Thursday, May 15, 2008

COP CRIME FILE

ALBANY TIMES UNION Two years ago, Tunde Clement stepped off a bus at the city's main terminal downtown. Clement, a black man, was carrying a backpack and coming from New York City. That may have been enough to pique the interest of undercover sheriff's investigators scanning the crowd with their eyes. They cornered Clement and began peppering him with questions. He was quickly handcuffed and falsely arrested. He was taken to a station to be strip-searched and then to a hospital, where doctors forcibly sedated him with a cocktail of powerful drugs, including one that clouded his memory of the incident.

A camera was inserted in his rectum, he was forced to vomit and his blood and urine were tested for drugs and alcohol. Scans of his digestive system were performed using X-ray machines, according to hospital records obtained by the Times Union. The search, conducted without a search warrant, came up empty.

In all, Clement spent more than 10 hours in custody before being released with nothing more than an appearance ticket for resisting arrest -- a charge that was later dismissed.

For years, the Albany County Sheriff's Department's controversial tactics at the downtown bus depot have drawn harsh criticism from defense attorneys and civil rights advocates. Seven years ago, the state's highest court issued a searing rebuke of their methods while overturning the conviction of a passenger who'd been arrested carrying three ounces of cocaine.

The Court of Appeals said it was improper for the investigators to board buses from New York City and flash their badges, waiting for passengers to react.

The operations have continued and have been mostly successful, from the department's perspective. But not always. An arrest two years ago involving a man found with a kilo of cocaine in his backpack was subsequently thrown out by an Albany County judge, who ruled the cops had no legitimate reason to approach and question the man.

During the hearing that led to that dismissal, Terence L. Kindlon, the defendant's attorney, accused a sheriff's investigator of lying and embellishing his testimony by using precise language -- "I sensed 'criminality was afoot' " -- directly from the Court of Appeals ruling, according to a court transcript.

Kindlon, an Albany defense attorney since the early 1970s, says the bus station searches have endured no matter what courts have decided since the early 1980s.

Twenty years ago, Kindlon and another defense attorney, Joseph Donnelly, who is now deceased, hired a private investigator to stake out the bus station and monitor the detectives working there.

"Donnelly and I were hearing that just about every black man who came through the bus station was being literally grabbed and dragged into the men's room and searched," Kindlon said. "Occasionally, of course, they would get lucky and find some drugs. But the vast, overwhelming majority of black men searched were clean."

At that time, the bus station details were being manned by the Albany Police Department, which later discontinued the practice. But Sheriff's Inspector John Burke, a longtime city vice detective, took over the bus station operation when he retired from the Albany force and took a job with the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's officials scoff at suggestions they violate anyone's rights.

"There's not too many cases that have been thrown out," said Sheriff James L. Campbell. He said a 2001 court ruling forced "a change in the way we had to do it. ... What we started doing is studying their mannerisms when they get off (a bus) and how they're walking."

Burke, who runs the sheriff's Drug Interdiction Unit, said investigators need a reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk someone. That could be something as subtle as a passenger walking out an entrance door, leaving a bag unattended or going into a bathroom stall and not pulling down his or her pants, he said. . .

In some cases, prisoners or people under arrest can be forcibly sedated without a court order if they are in imminent danger, such as when a bag of drugs bursts open inside them and they begin to have a seizure or fall unconscious. But the hospital's records indicate Clement was behaving normally and showed no signs of any medical emergency. . .

The following month, Clement received a $6,792 bill from Albany Med for the procedures. Hospital records indicate the final diagnosis as "hemorrhoids."

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