Who Was DEA Special Agent Rick Finley?
On May 20, 1989, DEA Special Agent Rick C. Finley was doing what he always did. It was something he believed in deeply, something that was making a difference in people's lives, and something that was making his country safer. On that day, Rick Finley was fighting drugs in Peru, helping stem the flow of cocaine to the United States.
Rick was part of the Drug Enforcement Administration's "Operation Snowcap," a joint initiative between the United States and South and Central American countries to disrupt the growing, processing, and transportation systems supporting the cocaine industry. For the program's duration from 1987-1994, DEA sent teams of agents who volunteered for the tour to deploy temporarily to countries like Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.
Special Agent Rick Finley was assigned to the Detroit, Michigan, DEA office while conducting his second ninety-day tour in Peru. He had just been notified that he was selected to transfer to the DEA office in Fayetteville, Arkansas-his home state. But before he could make it home, Rick and nine others were tragically killed when their plane crashed in the mountains of Peru returning from a jungle operation.
Rick's funeral was held in Batesville, Arkansas, where he grew up and his family still lived. It was a large police funeral with over two hundred DEA Special Agents travelling from around the world to rural Arkansas to pay tribute to their dear friend. May 20th, 2003, marks the fourteenth anniversary of Rick's death.
Many members of the public as well as new DEA Special Agents assigned to the Detroit Division Office often ask, "Who was Special Agent Rick Finley?" Rick was the best kind of friend, because he didn't even need to know you to treat you as a friend.
Rick was born on September 19, 1952, in Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Grace and Drexel Finley. Raised in Batesville, Arkansas, he graduated from Batesville High School in 1970. He received a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Arkansas State University. In 1975, Rick went on to join the North Little Rock, Arkansas, Police Department as a police officer while he attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where he later earned his Masters Degree in Criminal Justice. Rick received the Mike Carlson Award for the outstanding criminal justice graduate student.
While Rick was an officer with the North Little Rock Police Department, he received numerous meritorious citations. He also got his first exposure to narcotics investigations, where he enjoyed the undercover and street work and found great satisfaction in relieving some of the devastating impact drugs were having on his community.
In 1984, Rick was hired as a Special Agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. After completing his initial training in Glynco, Georgia, he was assigned to the DEA Detroit Division Office. Rick was assigned to Enforcement Group 3, but his impact on people went far beyond Group 3. Rick would always search out the new DEA Agents when they got to Detroit. He wanted to make sure that their families were settling in and that the Agents were being looked after. He was the quintessential gentleman and his southern hospitality was second to none. He insisted that new Agents either stay at his house while looking for permanent quarters, or at a minimum, stop by with their families for meals. There was nothing that Rick wouldn't do for a friend.
Special Agent Rick Finley never spoke about his own accomplishments, but his friends did. Rick was personally responsible for a $5.4 million money seizure in Detroit from a Los Angeles based cocaine organization. At the time, this was the largest drug-related cash seizure in Michigan history. Rick received many accolades and acknowledgements both before and after his death. In law enforcement there is a saying that, "It's not how they died that made them heroes, but how they lived." This could not be truer than in the case of DEA Special Agent Rick C. Finley.
As a testament to Special Agent Finley, his friends in Detroit established the Rick Finley Memorial Foundation in 1989. The Finley Foundation assisted criminal justice students at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, where Rick attended. It also established a network to assist families of DEA and Task Force personnel killed in the line of duty. In 1997, the Finley Foundation was used as a model to incorporate five existing Special Agent Memorial Funds into one new DEA Survivors Benefit Fund. The DEA Survivors Benefit Fund has carried on the work of assisting DEA families touched by tragedy, but it is the memory of Special Agent Rick Finley and all those DEA employees and Task Force personnel that has inspired these efforts. The DEA Survivors Benefit Fund is now a part of the Combined Federal Campaign.
The DEA Detroit Division office building, which was opened in 1995, is named "The Rick Finley Building" in honor of Special Agent Rick Finley and the ideals for which he stood. The DEA Detroit Office also hosts an annual golf tournament and family picnic in Rick's name with proceeds benefiting the DEA Survivors Benefit Fund.
Rick Finley's mother, Grace, summed up her son best when she said, "On May 20, 1989, in the mountains of a South American country, my child, a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration gave everything he had trying to make this country a better place for all of us to live."