NYPD kicks wrong family out of their home in nuisance case, seeking drug dealers who left 7 months earlier

New York Daily News

The NYPD got an order kicking a family of four out of their Queens apartment by telling a judge it was a drug den — but the dealers had moved out seven months earlier.

A lawsuit to be filed in Brooklyn Federal Court on Tuesday details an egregious case of the NYPD’s use of the nuisance abatement law — a controversial tool in which cops are able to get a temporary order barring people from their homes without first giving them the opportunity to appear before a judge.  

Cops thought they found a drug den when they booted a family out of their Queensbridge apartment in Queens. But the real drug dealers had moved out seven months earlier.The bungled operation left Austria Bueno, 32, a housekeeper, crashing at a hotel and on a relative’s floor, beside her two sons and husband, for four nights, as they waited for their first court date.

“Everybody cried. Me, I was crying like a baby,” Bueno told the Daily News. “I don’t deserve that. My kids don’t deserve that either.”

Her lawsuit, which cites The News and ProPublica’s ongoing investigation into the NYPD’s misuse of the nuisance abatement law, seeks to have the legislation and its provision for secret lockout orders declared unconstitutional.

A News analysis found the number of cases filed by the NYPD has dropped substantially since the first investigation was published in February.

Bueno’s ordeal began before she even got to the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City. Police say a confidential informant purchased crack at her future apartment twice in January 2015. A subsequent search turned up crack, weapons and $21,500.

Bueno and her family moved into the apartment in August.

On Dec. 11, a Friday, Bueno returned home after picking up her sons — ages 6 and 15 — from school to find a stack of legal papers and two neon-colored stickers taped to her door saying anyone who entered would be arrested.

She was told to come to court the following Tuesday.

That night, the Bueno family slept at a hotel for $208. The following three nights, the family slept on the living room floor of her mother-in-law.

Bueno said she missed three days of work, resulting in a reduced paycheck. Her husband also missed work, and her youngest son was unable to attend school one day because he couldn’t retrieve a clean school uniform.

The NYPD did not even bother to contact the New York City Housing Authority to determine if their targets still lived in the home they were asking a judge to close — despite filing the request 10 months after the search, claiming it “is currently being operated, occupied and used illegally,” Bueno’s suit says.

Bueno said she called 911 the night she was locked out, then went to the NYPD’s housing precinct stationhouse the following day, but was told both times she had to wait until her court date on Tuesday. She said she went to court a day early, but was told the same thing.

After her lawyer explained the situation at her first court date, Bueno was allowed back into her home. Rather than apologizing for the terrible mistake and dropping the case, the NYPD’s attorney dragged it on for three months in an effort to get Bueno to sign a settlement waiving her right to sue, the lawsuit says. She refused.

“When they have to do something like that, they’re supposed to know 100% that the person they’re still looking for is still living in the apartment,” Bueno said.

Her suit will also seek unspecified damages.

“We believe that this is an unlawful process,” Bueno’s attorney, Robert Sanderman of Queens Legal Servies, said. “Literally, people are being evicted and their life is being destroyed based on mere allegations that are hardly ever verified. It just flies in the face of the Constitution.”

City Public Advocate Letitia James — who wrote a letter to city Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter slamming nuisance abatements following The News’ coverage — was outraged by Bueno’s ordeal. “It is disgraceful that the city is displacing people from their homes without due process,” James said.

A police spokesman and the Law Department declined to comment.

In response to The News and ProPublica’s investigation, Carter said last month that his office would review its nuisance abatement procedures to ensure that secret lockout orders “would only be used in cases of appropriate urgency,” and would not apply to household members who haven’t been accused of a crime.

Meanwhile, the number of nuisance abatement actions filed by the NYPD has dropped significantly since The News and ProPublica’s investigation.

The NYPD filed 28 nuisance abatement actions in state supreme courts between Feb. 4, when the investigation was first published, and April 11. The NYPD filed 161 cases during the same time period in 2013, and 101 during the same time period in 2014.

The department has filed just two nuisance abatement actions since March 25, when The News published a followup that quoted two former attorneys in the NYPD’s civil enforcement unit, which handles such cases, as saying the unit had no requirement or procedure to independently verify the claims it files in nuisance abatement actions, or to even check if anyone is still living in the house it is seeking to close.

However, judges have continued to grant temporary closing orders on businesses and homes, even in cases where the evidence is months old, despite state Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher’s advisory noticerecommending that they limit the practice.



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