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Framed For Selling Crack, Surveillance Video Helps Him Sue Police

Busted for selling crack, a New York smoke shop owner used his surveillance system to prove he was set up by a police informant. Donald Andrews, the owner of the shop, says his lawyer will file a wrongful arrest suit against the city, seeking $500,000 from the police department, county and the village.

Andrews opened up Dabb City Smoke Shop in Scotia, New York last January. By April he was arrested for selling crack cocaine. In one of his few media interviews since the arrest, Andrews told us about the set up.

The Arrest

A police informant, James Slater, visited the shop on March 25th and 29th and said on both occasions he bought crack from Andrews. He provided cell phone photos of crack rocks on the front counter of the shop.

Around April 11, police raided the shop and arrested Andrews. From the very beginning Andrews asserted his innocence.

“I kept telling them that I had video, and I could show them that never happened and that I wasn't selling drugs. The cops said there was no need for that -- that they had me on video, and they had audio. They said, ‘We don’t need to watch your video,’ but the confiscated my system anyway,” he said.

He was in jail for five days before he made bail. When he got out, he contacted a lawyer.

The sheriff's office, when contacted, declined to comment. The District Attorney did not respond to interview requests.

Grand Jury, Hearing Prosecutors Refuse to Return DVR

At his grand jury hearing, he says he testified that he had video proof that he wasn’t selling drugs out of the store and that police hadn’t allowed him to get the footage from his surveillance system to prove it.

“The grand jury wanted to see the video. The grand jury asked the DA where the videotapes were. The DA said the videos were irrelevant. My lawyer kept trying to get them to release the tapes, but they wouldn’t release the tapes. My lawyer had to beg for those tapes. It was a while before we got them,” he said.

Andrews was using a six-camera Nightowl system that he purchased online for $300. He had installed the system himself. Eventually, the authorities released the video.

What the Footage Shows

Once his lawyer was able to get the footage from his surveillance system, it told a dramatically different story than what the informant said. The tapes show the informant coming into the shop, setting a bag of crack on the counter, taking a photo of it, then picking it back up before leaving. See the video below:

The moment the informant plants the crack:

Other than the informant's testimony, police had no other evidence that Andrews was using the shop as a front to sell drugs. By July he was cleared of all charges, but not before his business took a hit.

“The impact on business was brutal,” he said. “The arrest was all over the six news channels, and people didn’t know what to think ... I had just moved into the neighborhood so people don’t really know me. People were saying then that they didn’t want me here.”

A Scotia resident that I spoke to about the case said people are suspicious police targeted him because he is “the only black business owner in that part of town.” Andrews says he thinks he was an easy target.

Andrews says police told him the informant was sent to his store as part of a series of investigations into stores in Scotia. The informant suggested to police he could help make a case against Andrews because they went to high school together.

Informant Arrested

After Andrews was released from jail, the informant skipped town, but was arrested a month later for perjury, drug and tampering with evidence charges.

This same informant was used in seven other convictions. Those cases are now under review.

[UPDATE: January 27]

Slater, the informant pled guilty to two counts of perjury and faces two six to 12 prison sentences, according to officials we spoke to this afternoon.

Also: "The sheriff's office has instituted a strip-search policy for informants, which could have prevented Slater's crime. Sheriff Dominic Dagostino has said Slater had not been a longtime informant for his office and that his officers 'got burned,'" the Times Union reports.


Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Jan 24, 2014

Comments (26)

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"seeking $500,000......" Not enough for this type of misbahavior.

Lou Marrero

So a $300 surveillance system saved him from having his life essentially destroyed. Powerful story.

"Andrews says police told him the informant was sent to his store as part of a series of investigations into stores in Scotia."

Can you get anything via FOAI from the PD on documentation of this series of investigations?

Maybe. To be honest, this case has FOIA written all over it. It would be interesting to get a better look at the documents behind this, not to mention the seven other convictions where they used this informant. This weekend I'll send some their way, just out of curiosity. But my gut tells me they are going to be reluctant to release any of it by using the "ongoing investigation" exemption.

I'm curious why the DA is not taking more heat for this. I see via the various stories on this case out there that most of the blame has been shifted to the snitch. It is the D.A.'s job to seek justice. Sounds like maybe this D.A. was seeking something else entirely.

Also of note... the FBI did a major sweep the previous year in the area, ringing up a bunch of young, gang-affiliated crack selling dudes with RICO jackets.

Maybe the Schenectady County DA didn't get himself enough headlines during the Fed case and wanted some TV face time for his own 'series of investigations'?

1. I like how we can reply direcly to ourselves (kinda schizophrenic maybe)

2. How come the oldest dude in the gang gets the worst a/k/a name?

"Eric Bell, a/k/a Glasses, age 41"

"I'm curious why the DA is not taking more heat for this."

