NYPD Storm Troopers

A Drug Bust at the Wrong House—Again

A violent banging jolted Shameka Smith from her midday snooze. To the frightened 23-year-old onetime engineering major, it sounded like a roto-rooter snake being drilled into one of the day-glo orange steel doors in the Riverside Park Community Apartments, the sprawling high-rise at 3333 Broadway in upper Harlem where she lives.

As smith was jarred awake on April 19, the bedlam seemed to be occurring right outside of the three-bedroom apartment on the 23rd floor that she shares with her grandmother, Viola. Her grandmother was not at home at the time. As Smith dashed toward her front door, it became clear that someone was using a power drill to rip into the bottom lock. And the banging was the sound of a battering ram crashing against the door.

"Who is it?" asked Smith, trying to quell a nauseating feeling. No one answered. She peered through the peephole and saw about 15 people—mostly white men—wearing what appeared to be bulletproof vests, scurrying about in the hallway.

No drugs here: Shameka Smith and her busted door
photo: Sandra-Lee Phipps
No drugs here: Shameka Smith and her busted door

"Who is it?" Smith demanded again.

"Police!" responded a chorus of voices.

Smith says the confusion left her dazed. Instead of opening the door, she ran back to her bedroom. "I had on a T-shirt and my panties," she recalls. "I was going back to my room to put on some shorts." But Smith didn't reach for her shorts. Instead, she grabbed a cordless phone and called her father, Kenneth Smith.

"Daddy! Daddy!" she screamed over the continuing racket at her now bulging and crumpling front door. "Somebody is trying to break in!"

"Who's trying to break in?" he asked.

"I don't know!" she cried. "I guess it's the police, and I don't know why they're trying to break down the door." She was hysterical.

"Cops?" her old man inquired. "Breaking in? For what?"

Suddenly the door swung open, and the intruders barged in with guns drawn, barking commands. They found Smith trembling in her bedroom, still pleading with her father to come to her apartment. Someone snatched the phone from Smith and threw it on the bed.

"Put your hands in the air!" he snarled. "Get on the floor!"

Only then did Smith believe that the men were cops. Four of them surrounded her, aiming their weapons at her menacingly. One stuck his 9mm Glock at the back of her head while another jammed the muzzle of his handgun in her back. The plainclothes cops wrenched Smith's arms behind her back, and ordered her to lie on the floor. "It was hard because I had cuffs on, so they pushed me down," she remembers.

Smith lay face down, at times tossing her head, trying to see what was going on. At this point one of the cops, using a tactic adopted by SWAT teams to prevent suspects from observing controversial aspects of illegal searches, threw a bedspread over Smith's head.

"Shut up and lay down!" he yelled. "This is a drug bust!"

Although absolutely no drugs were found during the raid, the NYPD, which rarely admits that it has gotten a bad tip and smashed down the wrong door, was combative in its response. "You know, there is no guarantee that there is going to be a recovery of any kind of material there," says Detective Walter Burnes, a police spokesman. "And we all know that materials—anything that could be put in a house—can easily be moved." Burnes insists that Smith's apartment was the cops' target. "I'm telling you," he argues, "the apartment the search warrant was executed in is the apartment the search warrant was got for."

Shameka Smith struggled on the floor like Houdini trying to escape from a body bag. The declaration that the cops had broken in to search for drugs resounded in her mind. "A drug bust? A drug bust? Where? What apartment are you looking for?"

Smith started crying. She was hoping it was a nightmare that soon would be over, if only she could wake up. Then the cops grabbed her from the floor, took her into the kitchen, and cuffed her to a chair. "I could hear them breaking things up, throwing the beds around, turning them upside down, going through the closets," she recalls.

Smith says she tried to tell the cops she had no criminal record and that no drugs were being dealt out of her apartment.

"Shut up!" a cop shouted. "We have a warrant to search this apartment. There're drugs here!"

Another officer explained that an undercover cop had bought drugs from an individual selling out of Smith's apartment. The cop said the suspect wore a leather jacket with the initials "J.D." emblazoned on it. "I told him no one with that jacket lives here, but they just kept looking at me like I'm lying—like I'm trying to cover myself. They said the drugs were in a plastic bag, maybe it was weed or cocaine," Smith adds. "They never told me [what it was]."

Detective Burnes told the Voice, "It doesn't really matter what the police told [Smith]," adding that he would neither confirm nor deny the raiding party's story about the mysterious J.D. "That is information that has been gathered by the department, which we are not at liberty to [disclose]—information that is gathered in an undercover operation is not going to be revealed." Burnes also refused to say whether 3333 Broadway has been on the department's list of drug locations to watch. "I'm not gonna tell you about the location because you're trying to get into what we're doing in terms of our operation," he scoffs. "We're not gonna talk about that nor are we gonna thrash this out in the media."

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