The Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department targeted a Scotia shop owner in a drug sting in part because of his race, according to allegations in a new multimillion dollar federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed recently by Donald Andrews, owner of the Dabb City Smoke Shop in Scotia. Andrews is black.
Andrews, 25, was arrested and later cleared of drug sale charges last year after his shop surveillance camera system caught the undercover informant pulling drugs from his pants, drugs the informant told his Sheriff’s Department handlers that Andrews had sold him.
According to the suit, the actions of the Sheriff’s Department, working with an undercover informant, were based in part “upon their conclusion that a black man running a business such as [Andrews’] was more likely to be engaged in illegal drug sales than a business run by non-black people,” the suit reads.
A representative of the county Wednesday denied the accusations in the suit.
The lawsuit stems from the March 2013 arrest of Andrews at his shop. The store sells pipes, T-shirts, hookahs, incense, ashtrays and other items.
Andrews was accused of selling cocaine to the undercover informant twice that month. His shop was then raided, he was arrested and the false accusations were published in the media.
Andrews spent the weekend in jail before he could come up with the $30,000 bond. When he realized what he was being accused of, he had investigators examine his surveillance system, which was among the items seized in the raid.
When they did, the charges against Andrews were dropped and the informant was sought on drug and perjury charges.
Andrews makes a total of 10 claims in the suit, including violation of his civil rights, false arrest, malicious prosecution and defamation. For each of the 10, Andrews is seeking $500,000 in damages, for a total of $5 million.
The suit was filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Albany.
Named as defendants are Schenectady County, Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, Deputy Eric Fluty and the informant, James Slater.
In the wake of Andrews being cleared, Slater was arrested and prosecuted for planting the drugs and lying to a grand jury about what happened. He admitted to perjury and was sentenced last month to a total of six to 12 years in state prison.
At Slater’s sentencing, Andrews told the court that his name, reputation and business suffered as a result.
Andrews could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His attorney Kevin Luibrand also could not be reached.
Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner said Wednesday that he was aware of the lawsuit. The county will be opposing it, he said.
“The Sheriff’s Department did nothing wrong,” Gardner said. “The undercover informant obviously did. There was no bad faith on the part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Gardner added. “We’re looking forward to contesting it.”
Dagostino declined to comment.
The surveillance video that cleared Andrews showed two visits by the wired Slater. Both videos showed Slater retrieving something from the back of his pants.