The head of Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers had been uncompromising since early December, when a judge ordered him to turn over some evidence. So uncompromising that he made a meal of evidence.
But first some background: A defense attorney in Miami had wanted to read the tip given to Crime Stoppers that led to his client’s arrest on suspicion of cocaine possession.
The Crime Stoppers’ boss, a former police chief, finally decided to follow a court order and brought in a printout of the anonymous tip last week. But after chatting with the judge, Richard Masten refused to hand over the tip because the judge said she might give it to the lawyer.
Judge Victoria Brennan, later writing that the court couldn't "turn a blind eye to a flagrant refusal to honor a court order," held Masten in direct criminal contempt.
While those in the courtroom watched, Masten ripped apart the printout of the tip and started chowing down on the paper. Then swallowed.
“I ate the pertinent information,” Masten told the Los Angeles Times by phone Wednesday.
“I thought I was going to be booked right there, and I expected all of my property to be taken away,” he said. “I didn’t want to throw it into the garbage 3 or 4 feet away because I knew there would be a scramble to the garbage can. That’s why I did something overt.”
The judge agreed to give Masten a week to get his affairs in order. He is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday and faces the possibility of two weeks in jail in addition to a $500 fine.
“We hope the judge would have a change of heart,” Masten said. “Realistically, I expect to go to jail.”
Although the defense attorney had been seeking only the content of the tip and not information about the tipster, Masten said he didn’t feel comfortable providing anything that might tamper with Crime Stoppers’ assurance that tips remain anonymous.
“There’s nothing unique about this or myself,” Masten said. “Any director or coordinator of an organization like this could be confronted with this and I would expect them to do the same thing.”
Crime Stoppers serves as an intermediary between law enforcement and the public, collecting tips and doling out rewards for information that leads to arrests and convictions.
The case that precipitated Masten’s situation involved a 45-year-old woman arrested after police received a tip that she was a cocaine dealer. Police found a baggie of suspected cocaine in her purse, the Miami Herald reported.