A 50-year-old felon and drug addict, Coogle was the principal Tampa Police Department informer against at least five suspects this year. He conducted nine undercover operations. In their probable-cause affidavits, his handlers called him reliable. Even Tampa’s police chief praised his “track record.”Coogle said they were all wrong. He said he repeatedly lied about suspects, stole drugs he bought on the public’s dime and conspired to falsify drug deals.One of those he lied about, he said, was Jason Westcott, a young man with no criminal convictions whom a SWAT team killed during a drug raid that found just $2 worth of marijuana. Critics from across the country condemned the Police Department’s handling of the case as an example of the drug war’s lethal excesses.“They’re making statements that are lies, that are absolute untruths, that are based on shady facts,” Coogle said of Tampa police. “Everything they’re saying is based on the informant. And I was the informant.”Coogle said he decided to step forward, exposing his identity and risking retribution from drug dealers, because of his remorse over Westcott’s death. “I’ve got morals, and I feel compassion for this guy’s family and for his boyfriend,” he said. “It didn’t have to happen this way.”Coogle is nobody’s idea of a righteous whistle-blower. The only constant in his story is his own dishonesty; even when he confesses to lying you don’t know if he’s telling the truth.Much of what he says can be neither proved nor disproved, in large part because of the Police Department’s minimal supervision of his work. But Coogle’s allegations against the cops who paid him, and even his own admissions of double-dealing, aren’t necessarily what’s most disturbing about his account.Most unsettling of all might be what nobody disputes — that police officers were willing to trust somebody like him in the first place.
Westcott and Reyes didn’t know much about the ingratiating junkie who slept in their neighbors’ tool shed. He showed up at their house almost daily last winter, eating their pizza and smoking their pot. As a token of friendship he once gave them a vacuum cleaner he had stolen from Walmart.“You could tell he wasn’t the greatest of people or whatever,” Reyes said. “Jason, he kind of befriended everybody, you know what I’m saying? And that’s where we went wrong.”One day he asked if they could get him heroin. “I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what heroin looks like,'” Reyes recalled.The shed-dweller was Coogle, of course, fresh out of jail and staying with his in-laws. And when he asked for heroin he wasn’t asking for himself.Coogle said his police handlers had urged him to seek heroin from Westcott and Reyes, but Westcott rebuffed him. We’re not involved in any s— like that. We’re pot smokers, Coogle remembered him saying.But Coogle said he didn’t think his bosses would like the truth, so he told them the couple was connected to a heroin supplier in New York. He said he picked the state simply because he knew Westcott was born there.“It was a bull—- story,” he said.
On the night of April 8, Coogle said, he stepped into an unmarked truck waiting for him on Knollwood Street with bad news: Westcott had no pot to sell. But as he started to explain, he said, the detective in the driver’s seat glared and cut him off.“He said, ‘No, you got a gram, right?’ ” Coogle recalled. “You could tell with the body language and the way he was talking that he didn’t want to drive away from there without doing a buy.”Back at the rally point where other undercover officers had gathered — the parking lot of a Bravo Supermarket on Sligh Avenue — he said he and his handler sat in the parked truck and talked, the detective’s pen poised over a report to which Coogle would eventually sign his name.“It was almost like he was reading me the Riot Act,” Coogle said. “He’s like, ‘Listen, we’ve got too much manpower out here tonight for us to come up dry.’ And after him saying that in a couple of different ways but saying the same thing, I caught on to what he was saying. And I said, ‘Yeah, I bought the gram.’ “Police reports indicate Coogle bought $20 worth of marijuana from Westcott that night.Coogle said it was one of two times he swore to buying drugs when a target he approached actually had none to sell. The second was a falsified $50 crack-cocaine purchase from the Sulphur Springs suspect, he said.In both cases, he said, Tampa detectives assured him they weren’t doing anything wrong — just guaranteeing the arrests of people they knew were dealers. “Once they determine that there’s criminal activity,” he said, “after that nothing else counts.”