Absolutely. It seems to me there are two possibilities here:

1.) The DA had blinders on. They were so single-mindedly focused on going after the conviction based on the evidence obtained by the informant that they completely ignored the DVR. They did not even bother to look at the DVR video for additional evidence, either corroborating or exculpatory.

2.) The DA did review the DVR video, saw the exonerating evidence, but chose to ignore/suppress that evidence and still prosecute the case.

The people of Scotia, New York have an interest in knowing which it is. Their DA is either 1.) incompetent or 2.) corrupt/criminal.

Nope, I would have started at $5 million. Bad enough they framed a business owner, but to add racism to it. It just goes to prove that video is still the best form of protection.

"They" didn't frame the business owner. They had a bad CI that they obviously put too much faith in, he broke the law and ultimately made those officers look bad. It's unfortunate what happened, but the evidence did exonerate the store owner, and all other cases with that CI will be reviewed and should be. You guys who think there is some huge conspiracy looking to "frame" innocent people all the time dont realize there just arent enough of us to deal with the good guys and the bad guys too. That being said there is always an exception, and when those of us are found to be breaking the law, they should be dealt with.

What is your take on why the DA didn't want to release the video during the grand jury hearing?

No offense Steve, but are you a law enforcement officer? :)

Are you serious? The evidence proving he didn't do shit existed at the time of his arrest.

It is the D.A.'s job to seek evidence that proves the truth - not that 'proves' the guilt of whomever the cops arrestframe.

The CI is an agent of LE - Isn't it LE's job to make sure what the CI says is true - using the existing evidence easily and readily available with the perp screaming about exactly where it is whenever he can?

Cops can get overzealous, sure.... but it is the D.A.'s job to make sure justice is served - not play games with peoples lives to get headlines and TV face time.

I am a police officer. And I wasnt there during the warrant, but I have done a lot of similar narcotics related warrants where the person we were arresting was screaming about something that proves they are innocent. I have taken DVR's, just like I am sure they did, with the understanding that if there is something on there it can be examined later. From phones to computers, unless it is on the warrant to be searched it cant be examined on the scene without some type of exigency. Looking back if they had an idea the CI was lying, they probably wouldnt have done the warrant. A couple of things probably went wrong. First, the majority of cops aren't techs and they unfortunately have to rely on "cell phone pictures" as opposed to some type of real time audio and or video. Thats something that commanders and departments need to change, and give the police tools to do their jobs better.

Second, CI management is tough. You are relying on someone who probably was a criminal (and usually still is) to gain access to people you couldnt by yourself, to help with an investigation. Over time, however a lot of detectives fail to attempt to gather evidence on a target from all angles and not just the CI buy. Your undercover purchase should only be a part of an investigation, or if you have a CI go rougue, this is what can happen.

And lastly, for some reason in my line of work we are expected to be perfect and not make mistakes. Thats impossible, so what happens is instead of admitting mistakes were made and dealing with why they happened we have guys and gals try to cover things up or not cooperate to try to mitigate the problem. We may be the most accountable people in your local government, I mean is there a department at your work solely there to investigate if you do something wrong? That being said I realize with my job comes an incredible amount of responsibility that shoudnt be taken lightly. Taking someone's freedom away for any reason, is something that should be understood as extremely serious by everyone in law enforcement. Its a bad situation all the way around, and I am sure as soon as they saw the CI plant the crack they knew that he was probably making bad buys in other investigations. But if they cops, the DA, or anyone in the chain knew they had a bad CI they needed to release whatever exculpatory evidence they had.

Steve,

That is an excellent reply! Thanks!

I put the full blame here directly on the D.A. - for the reasons I've already ranted.

LE (on the street) is one of the most thankless, underpaid, lots of it unrewarding, see-crap-nobody-wants-to-ever-see - profession.

It takes a rare type of person who can do it well - especially over time. The crap level of society that you have to deal with day in and day out is soul-crushing. I can't watch an entire episode of A&E's The First 48 without getting depressed... :(

This was a poor investigation before the CI even set foot into the shop. When running a CI, you have to eliminate any doubts about the case and one way to do so is when you meet with the CI just prior to sending them in, you search the CI just shy of a strip search. Then the CI is in view from the moment after the search until they enter the target location. Yes! This is a problem in some situations but it's the only way to honestly testify when requesting the search warrant you will be requesting after the narcotic was purchased.

I always doubted any CI as they always had a strong bias to make the buy but if done correctly the end result is taking out another crook a bit higher up the chain.

Mark, thanks for the feedback.

