Kaboom! Bloomberg Brags on Fireworks Arrests -- But Exploded Evidence May Blow a Big Case
Two days before Independence Day weekend, Mayor Mike Bloomberg commemorated the July Fourth holiday by proudly annoucing a law enforcement success: so far this year, the city had confiscated 1,000 cases of illegal fireworks, and arrested 55 people who had possessed or trafficked them.
In making this announcement, Bloomberg was following in the footsteps of his predecessor Giuliani, who instated an outright ban on fireworks on holidays -- prompting one Chinatown resident to complain that celebrating the Chinese New Year in 1998 was like celebrating Christmas without the Christmas trees.
So far the mayor appears to have a great track record - until you realize that the city isn't taking the time to determine whether the fireworks they are seizing are actually illegal, says a Bronx Supreme Court judge. In a recent hearing for a case that continues today, Judge Richard Lee Price said he was troubled by the NYPD's practice of "unilaterally" destroying fireworks before showing them to prosecutors, as is required by law...
Unlike his predecessor, Bloomberg has ostensibly limited his campaign to illegal fireworks - counterfeit fireworks that are actually small bombs in disguise, which the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau claims makes up a sizable portion of the market.
When the NYPD confiscates fireworks, they do something that is somewhat counterintuitive: they blow them up. They burn the contraband on a pyre (the NYPD technically calls them "burn pits") at different locations throughout the city.
Apparently, these explosive-happy cops are blowing the fireworks up too fast -- destroying the evidence in their own cases.
Because of this, Judge Price has refused to allow any testimony or other evidence related to 8,000 pounds of pyrotechnics that the NYPD had confiscated from a Bronx man in July 2007. The man had purchased 480 boxes of legal fireworks -- bottle rockets, Roman candles, smoke bombs, whistling chains, small aerial salutes and small aerial display shells, each containing between 50-130 milligrams of gunpowder -- that he said he was going to use for an Independence Day party.
A detective who had followed the man to a UPS facility in Pennsylvania confiscated the fireworks, charged the man with illegally dealing them (a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison), and took them to an official bomb facility where his colleagues promptly blew them up.
According to Judge Price, it was too prompt -- the bomb squad failed to perform a physical or chemical analysis, photograph the boxes' contents, videotape the firework's destruction, or do much of anything to determine whether the fireworks were illegal or not, or what they were going to be used for.
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