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MV couple: NYPD broke into home, failed to show warrant

The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

(Photo: Submitted)

MOUNT VERNON A 54-year-old woman renting an apartment with her husband is demanding to know why New York City police officers broke through their front door Tuesday, pushed her to the ground and searched her apartment without showing her a warrant.

Geneva Smith says the incident caused her so much stress she was hospitalized later that day with chest pains.

Jared Rice, a lawyer from New Rochelle who is representing the Smiths, said he had filed complaints with the NYPD and Mount Vernon police about the incident.

"For New York City to come out of their jurisdiction and pummel this middle-aged lady is not cool," Rice said. We need to get to the bottom of this because that's not good policing."

Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Burke Jr. confirmed Thursday that the NYPD had been at the Smiths' apartment Tuesday. Burke said Mount Vernon police were not involved in the case and were not aware the NYPD was planning to go that address beforehand.

Rice said he and Geneva Smith met with two NYPD internal affairs officers at the Smiths' home Thursday to follow up on his complaint. Rice said that the investigators showed Geneva Smith multiple images of NYPD officers to see if she could identify who had been at her home.

The NYPD did not respond to multiple calls and an email over several days requesting comment on the incident.

According to Geneva Smith, she she was in bed around 8 a.m. Tuesday when she heard two men banging on her front door of her apartment, which is in a three-story building on South Terrace Avenue. The men identified themselves only as NYPD officers, she said.

The men had their guns drawn, Smith said, and they were wearing regular clothes and bulletproof vests.

"I didn't open my door because I didn't know who they [were]," Smith said.

Smith said she cracked open the door with the security chain still on. The men at the front told her they had a warrant to search her apartment and showed her a photo of an black man they were looking for, she said.

Smith said she called her husband, Richard, who was working in New York City as a crane inspector. The two are from Summerton, South Carolina, and have been renting the apartment for the past eight months.

Richard Smith told his wife to hand her phone to the men at their door. Richard Smith said he spoke to one of the officers and asked him for his badge number and name — which Richard Smith said the man refused to give to him.

The man told him "all I needed to know was that he was a New York City police officer and he had a warrant for that premises," Richard Smith said.

Richard Smith said he immediately called Mount Vernon police. When he told the man at his front door that local police were called, Richard Smith said, he "heard my wife scream" as she was thrown to the ground.

Geneva Smith said the men "pushed their way in and knocked the chain off the door." While one man watched over her, Geneva Smith said the other "started searching my apartment. They searched the whole house."

Geneva Smith said the entire episode lasted about five minutes.

"I was all shaken up," Geneva Smith said. "I was very nervous. I didn't know what to expect."

That afternoon, when her husband returned from work, Geneva Smith said she had chest pains and felt dizzy. Richard Smith then brought her to Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital, where she remained until about 9 p.m.

Richard Smith called the search "illegal."

"I would like to see criminal charges filed on these officers," Richard Smith said. "Their identity will be revealed and they will pay for it."

Randolph McLaughlin, co-chair of the civil rights practice group at Newman Ferrara in Manhattan, said in addition to notifying local authorities, the NYPD officers should have shown Smith the warrant and, when asked, they should have provided their name and badge numbers.

"Maybe they would have been cooperative if they presented it," he said. "Respond to the request for information."

If police had obtained a no-knock search warrant, they would have been able to break down the door — but that's likely not the case since they were communicating with Mrs. Smith, McLaughlin added.

In this case, police appeared to be looking for someone and if so, they had a duty to make sure that person didn't escape, he said. But instead of knocking down the door, officers could have just had extra personnel to monitor the window and any back door and shown Smith more courtesy, he said.

"I don't see any exigent circumstances," McLaughlin said. "You got it contained; take your time."

Richard Smith said his wife now "doesn't feel safe in this apartment by herself" or in Mount Vernon, and wants to go home to South Carolina.

Burke said the NYPD "had a perfect legal right to have a bona fide arrest warrant" to search the Smiths' apartment. He said it is better for departments to contact one another before entering another jurisdiction for "officer safety," but added that it is only a "courtesy" to do so.

"We normally try to make notification (to the local department)," he said. "I don't know why one wasn't made."

The incident occurred just a month after 61-year-old Felix Kumi, a bystander, was shot and killed in Mount Vernon as NYPD undercover officers opened fire on a suspect in a gun investigation. That case is being investigated by the Westchester District Attorney's office.

By: Michael D'Onofrio

Staff writer Hoa Nguyen contributed to this story.

Categories: Firm News, Civil Rights

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