Framed For Selling Crack, Surveillance Video Helps Him Sue PoliceBy: Carlton Purvis, Published on Jan 24, 2014
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 [link no longer available] 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.
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 [link no longer available]. 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 [link no longer available], 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.
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.