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Behind door 1? NYPD lawsuits

May 18, 1998

The latest resident to charge that the New York City Police Department had broken down her door and invaded her apartment searching for drugs is 27-year-old Sandra Soto of 396 New Jersey Ave., East New York, Brooklyn.

No drugs or any other contraband was found in last June's raid - only two shrieking children and a terrified mother, who said she was handcuffed half-naked at gunpoint for two hours while the police searched their apartment.

Nor was there any trace of Lucky, a "male Hispanic, approximately 29 years of age," who, according to the search warrant application, had been observed by a confidential informant a week before the raid possessing a 9mm and a .38-cal. handgun "inside the subject location . . . cutting heroin and placing it into plastic glassine envelopes."

An unrepentent Police Commissioner Howard Safir offered no solace last week to Soto, after she and her attorney announced Soto was suing the city for $20 million. "It's just like a number of other cases that are popping up as people line up to see if they can sue the city for big dollars," he said.

Earlier this month, a retired baker, Basil Shorter of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, had his apartment invaded by police searching for drugs after police set off a concussion grenade. No drugs were found there - only Shorter, his wife and two daughters, one of whom, the Shorters said, the police dragged from the shower, while the other was dragged from her bed and handcuffed for nearly an hour. The Shorters are suing for $100 million.

Two months before that, police, also searching for drugs, mistakenly shot through the door of the Bronx apartment of Ellis Elliott. Elliott fired , fearing the intruders were robbers. Mercifully, no one was hurt. No drugs were found there either.

Safir insisted last week that police made no mistake in breaking down Soto's door. His remarks indicated why after three years at law school, he failed to graduate. "We hit the right door," he said. "It was the correct apartment as designated by the search warrant."

(Earth to Howard: A search warrant application is only as good as the information in it.)

Now let's examine that application. Written by Police Officer Dennis Rudolph of a Brooklyn narcotics command, the application describes Soto's apartment as 2M. It is actually 2L. Second, it describes her apartment door as gray. It is red - as are all the building's apartment doors except one.

Rudolph describes the building as having four stories and says that apartment 2M "can be reached by ascending the staircase in front of the building to the second floor. Upon reaching the second-floor landing one turns to the left and proceeds to the grey metal door clearly marked with the letter and number 2M.' "

Printable versionIf one ascends the staircase in front of the building, one enters not the second but the first floor of apartments. Turning to the left, one finds apartment 1L, with the building's only gray apartment door.

According to law enforcement sources, two months after raiding Soto's apartment on June 4, the police raided apartment 1L. The warrant says they were searching for heroin. This is where Lucky, supposedly observed in Soto's apartment possessing a 9mm and a .38-cal. handgun while "cutting heroin and placing it into plastic glassine envelopes" appears to come in.

Well, when the cops raided apartment 1L on Aug. 9, guess what they found? One hundred fifty glassine envelopes, $500 and a .380 handgun.

Could the ".38" and the ".380" be the same gun? Could the discrepancy be due to a typo in the warrant applications? Says the building owner Michael Britton: "I don't go against the police. They do justice, but the woman on the second floor was no problem. The police made a mistake."

Easy Rider. An internal memo five years ago warned Queens District Attorney Richard Brown that by appearing at virtually every crime scene - as is Brown's custom - he could find himself having to testify to what he saw. Well, that moment may have arrived.

After visiting the scene of a fatal two-car crash at 93rd Avenue and 222nd Street in Queens Village on April 26, Brown visited Long Island Jewish Medical Center, where one of the drivers, Det. Robert Bolsom, had been taken. Bolsom, who was off-duty, has been placed on modified assignment while the department investigates whether he was drunk at the time and whether ranking officers deliberately failed to test him for alcohol.

His attorney, Marvyn Kornberg, says Bolsom wasn't drunk and will produce police witnesses at the hospital who say they saw him talking to Brown. "If Brown says he never spoke to the man, he will be my first witness to prove Bolsom wasn't drunk."

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.