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Old 12-09-2012, 02:31 PM   #1
Brett Marie
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NYPD Raid - Plausible Mix-up?

Update: Cancel that, no further posts.

My WIP has a character dealing pot out of his Manhattan apartment in the late nineties. Someone rats him out to the police, who raid his building.

Here's the thing: for plot reasons, I need the cops to raid the wrong apartment. Without getting into too much detail, I'll explain how I have things set up so far. The dealer, in apartment 3A, is named Tom. His neighbor across the hall in 3B is named Thomas. Feeling paranoid after an unrelated event, Tom (from 3A) has stashed his stock in a locked box which he has given to the woefully naive Thomas (3B) for safekeeping. Tom's name is not on the lease or the mailbox for 3A; Thomas is listed as the occupant of 3B. Looking for a 'Tom' on the third floor, the cops bust into the wrong apartment, but by an unhappy coincidence they do find the stash they were seeking, and arrest the hapless Thomas. (My apologies if this all seems incredibly convoluted.)

Is this scenario remotely plausible? Do I have a fundamental misunderstanding about how a drug bust would work? I'm guessing I do, but I'm hoping I can tweak my plot just a little to make it work. And, as a bonus, anyone who could tell me how such a scenario might play out once the mix-up comes to light would save me another post once I've written the above scene.
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Old 12-09-2012, 05:02 PM   #2
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Lines of enquiry do get crossed and things get screwded up. And to prove the point:

Me and hubby were moving my sister into her third-floor apartment when four police (two plain clothes) burst through the door. The conversation went as follows.

"Police. Nobody move."
Carrying a carpet between us (I'm eight months pregnant) we stop moving, kids taking to hiding behind the carpet.
Police officer: "We've had a report of breaking and entering."
Hubby: "Er, okay. From here? 'cause we're just moving someone in."
Police officer. "Oh. Well. Have you been making a lot of noise?"
Me: "No more than usual when you move someone in."
Plain-clothed officer shuffles back toward the door, into the corridor, and says into his radio, "Can you give me an address check for that disturbance."
Comes back in a few minutes later and says, "Next block over, lads."

Door closes and we give them time to get down the stairs before piddling ourselves, especially when we look at the window and see them all dashing over the grass to the next block of flats. It was like a bad scene from Monty Python.

So screw-ups do happen, even if it's at the control end and they've been given a wrong address.

Someone with more experience may be able to clarify a little better.
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Old 12-09-2012, 05:16 PM   #3
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Door closes and we give them time to get down the stairs before piddling ourselves, especially when we look at the window and see them all dashing over the grass to the next block of flats. It was like a bad scene from Monty Python.
I can just see Monty Python doing a sketch were people carrying a carpet are told to put their hands up. After much shuffling about, the police try to help and end up holding the carpet themselves while the burglars congratulate them on what a fine job they're doing.
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Old 12-09-2012, 05:24 PM   #4
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I can just see Monty Python doing a sketch were people carrying a carpet are told to put their hands up. After much shuffling about, the police try to help and end up holding the carpet themselves while the burglars congratulate them on what a fine job they're doing.
Tis much better when instead of a rug, it's a glass window or other easily breakable item.

On the original question. Mistakes happen. Personally I'd go with 3-B and 3-D. Easy to hear it wrong.

Best of luck,

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Old 12-09-2012, 05:37 PM   #5
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In real life, police raid the wrong address often, sometimes with fatal results.

In a story, it would feel like a contrived deus ex machina, unless you build in a reason for the police to identify the wrong place.

The other exception would be if this is the begining of the story.
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Old 12-09-2012, 06:44 PM   #6
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My WIP has a character dealing pot out of his Manhattan apartment in the late nineties. Someone rats him out to the police, who raid his building. The cops would do some background and likely some surveillance. They need PC to get a search warrant and a judge will want more than "Some dude called the station and told us so!" I can give you some specifics via PM if necessary.

