Multiple parties at fault in UMass student’s death

By Steven Gillard

(Collegian file photo)
(Collegian file photo)

In recent weeks, the front-page story published in the Boston Globe on Sept. 28 about a University of Massachusetts student, identified only as “Logan,” who died last year due to a heroin overdose provoked much discussion throughout the community.

Logan, a 20-year-old UMass student, was caught selling LSD and the club drug MDMA, also known as Molly, in Dec. 2012. Instead of charging him with a crime, the police allowed him to become a confidential informant. Logan, therefore, escaped punishment and instead assisted the police in taking down more prominent drug dealers.

On Sept. 30, students received an email from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy informing us that there will be a full review of the confidential informant program, and that there are currently no confidential informants at the university. While members of the UMass community were quick to take the sides—blaming Logan, blaming his parents and blaming the police—the question of who is responsible for Logan’s tragic death is unfortunately much more complicated than simple terms of right and wrong.

What seems to be constantly overlooked in this case are the actions of Logan himself, and it should be noted that he made the decisions to both use and sell hard drugs, two decisions that come with dire consequences. When the police returned the $700 taken from his room during the raid, he immediately blew it on drugs, according to the story. With that being said, Logan was an addict, and addicts, especially those addicted to drugs such as heroin, are rarely in a position to help themselves.

The UMass police department caught a lot of flak due to its use of the confidential informant program and alleged coercion of Logan. Police Chief John Horvath stated that while police found a hypodermic needle in Logan’s room, they found no heroin and thus, the needle did not necessarily indicate heroin abuse. Were the police obligated to tell Logan’s parents that he was selling drugs and that a hypodermic needle was found in his room? Were they obligated to find him help?

Yes, and no.

One argument invoked is that Logan was an adult. He made the decision to use and sell drugs and he also made the decision to collaborate with the police instead of face jail time. He made the decision to keep his parents in the dark, a decision that ultimately led to his unnecessary death. But was Logan paying for college completely on his own? Such a question isn’t taken into account in this situation, but it should be. UMass informs parents if their children are disciplined for alcohol or other drug infractions, but in the case of Logan, he escaped the reprimands of his parents although his offenses were much more serious than underage drinking.

It doesn’t add up.

As autonomous as college students believe they are, if they are at school in part because of their parents’ finances, their parents have a right to know if they are breaking the law. While that distinction is a matter of principle for most, for Logan, it was a matter of life and death.

Fingers, however, can’t be only pointed at the police. Confidential informants are an effective means of apprehending higher level drug dealers. In the effort to diminish drug use on college campuses, of course it makes more sense for officers to target the more serious dealers and not waste time and money prosecuting and punishing the smaller drug dealers. Letting Logan off the hook so that bigger criminals could be caught represents a classic example of the “greater good” mentality that police often use in the “real world.”

But is UMass the “real world?” The students are legal adults, but they lack true independence. If anything, college is a time for transition into the world of full responsibility, and the students are clearly not held to the same standard as adults who are not in college. While I do not fault the police for trying to curb the use of the potentially deadly Molly and LSD, I do think they should have shown more sympathy and concern for Logan instead of using him as a pawn to further their own agenda, however noble it may have been. At the same time, who can say how many drugs the program took off the street, and how many lives were saved?

Logan’s parents also share some of the blame. He had been charged with leaving the scene of an accident to avoid an OUI arrest last May, and had also been caught with cocaine two years before, according to the Globe story. The story said his parents attributed the cocaine possession to “youthful indiscretion,” but it’s clear that such an assumption was incredibly naïve. Young people often exhibit “youthful indiscretion” in possession of alcohol and marijuana; cocaine, however, is in a different ballpark, and steps should have been taken to ensure that Logan did not continue using hard drugs.

In the face of tragedy, it’s natural to look for someone or something to blame, but Logan’s case is simply one in which he was failed by everybody, including himself.

Although many are indignant over the confidential informant program, we need to remember what actually killed Logan: heroin, a drug that—between November 2013 and February 2014—took the lives of 185 people in Massachusetts. Even if UMass decides to end the program, doing so will not solve the heroin epidemic, nor will it prevent others from dying too young.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]