Misguided raids target homeowners

July 17, 2008 4:01:23 PM PDT
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.

The victims spoke exclusively with Eyewitness News.

It was a confidential informant who allegedly lied. 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.

Homeowner Jerry O'Keefe: "I couldn't believe what was happening is all, it just came out of the clear blue."
Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager: "They just beat down your door?"
O'Keefe: "Yeah, beat down my door and threw me on the floor."

And that was the beginning of O'Keefe's harrowing experience with the NYPD. He says last Friday, narcotics cops beat in his door so hard that parts of it broke to pieces. Then, they slapped cuffs on his wrists and threw him to the floor for at least 25 minutes.

"And then they went ransacking through the apartment," he said. "They made me lay on that floor for a good long time."

They did show Jerry a warrant, signed by a judge, that said they were searching for evidence of the sale of crack cocaine. They even searched through an old photo album of Jerry's from the 1950's.

Sager: "How old are you, sir?"
O'Keefe: "I'll be 70 in February."
Sager: "So you're 69 years old. You don't do drugs?"
O'Keefe: "No, I don't."
Sager: "And you don't sell drugs?"
O'Keefe: "No, I don't."

And now, cops admit that. The same is true for Cynthia Leon, a single mother who lives across the street. Cops raided and ransacked her apartment moments after O'Keefe's. Leon was returning from the Bronx Zoo with her family as the cops were leaving her damaged apartment.

"My father asked them a question," she said. "One of them was harassing him, started screaming at him, threatened to arrest him."

Once again, cops had a warrant signed by the same judge. On Saturday, when Eyewitness News began questioning cops about the story, they adamantly insisted there were undercover drug buys in both apartments.

"I've never dealt cocaine," Leon said. "I work with the [Department of Education] for 15 years. I have a perfect record."

And O'Keefe recently overcame prostate cancer.

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.

"It was a terrible mistake," O'Keefe said. "I asked them to show me the proof...They wouldn't show it to me."

"I thought the police were here to protect us," Leon said. "And after this, I don't feel safe."

Both Jerry and Cynthia plan to sue the NYPD. As for the informant, police say he's worked on at least a dozen other cases that are now called into question. In this case, authorities say he still maintains that he bought drugs from the two apartments. But obviously, his credibility is now called into question, and officials say he may face perjury charges.

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STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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