Jim Mustian's investigation into a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent’s deadly shooting of a mentally ill neighbor in Mississippi revealed new details raising questions about why the agent never faced trial on a murder charge — and the role played by DEA brass to quickly insert themselves into the case, blocking local authorities from talking to the agent.
For more than a year, Mustian has been collecting details of widespread corruption and misconduct in the DEA, compiling a spreadsheet of dozens of agents facing serious charges ranging from conspiracy with Colombian drug cartels to perjury and theft.
But the Mississippi case called out for separate investigation because of its unusual circumstances and the extensive efforts by the agency to protect their officer.
Mustian exclusively obtained hundreds of pages of investigative documents and transcripts, and spent days on the ground in Mississippi interviewing people with knowledge of the case for a story that raised serious questions why Agent Harold Duane Poole never faced trial and has now quietly returned to work as a supervisor in the DEA’s Jackson office.
Poole had called the local sheriff’s office on a warm spring night last year to report his neighbor was trespassing on his expansive property, “out of his mind” and threatening to kill him with a rock. But before deputies could arrive, Poole used his semiautomatic service rifle to fatally shoot the man.
Mustian’s review of the documents showed that the evidence was inconsistent with Poole’s claim of self defense, leading deputies to be skeptical.
His reporting also found DEA officials going to great lengths to participate in the off-duty case from the start, with one supervisory agent even declaring himself “in charge” of the crime scene and citing an unspecified policy to block local authorities from interviewing the agent for at least 48 hours.
Mustian even obtained a recording of the local sheriff telling the slain man's family he had charged the agent with murder even though the DEA “tried everything they could to get us not to charge him.
The only previous reporting had been a local TV news brief on the initial arrest. Mustian uncovered a remarkable level of level of detail despite no comment from the DEA, local prosecutors or the agent himself. But it may not be the last word — the case is now the subject of a federal Justice Department investigation.
Mustian’s story, accompanied by Rogelio Solis’ photos, scored strong play and emerged with AP’s highest reader engagement score of the week.