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Topics: House Oversight

ATF director: Undercover agents targeted mentally disabled people by accident

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,ATF,Darrell Issa,Mental Health,House Oversight

Federal agents who convinced mentally disabled people to commit crimes and then arrested them may have done so because they didn't realize the people they were targeting had special needs, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director Todd Jones.

"We do not target the developmentally disabled," Jones told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., adding that ATF learned of that the people were disabled as "the result of defense pleadings" in court.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that ATF targeted developmentally disabled people during undercover drug and gun-buying operations throughout the country. "In Wichita, Kan., ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as 'slow-headed' before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting," according to the Journal Sentinel.

Jones reiterated to Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., that ATF learned of the disabilities "based primarily on the assertion of defense counsel" during sentencing, prompting Duckworth to ask if he was really arguing that the agents couldn't recognize someone who had an IQ in the 50s.

"To be honest with you, Congresswoman, I don't know what they thought," he replied.

Jones told Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., that "hindsight's 20-20," but said that ATF agents hadn't apologized to any of the mentally disabled people they recruited and then arrested in undercover operations because the individuals are in prison, so "the opportunity for interaction is limited."

He promised that agents would not knowingly target disabled people in the future.

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