Asset Forfeiture

NYPD Civil Forfeiture Leaves Bronx Family Facing Eviction

A trashed apartment, seized cash, and a family left in the lurch. Another day of asset forfeiture in the U.S.

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Frances M. Roberts/Newscom

A Bronx family is facing eviction after the New York City Police Department raided their apartment and seized more than $2,000 in cash they were saving for rent, The Village Voice reported Tuesday.

NYPD officers burst into an apartment on May 16, looking for a parolee who was a friend of one of the residents. They found and arrested their man, but after the arrest, the officers began searching the rest of the apartment. From the Village Voice article:

Nate Ortiz, 27, who had lived there with his mother and two sisters for his entire life, began to protest. If the parolee, a friend of his, didn't live in the apartment, why were they searching it? He began to ask if the police had a warrant, and under what justification they were going through the rooms. The police just laughed at him at first, but when Ortiz persisted in asking about the legality of the search, they arrested him and everyone else in the apartment.

"It was ransacked," Anna Ortiz, his mother, told the Village Voice, describing her return that night to the rent-stabilized apartment she had been renting for more than 25 years. "They destroyed that apartment."

Even worse than the destruction, the $2,651 in cash that Ms. Ortiz had left in the apartment, which was going towards that month's rent (as well as some back-rent they owed), was missing. No one else could have taken it, except the New York City Police Department. Her son's arrest was now just the beginning of their problems […] Last week, the family was in housing court to try to stave off eviction, with Anna, who works at a hospital, unable to make up the shortfall with her salary.

According to the article, the Ortiz's managed to obtain a release from the district attorney's office for their money, but they've been fighting the NYPD for weeks to actually get the cash turned back over to them. Their next court hearing is in September.

As I reported last week, Bronx Defenders, a legal aid group that is also representing the Ortiz family, is suing the NYPD for stonewalling a public records request for detailed information on its asset forfeiture program. According to summaries of asset forfeiture revenues obtained by Bronx Defenders, the NYPD had $68 million in seized cash and property on hand as of 2013.

The Village Voice reporter also wrote a 2014 investigation for Gothamist documenting another instance of the NYPD ransacking an apartment and seizing a cash.

The NYPD did not immediately return a request for comment.