AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – A University of Massachusetts student informant program has been suspended, and is now being reviewed, after a “cooperating witness” was found dead.
Despite recent reports that the student who overdose was a UMass informant, the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office informed 22News there is no evidence to suggest he was an informant. They instead are calling him a “cooperating witness.”
“The loss of Eric L. Sinacori to a heroin overdose is a tragedy,” Northwestern D.A. David E. Sullivan said. “I hope that this tragic overdose can become a teachable moment for students, parents and friends to learn about the signs of addiction and help drug dependent persons seek treatment.”
Even if Sinacori wasn’t an informant, UMass said is still considering updating the program or scraping it altogether. Here’d how the student informed program worked.
Lets say your a student caught selling drugs. In some cases, you may not have been charged and your parents were never told as long as you agreed to give police information about other drug dealers.
The confidential students informer program at UMass was established in 2009. The University says its worked in the past to get information about drug dealers, but now the program is being suspended over concerns about student safety.
Sinacori was found dead of an overdose off campus last year. A report by the Boston Globe claims the person who sold him the drugs was also a UMass student, a report UMass says was news to them. “We have made an inquiry. Please let us know what is happening. If there is truth to this report, we want to act on it and I know the District Attorney does too,” said UMass Spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.
22News called the Amherst Police, who handled the case along with state police and the District Attorney’s office. Chief Scott Livingstone declined an interview, but told us they have no information about a second student dealing drugs.
UMass is considering changing the program to mandate addiction counseling and the notification of parents. Changes some students don’t support. “No I don’t think so, just because that deals with like the whole age thing. I feel like we are all adults here. We’re over the age of 18, we should all be responsible for our own actions,” said Matthew Merlino, a junior at UMass.
UMass said a decision on the future of the informant program will be made sometime before the end of June.
Below is the entire statement from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office regarding this incident:
“The loss of Eric L. Sinacori to a heroin overdose is a tragedy,” Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan said. “I hope that this tragic overdose can become a teachable moment for students, parents and friends to learn about the signs of addiction and help drug dependent persons seek treatment.”
Law enforcement agencies within the Northwestern DA office’s jurisdiction do not typically seek approval from, or any consultation with, the Northwestern DA office when the agencies are considering using an individual as a confidential informant and there is no law or rule requiring police departments to do this, nor does the UMass Amherst Police Department follow this practice.
The UMass Amherst Police Department did not ask the Northwestern DA office for any kind of approval with respect to Eric L. Sinacori.
“It is also our understanding that Mr. Sinacori never acted as a confidential informant despite inaccurate language used in a single police report,” said ADA Jeremy Bucci, Chief Trial Attorney for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.
“Twenty-year old Mr. Sinacori, an adult, who was identified through an investigation as a drug distributor, became a cooperating witness against a second drug dealer,” Bucci said.
“We do not have any information from UMass that he had a continuing relationship with the police department or that he ever worked in any capacity as a confidential informant on any other investigation,” Bucci said.
“A confidential informant program that serves a legitimate public safety purpose and often times is the only investigative technique available to save the lives of drug abusing students on the UMass campus by identifying and disrupting drug distribution networks poisoning the campus community,” Bucci said.
“The connections drawn between police use of informants and Mr. Sinacori’s unknown use of heroin 10 months after he was a named witness on a criminal case appear to be misplaced,” Bucci said.
Sullivan said, “We continue to work closely with UMass health educators from the UMass Health Services Fresh & Sober Program and other groups to raise awareness of the scourge of drug addiction in our communities and increase and enhance prevention and treatment options.”