Tallahassee settles suit over informant Rachel Hoffman's death
TALLAHASSEE -- Tallahassee city commissioners approved a $2.6 million settlement Friday in the wrongful-death suit of a police informant who was fatally shot during a 2008 drug sting. The parents of Rachel Hoffman, 23, sued after her death, claiming police were negligent in setting up the Florida State graduate as an undercover informant after she was caught with marijuana and pills without a prescription. Jury selection for the lawsuit began this week and the trial was scheduled to begin Monday. After a closed door session with attorneys Friday, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the settlement, the first $200,000 of which will be paid by the city in the next few weeks, City Attorney Jim English said.The rest will be paid after the Florida Legislature passes what is known as a "claims bill," which could take years. Nonetheless, Irv Hoffman, Rachel's father, said he was "just grateful for this part of it to be over." Rachel Hoffman was shot five times after police lost track of her during a purported drug deal in a rural area north of Tallahassee. Her body was found 36 hours later in a roadside ditch in Taylor County, roughly 50 miles away. Deneilo Bradshaw, 26, from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and his stepbrother-in-law Andrea Green, 29, are serving life sentences for Hoffman's murder. Hoffman, of Safety Harbor, was working for police in a "buy-bust" operation and had been sent alone with $13,000 in marked bills to buy Ecstasy, cocaine and a gun, according to records. Instead, the men killed her and stole her car, a credit card and the marked money. Prosecutors said Bradshaw drove Hoffman's Volvo with her body in it to Taylor County, where he dumped it in the ditch. He later cleaned the inside of the car with bleach and went with Green to Orlando, where they bought jewelry and clothes with some of the marked money. After her death, the Florida Legislature passed "Rachel's Law," requiring police to adopt policies to protect informants. The measure also requires special training for investigators who work with informants, makes police tell informants they cannot be promised reduced sentences and allows them to talk with a lawyer before doing anything. Tallahassee police had fired the investigator who was supervising Hoffman, though they later reinstated him. A Tallahassee grand jury that had investigated Hoffman's death found police negligent in sending her out by herself and letting her out of their sight. English said the money for the settlement would come from the city's risk management fund. Usually, governments cannot be sued under the legal principle of sovereign immunity. Florida, however, has a limited waiver that allows compensation of up to $200,000 per person. Any payment beyond that requires passage of a claims bill, and most have to be filed for years before lawmakers will consider them.