Unbeknownst to an innocent family of four, the previous occupants of their Queens apartment had been low-level drug dealers. After the NYPD mistakenly kicked them of out of their home, the family filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing the police of failing to conduct due diligence and misusing a controversial law that could be declared unconstitutional.
In January 2015, the NYPD used a confidential informant twice to buy crack from residents within the Queens apartment. Equipped with a search warrant on February 6, 2015, the police arrested three occupants while seizing a small amount of crack, 19 bullets, and $21,530 in cash.
Six months later, housekeeper Austria Bueno moved into the apartment with her husband and two children in August 2015. Returning home after picking her kids up from school on December 11, 2015, Bueno found a stack of legal papers and a notice on her door saying anyone who entered would be arrested.
Scheduled to appear in court four days later, Bueno and her family were forced to pay for a hotel room for the first night and sleep on the floor of her mother-in-law’s living room during the next three nights. While Bueno and her husband missed a few days of work, her six-year-old son missed a day of classes because he did not have a clean school uniform.
Despite calling 911, appearing at the NYPD’s housing precinct stationhouse, and going to court a day early, Bueno was told that her family had to wait until her scheduled court date. Although the innocent family was allowed to return home after their lawyer explained in court that the drug dealers had moved out seven months earlier, the NYPD’s attorney dragged the case on for three more months in a failed attempt to get Bueno to sign a settlement waiving her right to sue.
Instead, Bueno and her family filed a lawsuit against the NYPD on Tuesday for kicking innocent families out of homes without due process. According to the NYPD, the nuisance abatement law allows police to temporarily bar people from their homes without the opportunity to first appear before a judge. An investigation conducted by ProPublica and the NY Daily News has discovered that the NYPD has filed hundreds of nuisance abatement actions since 2013.
“We believe that this is an unlawful process,” asserted Bueno’s attorney, Robert Sanderman of Queens Legal Services. “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.”
In response to Bueno’s case, City Public Advocate Letitia James stated, “It is disgraceful that the city is displacing people from their homes without due process.”
Bueno’s lawsuit also accuses the NYPD of failing to contact New York City Housing Authority to check whether the drug dealers still lived in the apartment. Instead of bothering to do their jobs, the police removed an innocent family from their home without justification or proof of criminal activities.
“When they have to do something like that, they’re supposed to know one hundred percent that the person they’re still looking for is still living in the apartment,” Bueno said.
Her suit seeks unspecified damages while fighting to have the nuisance abatement law declared unconstitutional.