After a "wrong-door" drug raid in Harlem led to the death of 57-year-old Alberta Spruill in 2003, New York City officials promised to implement reforms with respect to the use of confidential informants, and institute checks to verify that narcotics officers and SWAT teams were hitting the right residences.
But as civil rights attorney Joel Berger and I explained in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago, the city soon reneged, claiming that the promised reforms were merely discretionary, and could be revoked at will. Soon enough, stories of wrong-door raids began popping up in the newspapers again—and have since.
There were two more in the Bronx this week.
The NYPD is admitting it was wrong when officers broke down the doors of two apartments in the Bronx during a pair of misguided drug raids.
They found nothing, and it turns out both homeowners were innocent.
Officials say the apartments never should have been raided, and they admit the search warrants were based on lies from a confidential informant.
Police say that three separate times, the drugs from his alleged undercover buys were really drugs that were hidden under his clothing. Cops were fooled, and because of it, two local residents were traumatized.
On Saturday, when Eyewitness News began questioning cops about the story, they adamantly insisted there were undercover drug buys in both apartments.
Now, after repeated calls to the NYPD, their story has changed. They now tell Eyewitness News that they can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there were any undercover buys in the apartments, just a confidential informant who allegedly lied.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, police say, "We've initiated an investigation which has resulted in the informant being arrested for possession of narcotics. The investigation is continuing regarding his conduct leading up to these two search warrants."
They also say surveillance video shows the informant, who was supposedly searched beforehand by cops, reaching into his undergarments three separate times, exchanging the cops' money for hidden drugs, then allegedly walking out of the building.
Why didn't they check the surveillance video before conducting the raids? And how thoroughly could they possibly have searched this informant if he was able to hide drugs in his clothing? Moreover, if they were this sloppy while using this informant, how do we know other cops in the city aren't making similar mistakes with other informants? This particular informant has been the source of information for at least a dozen other drug raids.
Once again, the larger point here is that these raids are too violent and dangerous, the margin of error too small, and the tips and investigations that lead to them too subject to mistakes and bad information for them to be used on nonviolent drug offenders.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.