A man arrested on drug charges last summer has accused three city detectives of stealing more than $3,000 from his apartment after they took his keys and entered his Central Avenue home without a search warrant.
Police records indicate the detectives violated departmental policies when they seized a large amount of crack cocaine and more than two pounds of marijuana from the apartment. The detectives did not file drug charges and failed to photograph and fully document the evidence, including leaving an entry for “collection location” blank in a property report.
The detectives, Scott Gavigan and Anthony Scalise, and a sergeant, Richard Gorleski, denied taking cash from the residence. Still, they have given inconsistent accounts of why they entered the residence without a warrant last June, according to court records and attorneys familiar with the case.
Police Chief Steven Krokoff said he’s confident that, after an internal investigation, the man’s accusations that the detectives stole money are false. But Krokoff said the probe is ongoing and that the department is examining whether policies were broken.
“There are procedural issues because they didn’t seize this as evidence and they chose to do the computerized property report with missing information,” Krokoff said. “They’ve all received refresher training on what the (criminal procedure law) dictates in terms of search warrants, and leaving receipts at the location of searches. It’s also time for us to refresh everybody on the current policies and procedures.”
On June 18, 2014, the detectives — assigned to the department’s Community Response Unit, which handles drug investigations — arrested Joshua Horne, 37, on a sealed indictment accusing him of selling crack cocaine to a police informant in September 2013.
Horne, who remains free on bond, was arrested as he walked out of a store near Robin Street and Central Avenue, a few doors down from his apartment. He was being transported downtown to be booked on the charges when video surveillance cameras at his nearby apartment building showed the detectives walking the block, trying to find a door that Horne’s keys would unlock.
The video shows the detectives trying several doors before Gavigan gets one of the keys to open a door into Horne’s apartment building, which fronts Central Avenue.
Another video surveillance camera inside the building shows the three detectives stopping in the vestibule and using Horne’s keys to open his mailbox. After checking the mail, they climbed the stairs to the second-floor apartment. More than 20 minutes later, the video shows the detectives descending the stairs and leaving the building, with one of the men holding a shoebox. Horne claims the box contained more than $3,000, according to his attorney, Cheryl Coleman.
The detectives denied there was any money and said they used the shoebox to carry out marijuana and crack.
In an unrelated drug trial two weeks ago, Gavigan was asked about the search under cross-examination from Coleman, who represented a different defendant in that case. Gavigan testified that Horne appeared “very nervous” and lied about living in the Central Avenue apartment. He also testified they didn’t charge Horne for the drugs found in his apartment because of “the lack of the warrant.”
The detective testified they decided to enter without a warrant because he believed someone in the apartment might have been injured. He claimed that Horne “began sweating profusely” when the detective used his keys to unlock the apartment door.
But the video footage did not show Horne anywhere in sight when Gavigan, after about a 15-minute search, finally found the entrance to Horne’s apartment. Gavigan signaled to his fellow detectives when he unlocked the door and they quickly went inside.
According to Coleman, when Gavigan unlocked the door Horne was already being transported downtown to be booked at the department’sSouth Station. She said Gavigan’s testimony about her client “sweating profusely” as he unlocked the door is false.
“You’re talking about the integrity of a whole unit. Why doesn’t this bother anybody?” Coleman said.
Kevin Flynn, president of the Albany Police Officers Union, declined comment on the allegations. “We fully support our officers in any and all investigations,” he said.
Coleman said Gavigan’s testimony that he feared someone was in danger is different from the account that Albany County prosecutors first gave her.
During a pretrial conference last year in Horne’s criminal case, Coleman said, the Albany County assistant district attorney who was handling the case told Judge Thomas Breslin that the detectives first claimed they entered Horne’s residence without a warrant because he lied about where he lived, they were concerned he would get someone to remove any drugs before they could return with a search warrant, and they wanted to know if anyone was inside.
There was no mention at the pretrial conference — which took place in the judge’s chambers — about Gavigan’s suspicion that someone inside the residence was possibly harmed, Coleman said.
Police records reveal that the large shoebox taken by the detectives is not listed in the property report filed by Gavigan, even though it should be, according to multiple law enforcement officials interviewed for this story. Departmental policies also dictate the detectives should have photographed the shoebox and the drugs, in place before they took them, and also should have left a receipt for everything that was confiscated. Gavigan testified that the drugs -— 80 grams of crack and more than two pounds of marijuana — were in plain view. The video indicates they were inside the apartment for 21 minutes.
A former city detective familiar with the department’s policies and procedures, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said the search was problematic and could have blown up if the detectives had stumbled onto evidence they didn’t expect to find, such as a murder weapon.
“From the minute that we learned this and from the minute we saw the video, I was upset,” said Coleman, who is a former Albany County assistant district attorney. “I was upset because nobody, including police officers, has the right to play God with our rights.”
Coleman said District Attorney David Soares should request a special prosecutor to investigate Gavigan’s inconsistent accounts.
“I know they rely on these guys for continued prosecutions, but you have to question everything that these fellows are involved in,” Coleman said. “The only difference here is they get caught because there’s video. It makes you worry that it happens all the time, and we hear that it happens all the time. What’s even more upsetting is that they may have lied about it to cover it up.”
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5547 • @blyonswriter