Here's the thing: for plot reasons, I need the cops to raid the wrong apartment. Without getting into too much detail, I'll explain how I have things set up so far. The dealer, in apartment 3A, is named Tom. His neighbor across the hall in 3B is named Thomas. Feeling paranoid after an unrelated event, Tom (from 3A) has stashed his stock in a locked box which he has given to the woefully naive Thomas (3B) for safekeeping. Tom's name is not on the lease or the mailbox for 3A; Thomas is listed as the occupant of 3B. Looking for a 'Tom' on the third floor, the cops bust into the wrong apartment, but by an unhappy coincidence they do find the stash they were seeking, and arrest the hapless Thomas. (My apologies if this all seems incredibly convoluted.) Again, and jclarkdawe please correct me if I'm wrong, NYPD officers can't get a warrant based on an anonymous call stating some dude named Tom is dealing mj out of his apartment. Imagine you call the cops (anonymously or otherwise) and swear up and down your nefarious neighbor is peddling black market designer dogs. You add that this dude is creepy and never leaves the house during daylight hours. Do you really think the cops will just march over there with a ram and bust down the door? Nope. They'd talk to you and then they'd talk to your neighbor (even if they conclude you're batshit crazy or involved in an on-going neighbor dispute) but they can't enter the premises without PC. Please excuse my ridiculous example but hopefully you get the picture.

Is this scenario remotely plausible? Do I have a fundamental misunderstanding about how a drug bust would work? Yes. I'm guessing I do, but I'm hoping I can tweak my plot just a little to make it work. And, as a bonus, anyone who could tell me how such a scenario might play out once the mix-up comes to light would save me another post once I've written the above scene.
As written, this scenario isn't plausible, IMHO. If you want specifics, feel free to PM me. (I should note that I'm a former federal narcotics agent and was assigned to a task force, meaning I worked with state/local LEOs.)
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Old 12-09-2012, 08:58 PM   #7
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This plot point was the genesis for the story "An Innocent Man" - starring Tom Selleck.

Whether or not they got it wrong - it worked on film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097579/combined
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Old 12-09-2012, 09:51 PM   #8
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Fallen, alleycat, jclarkdawe, Sarpedon, Rowan, Writeknight: Thanks for all your thoughts!

I think I have this just about figured out now. I need to get a thicker curtain for my deus ex machina to hide behind, but I think I can do that with some early-chapter foreshadowing. Thanks again, all!
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:13 AM   #9
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As Rowan says, you need probable cause for a search warrant. Probable cause can be established by a reliable confidential informant (someone with a proven track record), or by one tip where there is other evidence to support the tip. For instance, if the police get a tip, and then ask a couple of drug users in the community if they buy off the dude. The police need to have enough evidence to convince a judge to sign the warrant.

Failure to have sufficient supportive evidence will result in the search warrant being declared void and any evidence seized from the search warrant will not be able to be admitted in court.

Further, the address of the apartment is what controls here, not the names on the mailboxes. In your scenario, the police officer takes the initial call, and writes down the facts and the local. This may go immediately onto a form, or be transferred onto a form. That form is then handed either to the detectives who prepare search warrants or the attorney assigned to prepare warrants. Again, the location goes onto this form.

The detective or attorney then goes in front of a judge and explains why there is a need for a search warrant and there is probable cause to support said warrant. Either the court then uses the form the detective or attorney provided and endorses it, or the court prepares a search warrant. Again, the address is confirmed.

At that point, the search warrant is returned to the watch officer for execution. The watch officer confirms the address and assigns one or more officers to execute the warrant, confirming the address with each of these officers.

Just like in construction, the rule is check twice and execute once. Doesn't mean that mistakes don't happen, but there's a lot of checks and balances in the system

In addition, the search warrant will say specifically that the police are authorized to search apartment 3-A, 123 Main Street, Anytown, Anystate. Even if they realize that the correct apartment, based upon the names on the mailboxes should be 3-B, they have no authorization to search that apartment. Any evidence seized in that search will be inadmissible. (And a civil lawsuit will be coming arriving soon.)

Exception to this would be for a reasonable error. But that's a tough nut for the police to crack.

Basically what would happen to the other Tom in 3-B is that his public defender looks at the warrant and sees the error. Once the public defender realizes what happened and stops laughing, he or she calls the prosecutor and suggests dropping any and all charges in exchange for his or her client not suing the police for screwing up.

