SCOTIA The Scotia shop owner cleared of drug charges earlier this year by his own surveillance system has filed the precursor to a lawsuit against the two police agencies that worked on the investigation.
Meanwhile, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said the informant used in the case — who is seen in store surveillance video planting the evidence — was a factor in drug and weapons cases against seven defendants. Attorneys in each of those cases either have been notified or are being notified of the informant’s involvement.
The existence of the notices of claim was disclosed Tuesday by shop owner Donald Andrews’ attorney, Kevin Luibrand, who played the surveillance video for members of the media. The video shows two visits by the wired, unidentified informant, with the videos both showing the informant retrieving something from the back of his pants. In the second visit, when Andrews had his back turned, the informant placed what was identified as cocaine on the counter, secretly photographed it and later presented it to investigators as evidence.
Luibrand said Andrews wanted his story and the video made public to prove that he was innocent and that people are set up. He also wanted it publicized to give more credibility to those in similar situations who don’t have a multi-camera surveillance system to prove their innocence.
“This is the first occasion that I’ve seen in 30 years where this has been captured on video,” Luibrand said. “It’s alleged, it’s talked about, lawyers often hear ‘I didn’t do it, he set me up.’ Well, there’s Exhibit A. That’s how it’s done.”
Andrews is the owner of Dabb City Smoke Shop in Scotia, a store that sells pipes, T-shirts, hookahs, incense, ashtrays and other items. He was accused of selling cocaine to the undercover informant twice in late March. His shop was then raided in early April, and he was arrested.
He spent the weekend in jail before he could come up with the $30,000 bond. When he realized what he was being accused of, he had investigators examine his surveillance system, which was among the items seized in the raid.
When they did, the charges against Andrews were dropped and the informant himself was sought on drug and perjury charges. The informant, who is not being identified, remains at large.
In the video, shown Tuesday by Luibrand, the informant is seen taking something out of the back of his pants on both occasions. In one, he is clearly seen placing what was identified as cocaine on the counter and secretly photographing it, all while Andrews’ back is turned.
The notices of claim were filed earlier this month with the municipalities overseeing the two law enforcement agencies involved, the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department and the Scotia Police Department.
The notice claims $500,000 in damages as a result of false arrest and malicious prosecution, among other allegations. Among the main contentions in the notice is that the departments profiled Andrews, who is black, “based upon his race and business” and targeted the business “based upon racial considerations.”
Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino addressed the racial claims Tuesday, saying any such claims were absurd. As proof, he cited 2012 statistics from his department that he said showed that of 26 total drug arrests for the year, 17 involved white suspects, six black suspects and three Hispanic suspects.
Dagostino declined to comment further on the overall allegations, citing the pending notices of claim.
Scotia Police Chief Peter Frisoni could not be reached for comment.
The focus of Tuesday’s event with Luibrand was the video, which proved Andrews was telling the truth and broke no laws. The event was hosted by the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which called the case disturbing and asked that anyone who believes their case was affected by the informant contact them so they can contact authorities.
Without the video, Luibrand said Andrews would have had a good criminal attorney but one who would have noted the evidence and likely recommended a plea deal.
“And he’d be saying, ‘I didn’t do anything,’ ” Luibrand said. “That’s what he’d be saying, and no one would have believed him.”
Carney has said his office is reviewing area law enforcement agencies’ policies regarding the use of informants in undercover investigations. That review is ongoing, he said Tuesday. Every case that comes in is being scrutinized, he said.
“But this case points to problems,” Carney said. “Let’s just say with better police work, the problems can be eliminated.”
Luibrand said Tuesday that informants can be used but must be searched properly before being sent out. That wasn’t done in Andrews’ case, he said.
“Police informant 101 is you search completely your informant, completely,” Luibrand said. “For some reason, either they did not search him or they didn’t care and they just allowed him to go in without an assessment of what he had.”