By Frank Parlato;
A man whose dog was shot by Buffalo police in late July has taken the first step toward suing the city.
His downstairs neighbor is also filing suit for what they both claim was a wrongful search warrant executed upon their residences.
Michael Urban, 36, of 76 Weaver St. in Buffalo, has filed a notice of claim with the City of Buffalo that he intends to sue the City and its police department in federal court for a drug raid on his house which he claims violated his civil rights.
Urban claims police went to the wrong house and that it was an “unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”
The raid cost Urban the life of his 1½ year old, blue nose pit bull, Gotham, who police shot while conducting the raid.
It is not in dispute that Buffalo Police Narcotics Squad had a legal right to enter his upper apartment at 76 Weaver at 630 a.m. on July 28. They had a warrant to enter both the upper and lower units of the dwelling.
The lower apartment is occupied by Ricky and Jami Krafchak; the latter has also filed a notice of claim with the City and the Buffalo Police Department for what she describes as unlawful conduct perpetrated by the Department while at her residence.
Copies of the search warrants, in the possession of this newspaper, reveal that both were signed by Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Hon. Thomas P. Amodeo.
The search warrants, dated July 25, 2016, for 76 Weaver St. Buffalo, were based on information provided to the judge by a sworn affidavit of Detective Shawn D. Adams of the Buffalo Police Narcotics unit.
The descriptions of the targets of the warrants were: for the upper apartment: a white male with blonde hair, 5’11″ and 210 lbs. The substance suspected of being sold in the upper apartment was Suboxone, a prescription medication that can help treat heroin addiction which is sometimes sold illegally to addicts.
The target of the search warrant for the lower apartment was described as being a 5’11”, 170 lbs., black male estimated to be 35-years old who was suspected of storing and selling marijuana there.
The warrant additionally states that an informant(s) provided information about these suspects living at 76 Weaver St and his/her testimony was given to the judge “in camera”, a legal term for a meeting with a judge where the public is excluded.
The raid was conducted three days after the warrants were signed by Judge Amodeo, on July 28, at 6:30 am. (See actual copies of search warrants: https://secureservercdn.net/22.214.171.124/9m4.e3c.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/8.11.16-Search-Warrant-1.pdf).
Police found Urban at home with his pit bull, Gotham, at his side. According to Urban, as police entered the home, Urban and Gotham stood still. The dog gazed “politely” at police, about 10 feet from the door and made no threatening gestures.
Standing at the doorway, police took aim and shot Gotham, but not fatally. Gotham, frightened and crying hid behind his owner.
As police ordered Urban to the floor and handcuffed him, an officer moved in on the frightened dog. Urban said he begged police not to shoot his dog. Urban later recalled, “As I begged and pleaded for Gotham’s life… he wagged his tail, didn’t lunge forward, didn’t bark, whimper or growl.”
A policeman took close range aim above the dog’s head and shot downward. The bullet went through Gotham’s skull causing immediate death and an implosion of the dog’s brains which scattered throughout the kitchen of Urban’s apartment.
As the bullet continued on its trajectory, it went through the kitchen floor, but fortunately missed the tenant in the downstairs apartment, Jami Krafchak.
After searching Urban’s house and not finding Suboxone, police did not arrest Urban.
At the same time police raided Urban’s apartment, sending a bullet and blood splatter through the ceiling of the lower apartment, they entered the lower unit and found Jami Krafchak, home alone, scared awake, and in her underwear and bra.
They zip tied her hands behind her back, frisked and, according to Krafchak, photographed her on their cell phones and then searched the home for the suspected marijuana allegedly sold by a 35 year old black male.
According to Krafchak, “about two dozen police, with all of their guns, came running in, shouting at me to put my hands in the air, that it’s a raid. With their giant spotlight shining at me, I couldn’t even see who they were. …. I was freaking out, shaking, crying not knowing what was going on. …. They asked me over and over and over and over if my husband was black.”
Police did not find marijuana or any drug on the premises. Krafchak was not charged with a crime.
Krafchak said, “After finding nothing, police left with door frames hanging off, everything a mess.” She said one policeman said ‘sorry’ on the way out and another, a plainclothes detective, tried to hammer Krafchak’s door frame back on before he left.
“They smashed into our apartment on bad information with 20-25(ish) of people to back them up along with tons of protective gear,” Krafchak recalled.
The search of the two apartments did lead to an arrest – however – a friend of Urban’s who was there – had a minute portion of marijuana on his person and was handcuffed and taken away.
The carcass of Gotham was also taken away by animal control and Urban was assigned the task of cleaning up blood and brains scattered from the blast of a bullet into his dog’s head and in compliance with health codes of this city.
The basis of Urban’s and Krafchak’s lawsuits will be in part an examination of the search warrants and the descriptions of the suspects who do not comport well with the actual occupants of 76 Weaver.
While the upper apartment at 76 Weaver was raided in search of a 5’11, 210 lbs. blonde haired man, Urban, who works full time for a contracting company, stands 6’5 and weighs more than 310 lbs. – the size of an NFL offensive linemen.
That means there was a six-inch difference in height and 100 lbs. weight difference between the man described in the warrant and Urban, who nobody would mistake for being under 6 feet tall.
As for the lower, there was no black man living there, according to Jami Krafchak, who works for the Erie County Department of Social Services at the Rath Building, and her husband, Ricky, who is a manager at Target. The couple is white; they say they have never been arrested.
The couple claims they have few visitors and none could have been mistaken for the black man who was the target of the raid. The couple say no black person lives or has lived in their house.
“Taken everything in its totality, particularly the alleged black occupant downstairs and the 100+ lb and six inch size differential, police went to the wrong house,” Urban’s attorney, Matt Albert says. “They got the wrong house, there is no doubt.”
Albert said Urban’s case is not unique. He has 12 active cases of dogs being killed by the Buffalo Police Department’s Narcotics Squad.
“Out of the cases I have, they’ve hit the wrong houses numerous times, found nothing numerous times, and, I think, at best, they’ve found a few pills at one of these houses… charges I got dismissed because they were filed wrong,” Albert said.
The police officers involved were unavailable for comment.
However, Albert provided Artvoice with 92 use of force reports which involved dog shootings by Buffalo Police that occurred between Jan. 1, 2011 through Sept. 2014. Seventy-nine resulted in the death of dogs.
In each instance, according to the use of force reports, police said the dogs were aggressive and posed a threat to officer safety.
Actual search warrant: 8.11.16 Search Warrant (1)
WKBW had a good news report on the subject: http://www.wkbw.com/news/pit-bulls-shot-after-police-raids