Andrew Neal, the man who has emerged as the primary suspect in the North Side shooting of a Minneapolis police officer last weekend, was an informant for the department in the late 1990s, court records show.

Neal had a long criminal rap sheet at the time and provided information about a man who murdered his childhood friend, according to documents in a case that went to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Hennepin County authorities Tuesday charged Neal in connection with the early-morning burglary Saturday that led to the shooting of officer Jordan Davis. Davis was shot in the shoulder while walking back to his cruiser after responding to a domestic violence incident at an apartment in the 1100 block of 24th Avenue North. He has since been released from the hospital.

Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the county attorney's office, said "there is no timeline" to charge anyone with the shooting. Neal is expected to make his first court appearance Wednesday. The county attorney's office is seeking $500,000 bail.

Neal, 43, who had previously served time in prison for assault, could face further charges. While law enforcement officials haven't acknowledged it publicly, they consider Neal their primary suspect in the officer shooting, according to a search warrant application filed Monday in District Court.

"There was sufficient evidence to charge him with this crime," said County Attorney Mike Freeman. "Minneapolis police [are] continuing [their] investigation into the Saturday morning events, and if they find evidence linking Mr. Neal to other crimes, we can consider additional charges."

A call to the county public defender's office, which represents Neal, was not immediately returned Tuesday. Attempts to reach relatives of Neal were unsuccessful.

Neal's role as a police informant added a new dimension to the case.

According to court transcripts, Neal fed information to Minneapolis homicide detectives about Keith Henderson's involvement in the August 1998 murder of Juwan "Wheaty" Gatlin. The killing had been in retaliation for cooperating with investigators looking into criminal activity by the Mickey Cobras gang. Neal, a former Vice Lord, and Gatlin were childhood friends.

Prosecutors said Gatlin's fellow gang members, who suspected him of divulging secrets to police, lured Gatlin to an alley on the North Side, where they shot him fifteen times.

On another occasion Neal, operating at the behest of police, persuaded another gang member to wear a wire to help detectives build a case against Henderson, who was later found guilty of first-degree murder, the court documents say.

While it is not clear how long Neal continued assisting investigators, his role in what police officials characterized as a targeted attack Saturday places a new focus on the department's use of confidential informants, which is carried out with little outside scrutiny.

The use of informants is widely accepted by law enforcement agencies, providing authorities with often-indispensable information on tough-to-crack cases involving drugs, gangs and political corruption.

Council Member Blong Yang, who chairs the public safety committee, said that the use of informants is an internal matter.

"It hasn't been an issue that has been presented to our committee," Yang said.

The Police Department, through a spokesman, declined to comment Tuesday on its guidelines for handling informants or Neal's history with the department, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

But several recent high-profile cases involving informants have shined a spotlight on the practice nationally, said Alexandra Natapoff, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert in the use of confidential informants.

"The heart of the compromise that's involved in using confidential informants is that it inherently involves the toleration of crime," Natapoff said of the people police recruit. "Informants continue to commit crimes, often, sometimes even more so because they get the sense that they can work them off later if they [get] caught."

Among the legal and ethical issues raised by their use, she says, is that there is very little control of informants, whose identities often are known only to their handlers.

At the time of the Gatlin murder, Neal was facing three counts of second-degree attempted murder and had been who had been on probation for assault and tampering with a witness. He cut a deal with investigators by providing them with confidential information about Henderson.

According to a transcript of the trial, Henderson's attorney pointed out that Neal "was out there running around trying to help the police to try and make sure they stayed away from him. It worked."