Woman's death raises questions about confidential informants - WSMV Channel 4

Woman's death raises questions about confidential informants

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Abriel Pritchard died of a heroin overdose on March 3, 2016. (WSMV) Abriel Pritchard died of a heroin overdose on March 3, 2016. (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Abriel Pritchard didn’t have to die.

That’s what her grandparents told the Channel 4 I-Team. They are still broken-hearted more than a year after Abriel was found dead of a drug overdose.

Abriel had been working as a confidential informant, or a C.I., for police. Her code name was Purple Heart 23.

"I didn't know about the C.I. name until about a month ago," Donna Pritchard told the I-Team.

"She was my angel," the grandmother said.

"She always called me Poppa," said Joe Pritchard, her step-grandfather.

To the adoring grandparents who raised her, 24-year-old Abriel had a sweet spirit and a simple mind, with an IQ in the 70s.

Her coworkers called her “Jukebox” because she was always singing.

An I-Team investigation found that an unwritten court policy was not followed by police, and that it appears detectives pressured Abriel through a series of text messages.

Abriel died of a heroin overdose on March 3, 2016, the autopsy reads.

Her grandparents have a lot of questions about her interactions with Metro detectives in the month before her death.

"I didn't realize these kinds of things were going on. Where they take these kids with minor charges, force them into being a snitch, and putting them back in a very dangerous situation,” Joe Pritchard said.

"She felt like she had no other chance, and that if she didn't she'd be going to prison," Donna Pritchard said.

Abriel overdosed in a trailer in Madison. Heroin and Xanax, the medical examiner concluded, had been injected behind her knee.

A friend who was there called 911 in a panic.

The friend said Abriel was unresponsive, so she put her in a bathtub and ran cold water on her.

The 911 call taker told her how to do chest compressions.

"One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four," the call taker repeated, over and over, until the ambulance arrived.

Paramedics couldn't save Abriel.

The Pritchards went to the scene; they were not allowed inside.

"As a parent you are there to protect your child. And you can't go in and even put a blanket over them," Donna Pritchard said.

Her grandparents feel that Abriel never should have been working as a confidential informant. She was on probation for a drug offense and had been passing her drug tests.

"You question, why do you take a kid who's in treatment? I don't understand that at all. The kid's trying to turn her life around, she's in treatment. To become a snitch, you're going back into the environment to make a drug buy," Joe Pritchard said.

Abriel saved a series of text messages she exchanged with two Metro detectives.

"First text says, ‘I'll call you in a little bit,’" Donna Pritchard read from the texts.

The Pritchards say the texts show detectives pressured  their granddaughter.

In one text, Abriel asked to talk to the detective with her attorney present.

The detective wrote: “Never mind I'll just take you to jail I ain't playing these games. You either wanna work or you don't.”

And if she didn’t want to work, the detective texts, "I'll take out the warrants."

The detective is firm, texting, "I'm not meeting with your attorney."

Another detective presses her to set up an undercover buy, texting, "We gotta do something soon," … "this afternoon or tomorrow afternoon." the texts read.

Her grandparents say the week before she died, Abriel told them she was scared about working with police and asked their advice.

"No. Stop. Don't. It was real simple. I knew she could not deal with that type of pressure. And it was too dangerous," Donna Pritchard said she told her granddaughter.

The I-Team asked Metro police for an interview about the use of confidential informants. They declined to talk even about their policies, and wouldn't comment on Abriel Pritchard's case.

Gary Kemper is a retired Metro detective, most recently in the gang, intelligence, and homicide units. He reviewed the case file at the I-Team’s request.

"Detectives are under a lot of pressure to get informants. And the only way we can stop drugs on the street is through informants. They are a necessary evil and I can understand what they were doing, trying to get an informant. Would I have put that much pressure for a street-level buyer? Probably not," Kemper said.

"Kids aren't trained. The detectives are. We understand that the only way to get the big drug dealers is to get the little ones, but when it's your child, it's a whole different ball game," Donna Pritchard said.

Abriel was on probation for a drug charge, and according to court policy, she should not have been working as an informant.

Bob Green is the director of the general sessions probation department. He said allowing a probationer to work as a C.I. is against both court and probation policies, and common sense.

"It's not allowed. You just don't do it. It's a bad practice. It goes against every best practice that's established to change the lives of the people who are supervised on probation or parole," Green said.

That policy, though, is not in writing and it's not clear who in the police department knows about it.

Kemper knew.

"In the past, we've used general sessions probationers, but it was always cleared through the judge and the probation officer," Kemper said.

Green said if that happened in Abriel Pritchard's case, her probation officer didn't know.

"There is nothing in the file whatsoever," Green said.

The judge in Abriel's case was former Judge Casey Moreland, who resigned after an unrelated I-Team investigation.

The I-Team was not able to find out if Moreland approved Abriel’s work as a C.I., since we were not allowed to see her police C.I. file.

But Kemper said in general, when asked in other cases, Moreland gave the OK.

"He had no problem with it most of the time. I never had a problem out of Casey approving when we wanted things done," Kemper said.

There's a disconnect somewhere that raises more questions; did the detectives in this case know using probationers as confidential informants was against court policy? Is there a training issue?

Because of our I-Team investigation, a written policy may be on the horizon.

"We update our manual every year. So we'll probably put that in there," said Green, the director of probation.

The Pritchards have searched for answers for more than a year about why their beloved granddaughter died.

Had she slipped back into the drug culture? A slide that cost her her life?

Her grandparents will always wonder if her death was something other than an accidental overdose.

They've heard rumors the people she was with may have known she was an informant. They question whether the police closed the case without a thorough investigation.

"I feel like there were no answers. They just wrote it off very quickly, shut it down. She was drug addict," Donna Pritchard said.

“Nothing's going to bring our granddaughter back, but it's not right that they do this. It's not fair,” Joe Pritchard said.

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