Florida head of crime tips program refuses to turn tip over to judge

Video still showing Richard Masten, director of a Crime Stoppers program in Miami, eating a piece of paper in a Florida courtroom Friday.

(Reuters) - The director of a Crime Stoppers program in Miami, Florida, was facing jail on Saturday after refusing to hand over information in a drug case because he said it would violate the organization's promise to keep its tipsters anonymous.

Richard Masten was sentenced Friday to 14 days behind bars for contempt of court after he refused to hand over the tip, which was written on a piece of paper. Instead of handing the paper to the judge, he ripped it in half and stuffed it in his mouth, according to video of the proceeding posted on the group's Facebook page.

"The issue is the court asking Crime Stoppers to go back on their promise," Masten told the judge.

The judge stayed Masten's sentence until next week to allow him more time to consider turning over the information.

Crime Stoppers programs are operated on both a local and national level, allowing community members to provide anonymous information about criminal activity without fear of prosecution or revenge.

A judge had ordered Masten to hand over information the Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers received about a cocaine possession case, saying the court was only interested in the evidence it might contain, not the identity of the tipster.

The lawyer for the defendant had asked the judge to review the information, saying it could be necessary for their case.

"There's absolutely no information that I am looking for that has to do with the name or the identity of a tipster," Jean-Michel D'Escoubet, the attorney for the defendant, told Miami's WFOR-TV.

But Masten said he would not allow a judge to review the information and decide whether it compromised the tipster's identity.

"If you do it in this case, the question comes down the road, well you did it in that case. Why not this case?" Masten said. "Well, I'm not going to do it in this case."

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; editing by Edith Honan and Cynthia Osterman)