By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
More than a month after careless intruders, first believed to be bounty hunters, smeared fingerprints all over the back window of her fourth-floor Bronx apartment, the allegation that the incriminating imprimatur of the home invaders belongs to NYPD detectives still terrifies Indra Rodriguez.
'I feel violated,' says Rodriguez, who is a 26-year-old accountant with a Manhattan public-relations firm. 'I walk around with pepper spray. Each and every day I come home from work, I'm very scared when I open my door. I turn on all the lights in the apartment."
Rodriguez, her attorney, Robert Ellis, and Roland Thomas, a private investigator, told the Voice that a detective from the 43rd Precinct has admitted that a mistake was made by the Bronx warrant squad, and apologized to Rodriguez on behalf of the raiding party. But a simple apology is not enough for Rodriguez, who intends to file a lawsuit against the NYPD. (Department spokesperson Marilyn Mode did not return a Voice call for comment.)
On August 16, Bronx warrant squad detectives, searching for Raymond "Edwin" Nieves for an alleged traffic offense, were told by the superintendent and tenants at 1165 Pugsley Avenue that Nieves had been evicted from his apartment six months earlier. Reportedly frustrated feeling they'd otherwise have to walk away from the investigation empty-handed the detectives broke into an apartment they believed was still occupied by Nieves. However, the apartment had been rented to Rodriguez, "a law-abiding, professional, articulate, and single young woman," according to a complaint her attorney filed with the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau. Rodriguez is not related to Nieves, the lawyer insists, and was not at home at the time of the incident.
Once inside, the complaint alleges, the detectives embarked on a sweeping search of Rodriguez's "lingerie, bank account documents, family photos, medical information, and other private matters. . . . "
"I feel they know everything about me that no one else knows," says Rodriguez, sobbing, in the Bronx basement office of private investigator Roland Thomas, who first looked into her charges that detectives, or a group of men pretending to be cops, had burglarized her apartment. Rodriguez's claim that the "officer or officers also [had] damaged the inside of her door and locked the door with a lock that can only be locked from the inside" convinced both Thomas and Ellis that the detectives should be charged with second-degree burglary, attempted burglary, criminal mischief, criminal tampering, as well as misconduct.
But Internal Affairs did not seem to be interested.
"Remarkably, we have been informed that the officers responsible have still not been arrested and that IAB has referred our complaint . . . to the Civilian Complaint Review Board," Ellis stated in the complaint to IAB chief Charles Campisi. "[W]e believe that this referral is improper, that the police officers who burglarized Ms. Rodriguez's home should be arrested. . . . " The IAB's washing its hands of the case fuels the contention by Rodriguez and her lawyer that the department is engaging in a cover-up of police misconduct.
Coming home and discovering that her apartment had been broken into and ransacked is only half the ordeal Indra Rodriguez alleges police have put her through.
Embittered, she went to the 43rd Precinct to file a complaint. That's where her nightmare really began. "I walked in there very calm, with my head together, and I told the police officer at the desk there were some policemen that were supposedly in my apartment. I was locked out of my house, there was damage done to the door, and I want to know why they were there."
Rodriguez said the cops told her none of their colleagues had been to her apartment and there was nothing in their computers indicating that another agency had tried to execute a warrant. Incredibly, Rodriguez recalls, one officer suggested that she go back to her apartment and call 911. "I feel helpless," she says. "Nobody is helping me so I figured maybe if I do exactly what they tell me I might get some answers."
Rodriguez called the New York office of the FBI.
"This is not the movies, ma'am," she said an agent told her. "We don't break down apartment doors and climb up fire escapes and break into bedroom windows and lock people out of their apartments." Upset and confused, Rodriguez then called 911, as the 43rd Precinct cops had advised her to.
About two hours later, two officers showed up at Rodriguez's apartment. She says she recounted the story as the cops examined her apartment. The officers took a statement and later questioned the superintendent in her presence. Did he see a car? Was it unmarked? Did he see a badge? Did he get a badge number? Did you get a name? "I began to feel frustrated and I started to cry in front of the officers," Rodriguez recalls. 'They told me not to worry, that things would be fine. They suggested I go back to the precinct and speak to detectives on the second floor.'