MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A man who's dedicated his life to putting bad guys in jail will not have to join them behind bars a judge said Thursday morning.
Instead, Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers Executive Director Richard "Dick" Masten accepted a contempt of court charge and will write a report about anonymous tip laws after his refusal to divulge details about an anonymous tip.
"We're gonna protect Crime Stoppers tips," said Masten.
In court last week, Masten ate a piece of paper containing information regarding an anonymous tip. Masten, a former police chief, said the anonymous tip program's integrity is at stake.
Circuit Judge Victoria Brennan had previously ordered Masten to provide information about the tip to a defense attorney in a cocaine possession case, or face jail time. The defense lawyer says only information about the tip is important, not the tipster's identity.
In court Thursday, Judge Brennan told Masten that when he ate the tip, he either acted out of "willfulness" or "ignorance." Judge Brennan also said that anonymous tips are given to prosecutors all of the time because they must be substantiated and corroborated, according to CBS4's Natalia Zea, who was in the courtroom.
"I believe you lack understanding and maybe willfully lack that understanding," said Judge Brennan to Masten. "It is never honorable to violate a court order."
Police officers in court said that Crime Stoppers tipsters are guaranteed anonymity while regular tipsters are not.
Judge Brennan said that Masten doesn't get to decide the law, and neither does she, they both have to follow it. The judge said eating the tip was a show and that once Masten had emailed the tip to the prosecution, it became a public record.
"You made that tip part of the public record, yet you're sitting here espousing your concern for the content of the tip," Masten said in court.
Masten admits sending the email, but contends it is still not for the public's eyes.
"It's not a public record, whether it comes from an email, pony express, smoke signal or whatever it is- it's not public record and we're not gonna give it up," said Masten.
Masten told CBS4's Lauren Pastrana earlier this week that he didn't regret his courtroom snack.
"I mean I don't like the idea of going to jail, but I didn't really have any alternative," Masten said. "The way I look at it, we make a solemn promise to our tipsters that we'll never let them be identified."
Masten said, more and more often, defense attorneys want to learn tipsters' identities.
"They would like to see them made into a witness and have to answer for that. But once that ever happens, we're going to lose our program. No one will trust us anymore," Masten said.
Masten says that in 20 years, Crime Stoppers has helped solve some 34,000 crimes. He said Crime Stoppers will continue to operate uninterrupted even in his absence.
Despite agreeing that he is guilty of contempt, Masten says if he has to, he will dine on Crime Stoppers documents again.
"Now I'm a guilty criminal and if I have to do it again next week I will, the next month I will. Hopefully I won't and hopefully none of the other programs across the country will either," Masten said.
for more features.