testimony from an state trooper working undercover who claimed McPherson handed him crack cocaine in exchange for money on two separate occasions, raises questions about the strength of 79 other drug cases developed during the eight-month undercover investigation.
McPherson’s case offers the first public airing in court of the methods used by the Clean Sweep task force to make 207 separate undercover drug buys from 80 people over the course of the investigation. That method, using undercover cops paired with confidential informants and a surveillance team recording the transactions on video and audio, was replicated in virtually all of the undercover buys, according to sources familiar with the evidence.
According to the testimony of Kingston Police Detective Eric Van Allen, the operation targeting McPherson began on the afternoon of Nov. 28, 2011 when the team gathered video and audio recording equipment and made photocopies of “buy money” to be used in the transaction. Van Allen was serving as a “case agent” in charge of handling the informant. Another KPD detective, Richard Negron was the team’s evidence officer in charge of video and audio recordings, as well as securing, logging and documenting drugs obtained during the buy. A state trooper assigned to the agency’s Community Narcotics Enforcement Team assumed the role of a drug buyer in a large SUV outfitted with sound and video recording systems. Five more cops from the KPD and URGENT multi-agency task force rounded out the team, assigned to keep an eye out for potential trouble around the buy location and provide a rapid response if the deal went bad.
The final team member was a female confidential informant acquainted with McPherson and other Kingston drug dealers — the Kingston Times has withheld the name of the informant and the undercover officer.
How the operation worked
Around 2:25 p.m., Van Allen testified, the informant called McPherson on a cell phone while he sat beside her recording the conversation. On a recording, purportedly of the informant and McPherson talking over the phone, the informant says she has “50 cent” and asks McPherson to bring her a “nice, nice, nice 50.” According to Van Allen, the recording indicates that the informant was asking McPherson for a “generous amount” of crack cocaine in exchange for $50.
After the pair agreed to meet near McPherson’s residence at55 Cedar St., Van Allen said the team met up with the undercover officer at a secure location in the City of Kingston. There, Van Allen said he searched the informant for contraband to “protect the integrity of the investigation.” On cross examination by Assistant Public Defender Bryan Rounds, Van Allen conceded that he would have preferred to have a female officer on hand to conduct a more thorough search, but that none were available at the time.
Following the search, the CI got into the undercover cop’s SUV for the ride over to Cedar Street. There, Van Allen testified, the team set up a perimeter in the blocks around the buy location. Video shot by Negron shows McPherson walking up Cedar Street and entering the vehicle where the informant identified the undercover cop as her boyfriend. After a brief conversation (and, the undercover cop would later testify, the exchange of $50 for three small plastic tie-offs of crack cocaine) McPherson exited the vehicle.
About an hour later, the team repeated the process with the same informant calling McPherson to set up another meeting. After another pat-down, the team set up around the Kingston Library where McPherson allegedly made another $50 crack deal. This time, audio recorded in the vehicle shows the undercover cop asking for McPherson’s phone number and indicating that he would call him later. The crack cocaine allegedly sold by McPherson was placed into a sealed envelope by Negron and later stored at a secure location for transfer to a state police lab for testing.
Less than an hour after the last alleged drug deal, the narcotics team was back in action making another undercover transaction with another dealer in Midtown. The informant, Van Allen testified, was compensated for the afternoon’s work with $50 and lunch.
Shooting holes in a solid case
Rounds, a private-practice attorney and sometime public defender, attacked the seemingly tight case on multiple fronts. He asked the jury to consider why the prosecution failed to test the cocaine packets for DNA or fingerprints. After eliciting testimony from Van Allen that confidential informants were also colloquially known as “criminal informants,” presumably for their own unsavory activities, Rounds questioned why prosecutors did not make the woman who set up McPherson available for questioning.