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No-knock shock carries big risks

May 17, 2003

The fact that police raided a Hamilton Heights woman's apartment solely on the word of a confidential informant is "astounding," the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union said in criticizing the action.

Donna Lieberman said police must meet "a very high standard for a no-knock warrant."

"We don't live in the Wild West," she said. "You can't throw grenades into an apartment unless you are sure as it can be."

The raid, on apartment 6F of 310 W. 143rd St., left Alberta Spruill, 57, a longtime city employee, dead after a heart attack.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said an informant told detectives on May 5 that a drug dealer lived on the ninth floor of Spruill's building but stashed drugs and guns in 6F. Officers also believed there was a dog or dogs inside, officials said, and also cited other unspecified surveillance.

Flash grenades are used to distract people in a targeted apartment, and Kelly said they have been used 85 times this year and 150 last year.

Kelly said permission to use grenades must be granted beforehand by a superior unless there are "exigent circumstances." The lieutenant who called for the use of the grenade has been placed on administrative leave.

The department's explanations were not good enough for Lieberman.

"There is a common-sense answer to this," she said. "It would have been a simple matter to find out who was living in the apartment and get information to corroborate or contradict the informant. When police fail to exercise common sense, everyone gets hurt. In this case the consequences are disastrous."

A local lawmaker also expressed dismay over the incident.

"We support our police but slipshod information and slipshod police work will not be tolerated," said Assem. Keith Wright (D-Harlem). "I would have had a heart attack myself if somebody threw an incendiary device in my house.

"This would not happen on the Upper East Side. It happens in the Harlems of New York City."

Weapon of Distraction: Flash grenades such as the one linked to the Hamilton Heights raid are deployed to reduce use of guns in forced-entry situations.


  • Body Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • Fuse assembly
  • Brass Collar
  • Output holes (6)
  • Delay
  • Flash powder
  • Cardboard tube
  • Output hole
  • 5.73 Inches in height
  • 1.75 Inches in width
  • Effect: Produces loud report and brilliant flash.
  • Explosive compound: 15 grams
  • Sound level: 174.5 decibels at 5 feet
  • Light level: 2.42 million candela*
  • Duration: 9 milliseconds

*A candela is one unit of luminous intensity.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.