Daisy Bram and Jayme Walsh were in trouble. So the streetwise couple did what most would do: They went to the police for help.
Now, they're in worse trouble.
Bram and Walsh — alleged former heroin users and, now, former heroes of the medical marijuana movement — were outed as former San Francisco Police Department confidential informants on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.
They were enlisted by Mission Station officers to provide details about the street to police in exchange for leniency on their own drug troubles — and then became key witnesses against the same police in the biggest scandal to hit the SFPD in recent memory.
Their names, pictures, and exactly what they are said to have done for the six alleged dirty cops indicted by the federal government — selling dope with police protection in exchange for information on who was selling, then selling marijuana and splitting the proceeds with the cops — should've been kept secret, but somehow ended up in the March 2 story by Jaxon Van Derbeken.
"I have never seen an informant identified this quickly," says Public Defender Jeff Adachi (whose office in 2011 released video of the officers apparently hauling suspects out of SRO hotel rooms without warrants, which kicked off the federal investigation).
Now, Bram and Walsh are branded as snitches, and could be in real trouble among the wrong people. Even the SFPD admits their safety is in jeopardy.
The feds are in trouble, too. U.S. attorneys don't file a case until it's airtight. And now their witnesses, who are not in a protective program and were not named in any document available to the public, have every reason to refuse to cooperate.
So who outed them? A better question may be: Who does the leak help? Only the cops on trial.
An audio recording of her wailing like a banshee as Butte County Sheriff's deputies explain why they're taking away the couple's children in September 2011 is nightmarish to hear, and was the chief cause of the outpouring of sympathy the couple received from the medical marijuana movement.
Her story made drug war opponents' blood boil: Cops visited the couple's home on a compliance check for their sizable but legal marijuana garden. All is well, those cops say — but more cops returned a few weeks later to raid the farm, cut down the plants, and take the kids away.
That was the story Bram told time and again, to national libertarian magazine Reason.com in an eight-minute documentary, and to a pavilion full of drug war opponents at California NORML's 2013 conference.
The story told in court was different. The gardens weren't entirely legal — all they had was an "oral" doctor's recommendation, from a dead doctor — and Walsh was making deals to sell the weed to East Coast dealers, according to Butte County prosecutor Jeff Greeson.
Worse, cops found evidence of heroin use: Residue and syringes were found at their home in Butte County, Greeson said. A few months after the Butte raid, their new home in Tehama County was raided and the kids taken away again — alleged neglect and drugs, again — by the same narcotics investigator.
Walsh will go on trial in May on drug and child endangerment charges. After losing her case, Bram did about 30 days in jail this year for child endangerment. She was supposed to do more, but was somehow released exactly one day before she was named as a police informant.
About a week before the indictments were unsealed, a man identifying himself as "Jay" contacted several local newspapers, SF Weekly included. Dirty cops were going to be charged in federal court, sometime very soon, and he knew all about it. All he needed was some money.
The man was Walsh, and it appears he also made contact with Van Derbeken, who "knew everything" before he interviewed the couple, Bram tells SF Weekly. They agreed to speak with him in order to keep what secrets they could. Now, "we feel burned," Bram says. "We don't know who to trust."
The federal government is notoriously tight-lipped. Multiple attorneys and other law enforcement sources contacted by SF Weekly all agreed: The chance of a U.S. Attorney or FBI agent outing the couple is almost nil.
That leaves the defendants — the only people the leak helps. Attorneys for the cops, Michael Rains and Harry Stern, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Neither has Van Derbeken.
SFPD is known for leaks. And the golden age of confidential informants — the crack cocaine era, when low-level drug busts crammed court dockets and lined cops' pockets with court pay — is over. Narcotics busts are way down.
Outing Bram and Walsh won't help other cops get street people to cooperate. But that's okay. They don't need them anymore.