Informant arrested after misguided raids

July 18, 2008 3:47:11 PM PDT
A New York police informant is facing charges of perjury after police admit his lies led them to raid the apartments of two innocent people. The NYPD began investigating the informant after Eyewitness News raised questions about those raids.

"Can't believe it. I'm scared stiff," Jerry O'Keefe explained about his encounter with police last week.

For 69-year-old O'Keefe, who was cuffed and thrown to his floor last Friday by police, it was a terrifying experience -- not to mention what narcotics cops did to jerry's front door.

Police did have a warrant based on information from a confidential informant. The warrant alluded to the "sale of crack cocaine...."

"I can't believe it. I didn't wanna argue with them or start trouble, so I kept my mouth shut," O'Keefe said.

Jerry was never charged with any crime. Neither was Cynthia Leon. She's a single mother across the street who suffered the same fate as Jerry when the NYPD beat in her door in the Bronx.

"I've never done drugs," she said. "I'm a hard working single mom who has good parents. They threatened to arrest my father. That's traumatic for me."

It now turns out that the NYPD's confidential informant allegedly lied. On at least 3 separate occasions, surveillance cameras show how he was actually hiding drugs under his clothes all along, and then telling police that those drugs were bought at Jerry and Cynthia's apartments.

A civil rights attorney told us he is not surprised that this type of thing goes on. That's because confidential informants, however unreliable, are often protected by the legal system, he said.

"The courts do not permit us, except on the rarest occasion, to actually penetrate past the police officer's word to interview or depose the confidential informant," attorney Michael Spiegel explained.

One of the cases where a confidential informant did the most damage was that of 57-year-old Alberta Spruilll. She died of a heart attack in 2003 after police with bad information raided her apartment in Harlem. In that case, police did admit mistakes. They did try to overhaul the system.

"Sometimes, however, you will get a situation where the police may act too quickly, where there's no immediate urgency to go into an apartment, and, in fact, the police may have the time to verify the information that's given to them by the informant," explained Robert Silbering, a former special narcotics prosecutor in New York City.

Top brass at the NYPD have confirmed a full investigation. Regarding Cynthia and Jerry, they say, "Obviously they should not have had to undergo being detained...." Specifically regarding Jerry, a prostate cancer survivor, being cuffed and thrown on his floor, they say, "We regret that it happened to him."

Police are now going back evaluating this particular informant's cases, 26 of them total. Fifteen ended positively, but 7 others now face review.

"Every piece of paper, everything that was done in those cases should be re-examined. It's clear that this informant was making it up as he went along," Spiegel said.

The informant is now facing 2 counts of perjury for the two cases featured in our story on Thursday. Police say their confidential informant lied. There is proof, and two residents in Pelham Bay suffered because of it.

STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager