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D.C. Police Found Negligent in Informant's Death

By Bill Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 1999; 1:00 p.m. EDT

The Starbucks Murders
Carl Derek Cooper has been charged in the triple slaying at Starbucks.
(William J. Hennessy Jr. for The Washington Post)

Oct. 16: Starbucks Informant Says She Fears for Her Life
Sept. 9: April Trial Scheduled in Slayings at Starbucks
Aug. 5: Starbucks Indictment Among 48 Counts
April 27: Starbucks Suspect 'Just Started Shooting'
March 18: Starbucks Suspect Describes Killing Three
March 18: Full Text of Starbucks Affidavit
March 6: Lone Starbucks Suspect Charged
July 6, 1998: Killings Remain Unsolved
Sept. 30, 1997: Police Delay Seizing Possible Evidence
July 8, 1997: 3 Slain at D.C. Starbucks
A federal court jury ruled today that negligence by the D.C. police department contributed to the death of Eric Butera, an informant who was slain while attempting to aid detectives in a well-publicized murder investigation.

The jury's verdict, returned at 11:45 a.m., came after an eight-day civil trial and sets the stage for proceedings to determine damages. Attorneys for Butera's mother, Terry Butera, have asked for "a very substantial verdict," including punitive damages to send a message to the police force.

Butera, 31, who had a history of drug abuse, was attempting to turn his life around when he went to police with information concerning the July 1997 slaying of three people at a Starbucks coffee shop in Northwest Washington. Butera told police he had overheard people talking about the slayings when he bought drugs in a row house in a crime-ridden block in Southwest Washington.

At the time, police were scrambling for leads in the Starbucks case. They asked Butera to make another drug buy in the house so that they could get a warrant to search the place. They gave him $80 in marked money and dropped him off on the night of Dec. 4, 1997. Butera, however, didn't get inside the house, and he was beaten, robbed and killed as he walked away from the door.

Peter Grenier, an attorney for Terry Butera, presented expert testimony challenging the police tactics that night. Although police remained in the neighborhood, they were not in position to see Butera come and go from the home, did not equip him with surveillance equipment and did not realize he was attacked until 40 minutes later when a neighborhood man called 911.

Three people have been convicted of criminal charges in Butera's slaying. As it turned out, the occupants of the house had nothing to do with the Starbucks case. Another suspect is in jail awaiting trial for those killings.

The damages phase of the trial begins this afternoon.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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