A new article in the local NY newspaper says they are doing just what you recommend:

"The sheriff's office has instituted a strip-search policy for informants, which could have prevented Slater's crime. Sheriff Dominic Dagostino has said Slater had not been a longtime informant for his office and that his officers "got burned."

From the linked article:

"The plea and sentence reflects the "harm that he caused to Mr. Andrews and to the criminal justice system," District Attorney Robert Carney said.

"The thought of falsely convicting an innocent man is sickening to any DA," Carney said."

Is this quote from the same DA that did everything in his power to prevent the Grand Jury and Mr. Andrews' lawyer from reviewing the surveillance video from the store? Back when he was trying to avoid giving them the video, he didn't seem at all bothered, let alone "sickened", by the idea that Mr. Andrews might have actually been innocent.

Thanks for the follow up John. I really don't know why that was not thier department policy in the first place as it the norm across the state where I worked and all others that I know of. Never trust your CI and verify their information independently through at least one other source, the more the better. Just imagine how hard it will be for one of the local judges to sign off on a search warrant from this officer in the future even with the new policy. This is why it's never worth placing your reputation in the sole hands of a criminal just to catch another criminal.

"Never trust your CI and verify their information independently through at least one other source, the more the better."

Too bad that is not a universal practice. The information the CI gave in our case was never verified through another source. Of course our CI was a sweet blond single mother who only cared about her boys............and dated at least one LEO for a period of time.

It was also a bit ironic, after 18 months, when the State Attorney dismissed the civil forfeiture case against us, she said they were doing so "for the reasons that it would best serve the interests of justice". They sure did put our family, all with clean records, through much stress during the preceding year and a half. I guess it takes some of them awhile to realize what oath they took when taking the job of prosecutor.

Steve:

"I have taken DVR's, just like I am sure they did, with the understanding that if there is something on there it can be examined later. From phones to computers, unless it is on the warrant to be searched it cant be examined on the scene without some type of EXIGENCY."

1.) The "exigency" was the business owner's presumption of innocence. The "exigency" is the implied, and all but certain assertion of the business owner that he had an alibi, on a video recordation no less. Did he make the assertion and then tell the police they were not permitted to view his alibi? That just would make no sense at all.

2.) Law enforcement's mission/purpose to seek the truth and justice. They cannot hide behind a false cloak of a warrant as an excuse for inexcusable behavior. Any investigator worth his salt knows this and will tell you the same. Would these police officers and DA have done this if the circumstances were reversed. What if it was their business being served a warrant based upon a false affidavit, planted illegally held drugs from a less than credible witness and being refused the opportunity to prove their innocence via irrefutable video evidence.

Then to compound matters the DA pulls an arguable, if not well founded, obstruction of justice when he refuses the grand jury's request to "see the video", calling it "irrelevant".

The video evidence eventually exonerates the victim/defendant, but not until after the dogged efforts of the victim's attorney to retrieve that same video evidence held in the custody of the police. Think these actions through. This borders on collusion by the investigating officers and the DA toward obstruction of justice.

Instead of abusing the victim/small business owner, the more important question is why weren't they holding their CI responsible for his crimes?

Too many lost opportunities here to right a wrong. This gives every appearance of a huge travesty of justice that should not be borne by the citizen/taxpayers if there is any civil and punitive damages awarded, but by those responsible for their own actions and abuse of their power and authority.

I'm a Police Officer too. I agree with Steve's assessment, but would add that digital evidence is something that most PDs aren't prepared to support. Beyond the training and equipment is the struggle with how to best deploy resources.

Even if they had the capabilities in house, do they pull an investigator off another case to look at the DVR or have that person work on other cases that don't appear on the surface to have been "solved".

Beyond the hours required to review the DVR contents and make copies, is the time required to write the warrant, get a judge to sign it, and then return the findings to the court upon completion. Depending on your County, that may not be a trivial investment in mantime.

My guess is the cops thought they had sufficient evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt without devoting the resources to examine the DVR. So, the DVR got seized, placed in evidence, but it was never examined.

That's where discovery comes into play. The defense is absolutely entitled to the contents of that DVR, regardless of whether the prosecution considers it meaningful to the case or not. That's the part of this story that doesn't make sense to me. How could the prosecution put up roadblocks?

The defense would be on the hook for examining their copy of the evidence. And, they wouldn't be compelled to share their findings with the prosecution. Had this gone to trial, that would have been a pretty dramatic piece of testimony! My guess is it would be an instant dismissal from the bench.

I have personal experience in this area of law enforcement as a victim.

In our case, first, the CI lied to investigating officers about what we were doing(growing and selling marijuana). We found this out through discovery.

Second, the investigating officers knew the CI had a real past history via civil court cases against us, over my sons parental rights to his three sons. The CI also had an intimate relationship with at least one LEO. The CI was my sons ex-wife of 4 years.

