Schenectady County

Warrant used to nab suspect in burglary ring is tossed

Charges against one of the figures in an alleged large burglary ring could be dropped after a search

Charges against one of the figures in an alleged large burglary ring could be dropped after a search warrant was ruled invalid because it was served too late.

A search warrant used to arrest Paul Sherwood and seize thousands of dollars in alleged stolen goods was tossed Thursday by former Schenectady County Court Judge Michael Eidens, who is serving as a judicial hearing officer. Eidens found that city police were not authorized to serve the search warrant past the given 9 p.m. deadline.

Police served the warrant after 9 p.m. after getting verbal approval from a City Court judge. But Eidens pointed to testimony at a hearing that tied the police reasoning for going in after that time on their desire to arrest the target, who turned out to be Sherwood. Eidens also found fault with a provision that did not require officers to announce their presence, or a “no-knock” provision.

“There was no claim that the warrant actually could not be executed between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., nor that property or drugs sought might be removed or destroyed,” Eidens wrote.

Eidens found the supporting information enough for the reasonable cause necessary to issue the search warrant in the first place. “However, there is absolutely no basis set forth to justify no-knock or night-time execution provisions in the warrant.”

The ruling would leave prosecutors with no case against Sherwood, prosecutor Peter Willis acknowledged. The district attorney’s office now must decide whether to appeal Eidens’ ruling.

Sherwood appeared Thursday before Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago, who was tasked with reviewing Eidens’ ruling and either approving or rejecting it.

Drago affirmed it, finding nothing in the decision would allow her to reverse it. A reversal, she noted, could expand the law surrounding search warrants.

Defense attorney Cheryl Coleman applauded the decision. Sherwood, who has been in jail for more than a year, and his wife exchanged smiles at the conclusion.

“I’m pleased with the court’s decision that there was serious issues with the search warrant,” Coleman said. “I’m happy and I’m happy for them.”

Coleman also won Sherwood’s release. Drago released him on his own recognizance pending any appeal by prosecutors. Only an unrelated Albany County misdemeanor case stands in the way of Sherwood’s full release.

Sherwood, 36, was arrested in December 2008, accused of possessing stolen items at his home. He was charged then with drug possession, accused of having drugs found in the raid.

Police were led to Sherwood‘s Avenue A home Dec. 23, 2008 during the burglary ring investigation. Police had information that proceeds were stored at Sherwood’s home, allegedly traded to Sherwood for drugs.

Many of the items allegedly found in Sherwood‘s possession were on display at a police press conference announcing the arrests. The items included laptop computers, flat-screen televisions and DVDs.

The ring allegedly spanned Schenectady, Saratoga and Albany counties and may have been responsible for as many as 100 home burglaries.

Sherwood was accused of accepting some of the stolen goods in exchange for drugs. Charges against the alleged ring leader, Scott Shafer, remain.

The Sherwood ruling will have no effect on Shafer’s case, Willis said. Evidence suppressed in Sherwood’s case can still be used against Shafer, as Shafer, who didn’t live at the home, can’t claim the same rights as Sherwood.

Shafer’s attorney, Sven Paul, said Thursday he was aware of the decision, but hadn’t seen the details yet and couldn’t fully respond.

While Eidens also found fault with the “no-knock” provision, Willis speculated that had the warrant been executed within the times set, much of the evidence could still have been used.

In that scenario, only evidence recovered that would not have been recovered had police announced their presence would be in jeopardy.

During a hearing involving the warrant, it was revealed that on the day of the arrest police began watching the home at 8 p.m., but the target, Sherwood, was seen leaving shortly after.

At that point, Capt. Peter Frisoni testified, police didn’t know for sure who Sherwood was. The decision was made to hold off on the raid until Sherwood returned. If police went in without the suspect there, they might never find him, Frisoni said.

But as the minutes ticked away, it became clear the suspect wouldn’t return in time for the 9 p.m. deadline. Frisoni phoned Versaci for an extension on the warrant, which he said Versaci granted.

Versaci, who said later he signs between 25 and 50 warrants every year, testified he had little recollection of the case. He verified his signatures on the documents. Frisoni’s phone records confirmed multiple calls to Versaci, the first at 8:49 p.m.

At 11:08 p.m., a detective was at Versaci’s home getting a signed amended warrant, but the raid began after 10:30 p.m., with Sherwood, having just returned, in custody by 10:40 p.m.

Also at issue in the hearing are statements Sherwood allegedly made in the presence of police.

While in custody on the floor, Sherwood allegedly volunteered that the items in the house were gifts or presents. He also allegedly admitted to having drugs in his pocket. “I’m old school, I might as well tell you,” Sherwood told police, according to Detective Christopher Wrubel.

Eidens also ruled that those statements were not admissible because they stemmed from the faulty search warrant.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply