$ 2 million settlement after fake drug arrests in Raleigh, NC



The city of Raleigh has agreed to pay 15 plaintiffs $ 2 million in a federal lawsuit that claims officers worked with a confidential informant to indict people accused of drug trafficking.

The civil rights lawsuit filed in April sought to seek policy changes and real and punitive damages from the city of Raleigh, Officer Omar Abdullah and seven of his colleagues, including a sergeant and a lieutenant.

“The plaintiffs appreciate the recognition by the City of Raleigh of the trauma and suffering caused by these wrongful arrests and incarcerations,” said a press release announcing the settlement sent by plaintiffs’ attorneys just before midnight on Wednesday.

The press release was issued by lawyers for the group, Abraham Rubert-Schewel, Emily Gladden and Micheal Littlejohn Jr. It also urged the Wake County Police Department and Attorney’s Office to adopt the recommended changes to prevent others are falsely accused and imprisoned.

City leaders appreciate everyone’s efforts in this matter, a statement from the city said.

“While the settlement resolves the lawsuit, it does not end the Raleigh Police Department’s efforts to ensure this does not happen again,” the statement said. “No one should ever be arrested on the basis of fraudulent charges.”

The lawsuit was filed by 12 people arrested or affected by arrests and jail terms that followed a Raleigh Police informant who claimed people sold him heroin, or in a case of marijuana , but supplied him with drugs that turned out to be counterfeit. Three people were added during the mediation period, according to Ruber-Schewel.

Each client will receive an individualized settlement, he said, but declined to give details on the range each person would receive or how much will go to lawyers.

Alleged SWAT-style raids

More plaintiffs are likely, Rubert-Schewel wrote in an email.

“We have informed the City of at least six additional potential plaintiffs who have been harmed by this scheme. These people are all women and children who have been detained or have guns pointed at them during SWAT-style raids on their homes, ”he wrote. “We intend to seek justice for them as well.”

Some of the suggested policy changes include testing for suspected illegal drugs within 24 hours, ending the use of paid informants, and creating a task force to explore the pros and cons of the practice.

The lawsuit argues that around 15 black men were falsely accused of fake heroin trafficking and collectively spent two and a half years behind bars before the charges were dismissed.

The men lost their jobs and missed cancer treatment and time with their children, including a newborn, the lawsuit said. A man was actually convicted of selling a counterfeit controlled substance, which was subsequently canceled.

No evidence against the officer, says DA

While District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said there was no evidence to show Abdullah knew the drugs were fake, the lawsuit claims he and others did.

The lawsuit does not name the informant other than by his nickname, Aspirin. Abdullah and another officer began calling informant Aspirin after a 2018 deal in which he sold crushed aspirin to a confidential informant claiming it was illegal drugs, the lawsuit says.

Dennis Leon Williams Jr., who has been identified as the informant through court documents and interviews, was charged earlier this month with five counts of obstructing justice under the bogus program medications. His lawyer said he had not received the evidence in the case and had no information at this time.

Chronology

In August 2018, Raleigh police officers, including Abdullah, arrested Williams, court records show. He was charged with selling a counterfeit controlled substance. The accusation was dismissed at the end of February 2019, “in the interests of justice,” court records indicate.

After the arrest, Abdullah and David Chadwick Nance were able to obtain permission to use him as an anonymous confidential informant, according to the lawsuit.

From January 2019 to August 30, 2019, Williams was serving jail time for a Nash County conviction for theft over $ 1,000.

From October 2018 to May 15, 2020, the informant claimed that at least 15 people sold him drugs that turned out to be fake, the lawsuit said. All charges were dismissed as of July 30, 2020.

Officers provided marked money and the informant bought drugs, according to the lawsuit. The informant agreed to be a confidential informant to settle the outstanding charges and earn money.

At one point, the informant complained about his salary and Abdullah told him he could make more money if he took on bigger business, another officer said, according to the lawsuit.

Abdullah and the informant then conspired to fabricate heroin charges against at least 15 people, according to the lawsuit.

“Aspirin with the knowledge and help of Abdullah hid fake heroin on his body before each alleged purchase,” the lawsuit says.

Abdullah claimed he searched the informant before each purchase, but never found contraband, the lawsuit says.

“Aspirin would protect his secret camera, in violation of RPD procedure, with his jacket so that the alleged purchase is not recorded,” said the lawsuit.

Abdullah met the informant alone before and after the alleged transactions and when he gave him money for his work, which also constitute violations of Raleigh Police policy, the lawsuit says.

Nance and three other officers told Abdullah “on numerous occasions” that the drugs were brown sugar, lawsuits were declared and occasional field tests of the suspected drugs also indicated that they were bogus.

Yet Abdullah accused the plaintiffs and others of trafficking and continued to use the confidential informant, according to the lawsuit.

Officers reported the fake heroin to a sergeant and lieutenant, but no one attempted to stop the arrests or prosecution, he said.

The defendants also failed “or seriously delayed” to notify the Wake County prosecutor’s office of negative test results, according to the lawsuit.

Freeman said earlier this year that these cases highlighted the fact that his office did not initially see the fake drug model of a specific informant and officer because half a dozen prosecutors were working on cases. drug business.

The changes that followed include drug analysis chemists informing a representative of the district attorney’s office if the results could affect the pending charges, according to documents obtained by The N&O.

An unfair system

Robin Mills, whose son was among those arrested for trafficking, said no amount of money was enough for the trauma his family and others have faced.

Mills said the speedy settlement indicates city officials wanted the case to go away.

The bogus arrests and all that followed amplify the challenges black people face in the criminal justice system.

“I think what I am being told loud and clear, that the law is not necessarily put in place to protect black people,” she said. Mills said her son refused to do an interview, but she spoke to The News & Observer and other outlets in an effort to raise awareness of the arrests and fight for a change in policy, without making her son, Marcus Vanirvin, a target.

In May 2020, Mills received a phone call indicating that Vanirvin, then a father of two, including a newborn, had been arrested in front of his family for heroin trafficking.

“I said ‘There’s no way,’” Mills said.

Police raided her family’s apartment, Mills said, cutting the cushions off the sofa and rummaging and throwing objects throughout their home.

Her bond was set at $ 450,000, she said, but was later reduced to around $ 200,000.

Mills paid $ 2,000 for a lawyer, who voiced concerns about the informant who fingered his son in the case, but said he couldn’t get him out of jail immediately.

While her son was in jail, she feared he would catch COVID and whether that could result in a conviction that would take him away from his family for at least 7.5 years.

Her son’s partner eventually paid a serf about $ 1,200 to get Mills out of jail after 18 days. The charges were subsequently dropped.

Questions remain

When Vanirvin first returned home, he was grateful for his freedom, she said, but also traumatized by the situation.

“For a week he stayed numb,” she said.

The incident still haunts him, Mills said, and she wants him to go to therapy.

“He thinks there’s a target on anyone in the neighborhood, and if you walk down the street at the wrong time, you could be arrested,” Mills said.

Despite the settlement, Mills said she still had many questions.

Questions that include how Raleigh Police control their confidential informants, how much they get paid, and how Abdullah could be unaware the drugs were fake.

“I could see him being duped once, maybe even twice, but more than a dozen times?” ” she said. “No no. This dog doesn’t hunt.

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This story was originally published September 30, 2021 at 7:30 a.m.


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