Third, the head officer in charge lied to the judge in the affidavit to obtain the search warrant. He stated he observed our property and buildings from adjacent public land which is physically impossible to do. We could not use that information in a motion to suppress the warrant because the judge AT THE TIME OF THE AFFIDAVIT had every expectation to believe the officer was being truthful.

Long story short, law enforcement spent huge sums of money on us and got nothing. I never spent a day in jail and they dropped the civil forfeiture case against us for two homes, two shops and our small farm. That took a year and a half before it happened.

This subject is about the War on Drugs and related government abuse of power.

Some questions about this case come to mind:

How would this have turned out if Donald did not have the means/etc to get a good lawyer? Discovery costs money.

I have heard local juristictions get a pay-off from the Federal government of $20,000 for any local felony drug conviction. Is this true? Perhaps the officers involved in this discussion can answer that question. Could this be an incentive to encourage the lack of local integrity shown in Donalds case?

For what it is worth, I found the troops(of the lower pay scale....their words) to be mostly honorable and dedicated folks, just as we have heard from the officers involved in this discussion. I spent 6 hours with them and was shaking many hands at the end of that 6 hour period. They were just doing their job, as instructed.

In our case, we estimate the "government" wasted well over $100,000. The CI continues merrily along facing zero consequences. We do plan a FOIA request when all the dust has settled and we get all computers, phones, cameras and personal records returned as we want to know the exact amount of taxpayer money that was spent on us. They have already released all liens and interests on our real property.

Multiply Donalds and our case by thousands and you get the real picture of the WOD.

This is a great discussion. Thanks all for the excellent comments!

I've made this post publicly available so you can share with all your friends and colleagues.

Message to Steve Cobb:

What I wouldn't give to know or believe that more people in your profession (law enforcement) possessed a similar amount of integrity and core morals as you obviously do. I will concede there are many like you who still do, but I am afraid in total you have been overtaken in percentage by those who do not share or practice your type of integrity or beliefs. Here comes 'me' about to paint with a broad stroke (which I inherently despise), but I believe on whole Prosecutors whether on the state or federal level are far more concerned if not obsessed with winning, than they are with justice or being a part of a 'just' outcome. The entire system you are a part of has become guily and culpable in this syndrome that has evolved, and I take it when it comes to people like you in this system who are grounded in moral integrity, it can become pretty challenging at times to try and 'do the right thing' if you find yourself among a den of wolves practicing a much different agenda. The unwillingness to accommodate the Grand Jury in wanting to reviewing this video being a perfect example. Who would do that under honorable circumstances? Candidly, I am VERY amazed that video didn't meet with a mysterious and untimely death before it could ever be viewed. Stories like this happen VERY, VERY frequently all across this country, and usually in plain view. Most people would never believe such a thing ..... that is until it happens to them or someone close to the. Then ...........

Point taken also Steve on the scrutiny/oversight people like you face, and the idea you are somehow expected to execute perfectly ALL of the time. Which then makes it understandable why there would be an inclination to not be willing to admit when a mistake has occurred or this mad dash to cover something up. This ridiculous standard of perfection that's a part of your scrutiny needs to go away, unless those during the scrutiny are willing to be held to the same standard in their professional world. Of course they aren't willing, which is how the word hypocrisy got its start.

I am an optimist, and this belief is reinforced everytime I come across people like you. There are compelling reasons to remain optimistic about things in general, and what fuels this belief is making sure to pay attention to the deeds of people like you. I hope and pray you will continue to summon the courage to stay on the noble path you are traveling, and remain committed to your beliefs even among a den of wolves practicing a much different agenda.

David Mullins

Dallas, Texas

The informant in this case was sentenced to 6-12 years in prison yesterday. At sentencing, he had this to say about his time working for the police:

“No one here understands the pressure that you’re put on by those people, how you’re haunted every day, texted every day ... People are at your front door every time you come outside. You’re getting picked up by an unmarked car. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s you do what they say or you get done, that’s how it is."

The rat is whining about the smell of the cheese? :)

But keep in mind that this goes well beyond just being a rat....

This piece of garbage ruined other peoples lives for his (and his handlers) benefit.

Die rat.

Agree Marty.

In my own "path to freedom", I had to go through a "probation orientation" meeting. One of the specific rules we were told to follow is DO NOT make any deals with other LEO regarding ratting out someone, EVER. When I asked about that rule(since they are all LEOs), I was told "we are here to keep you safe and get you out of your mess. If you mess with 'those people', you are never safe".

On the other hand, the rat in this discussion made the choice to participate in the rats nest so he got what he deserved. This case continues to demonstrate what a waste of time and money and lives the WOD causes, all supported with federal dollars.




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