Best of luck,

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Old 12-10-2012, 06:06 AM   #10
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Not for nuttin' as you already know several other reasons this won't work - but apartments either go strictly by number (like the buzzers and doors and etc. are only labelled with the apt. #), or by last name (and I'd say the majority go just by #), so unless they have the same last name, the whole Tom/Thomas thing is meaningless.
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Old 12-10-2012, 09:29 AM   #11
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A quick google using the phrase "police break into the wrong house" - yielded a disturbing number of these errors.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Minneapolis, members of the St. Paul Police Dept. drug unit broke down the door to the home of lead plaintiff Roberto Franco and shot the family dog before handcuffing all nine occupants - including three children - who were then forced "to sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour." The suit states the anti-drug team continued to search Franco's property even after realizing they raided the wrong house.

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/036698_po...#ixzz2EcrRycWy


Or
http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95...1#.UMV5xeQ0WSo

Police admitted their mistake, saying faulty information from a drug informant contributed to the death of John Adams Wednesday night. They intended to raid the home next door.

Or


http://www.techdirt.com/articles/201...et-troll.shtml


There are enough stories for you to research to come up with a plausible 'break down in fail safe' procedures.
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:54 PM   #12
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There are a lot of issues here, warrantless search, warrant specifics, process, etc.

Normally, an informant might say "Tom on the third floor is dealing pot."

But then an undercover will usually try to do two ore more buys to establish the case. He would find the right apartment, but maybe the warrant is typed wrong. Then the arrest team might hit the wrong location, find the wrong pot and your plot works. If the undercover was shot in a separate plot twist, he wouldn't be able to identify the real Tom.

It can be believable. An Innocent Man, with Tom Selleck, wasn't.

Jeff
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Old 12-11-2012, 02:45 AM   #13
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The plot point for "An Innocent Man" -

"After taking a cocaine hit and being unable to concentrate properly, Parnell takes down the address incorrectly for his next drug bust. Instead, they break into "Jimmie's home, expecting to find drugs. When Rainwood walks out of the bathroom with a handheld hair dryer in hand, Parnell shoots him, thinking it's a weapon. In order to cover up their mistake, they frame Jimmie by planting drugs throughout his house and putting a firearm in his hand. With false evidence stacked up against him (and a previous marijuana charge during his college years) and his only defense being his word against two cops, he receives a 6 year prison sentence."

So, we have crooked cops... (Completely believable)
Taking down the wrong information... (Completely believable... see the links above for 'wrong information')
Shooting someone they THINK is holding a gun... (All too often turns out to be a wallet, or a toy, or their cell phone... completely believable...)
Planting a gun and false evidence....(http://www.ocweekly.com/2006-11-09/news/training-day/ _ )

And an innocent man is sent to prison.

Whatever one might think of Tom Selleck as an actor, (meh...) Or the execution of the screenplay (it was... okay) The premise unfortunately IS believable. As the links suggest - the elements of the premise exist in real life. A bit of research into "Police Plant Evidence" and "Police break into wrong house" and "Police plant drugs" - can turn up stories of convictions for those crimes.
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Old 12-11-2012, 02:51 AM   #14
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yeah, a crazy coincidence that launches a plot item is far more acceptable than one that resolves a plot item.
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Old 12-11-2012, 04:20 AM   #15
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There's another aspect - the professionalism of the police department. Some police departments are good; some aren't.

I'm a New Yorker, so -

The NYPD is one of the largest in the US. (Thanks to 9/11, it's also one of the few local police forces with counterterrorism and foreign intelligence functions.) They are not perfect - but when they screw up, the consequences can be enormous for the bad cops, because NYC is full of lawyers, reporters, and politicians. The idea that New York cops would storm an apartment for *any* amount of pot is (to me) a hard sell. It's a lot of trouble for a low-grade felony; there is the potential for a fatal mistake; and in this town, you can sometimes smell marijuana being smoked as you walk down the street. So, for me it isn't the mistake: It's your choice of drug and locale.
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Old 12-15-2012, 10:15 PM   #16
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Thanks for the discussion. I take all your points. I'll let you all know if I have any more plot concerns.
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