The narcotics detectives banged their way into an apartment on Buffalo’s Breckenridge Street one day in June 2013. While they found no illegal drugs, they left the tenant’s dog dead, with blood flowing from three shotgun blasts.
The city was sued in federal court, and a magistrate judge found reason to suspect the detectives burst into the wrong apartment and should never have encountered Cindy, Adam Arroyo’s 30-month-old pit bull. The magistrate refused to dismiss the case, and City Hall paid $110,000 to settle it.
Detective John C. Garcia wielded the battering ram in that raid eight years ago and played a central role in the course of events.
He's now retired, but Garcia has jumped into a two-way race for the Republican nomination for Erie County sheriff.
Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, who has decided not to run again, favors Garcia, as does State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, who preceded Howard in the office. The Buffalo police union, too, endorses Garcia.
Records from Arroyo’s lawsuit show that not only did Garcia bang open the door to Arroyo’s apartment, he handled the confidential informant who set the stage for the raid, and Garcia obtained the search warrant that the magistrate found flawed.
The warrant allowed the narcotics team to enter the “upper” unit at 304 Breckenridge St. when there were two upstairs apartments, each with its own exterior entrance and mail slot.
The magistrate wrote that the detectives, in planning the raid, never confirmed that the rear apartment they intended to hit, Arroyo’s apartment, was the right one. Arroyo’s lawyer contended the detectives should have focused on the front unit, where a man was arrested on narcotics charges weeks earlier. The lawyer's court papers say people in the neighborhood familiar with drug dealing around 304 Breckenridge tried to tell police they were searching the wrong apartment but were disregarded.
Despite the settlement, Garcia says he and the narcotics team made no mistake.
“It was the correct apartment,” he said when reached for this article. “We did everything by the book.”
The Buffalo News has been gathering the disciplinary records of sheriff's candidates with police backgrounds, even for matters in which internal affairs investigators laid no blame, which was the case with Arroyo’s complaint to the police department about the raid. To Garcia, it’s important that the department’s internal affairs unit closed the allegations against him and the team as “not sustained.”
The retired detective, who once was hit by shotgun pellets discharged by a distraught man out a window, said he probably applied for more than 1,000 search warrants during his 25-year career and never had an issue with any, including Arroyo’s.
The confidential informant
The lawsuit created a fuller picture of Garcia’s role in the raid than the two pages of notes in the internal affairs file on the case.
Court documents show that Garcia, following a standard strategy, dispatched a confidential informant to buy drugs from a dealer operating out of 304 Breckenridge. When the informant successfully bought crack cocaine, the detective applied for a warrant to search the dealer’s residence and make an arrest.
But the crack cocaine, court records indicate, was not purchased inside an apartment.
Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio read a transcript of the informant’s statements to the judge who signed the search warrant, Craig Hannah of Buffalo City Court. The informant told the judge the drugs were bought at a stairway leading to an upstairs apartment, according to Foschio’s order letting the civil rights lawsuit move forward.
The informant, Foschio wrote, did not specify whether it was the enclosed stairway leading to the front apartment, or the exposed stairway, resembling a fire escape, that led to Arroyo’s rear unit and could be accessed by anyone.
The informant, who court papers indicate had bought drugs from the dealer more than once, described how the dealer would stash some of his supply in the yard near the exposed stairway.
Four years after the raid, Garcia sat for a deposition in Arroyo’s lawsuit. The detective testified the team hit the right residence on June 3, 2013.
Garcia insisted the informant told him, and later him and Judge Hannah in Hannah’s chambers, that she bought crack cocaine from the tenant in the upstairs rear apartment, Arroyo’s unit.
“So you are saying that she did testify clearly in her on-camera testimony that she purchased drugs from the upper rear unit, is that your testimony?” Garcia was asked.
“Yes, sir,” he responded.
Based on Foschio’s summary, the confidential informant never said she bought the drugs in an apartment, front or rear.
During Garcia’s deposition, Arroyo's lawyer asked him about Cindy. Where had she been in the apartment when she died? Did he see her wounds, any trails of blood?
Said Garcia: “I don’t look at the dogs after they’ve been shot.”
The shotgun man
Detective Joseph M. Cook shot Arroyo’s dog.
“I made the judgment call at that time that the dog could be a threat to myself or someone on that team, and I shot the dog,” he said during a deposition.
Cook was the “shotgun man” on the raid. After the door was rammed open, he entered first, gun at the ready, leading the column of other detectives. Cook testified he saw the dog emerge from behind a kitchen island and decided to fire. While he said he fired straight at the animal, a report from the SPCA indicates the likely first shot entered behind an ear. In his departmental report about the shooting, Cook said he fired three times.
Arroyo has consistently said his dog was on a leash. He said he would tether her in the kitchen every day before leaving for work because she would grow bored when left alone for periods of time and would “tear up stuff.”
In his deposition, Cook said the dog was not leashed.
Cook had shot other dogs in drug raids. He did not dispute during the deposition that he had shot 26 dogs over roughly a three-year period.
Foschio, the magistrate, signed his order casting doubt on the search warrant's validity in April 2020. Three months later, both sides agreed to a settlement figure.
Before approving the six-figure sum in September, Common Council members acknowledged $110,000 was a large amount, but Majority Leader David A. Rivera explained it addressed not only the killing of the dog but problems with the search warrant.
Council member Mitchell P. Nowakowski, who leads the committee that reviews settlements presented by the Corporation Counsel’s Office, said the panel seemed to agree the city was at fault in Arroyo’s case.
“It wasn’t one with any ambiguity,” Nowakowski said recently.
Matthew Albert filed Arroyo’s federal lawsuit. He said he knows of no other case involving the shooting of a dog, or of detectives allegedly raiding the wrong house, settling for close to $110,000 in Buffalo.
Albert, whose law license was recently suspended for six months, was critical of Garcia’s handling of the search warrant and the raid that killed an innocent animal. But recalling his days prosecuting animal cruelty cases almost a decade ago, Albert said Garcia volunteered for a task force the District Attorney's Office formed to investigate animal abuse and dog fighting, the Buffalo Animal Rescue Coalition.
Garcia said he respectfully disagrees with those expressing doubt about the warrant: “I feel very strongly about it being accurate, correct, lawful. I felt it that same day, and I still feel it today,” he said.
Still, Garcia would not say that Arroyo, an Iraq war veteran who court documents say had never been arrested, sold the drugs to the confidential informant. The informant described the seller as a Black man. Arroyo is Hispanic. Days ago, Arroyo said that if the detectives were targeting him, they could have added his name to the warrant. It was on the mailbox for the upper rear apartment.
“I don’t want to comment on that case anymore,” Garcia responded when asked if he contended that Arroyo sold the drugs. Garcia said it was unfair to judge his law enforcement career through one episode.
In the summer of 2020, with the nation convulsed by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Mayor Byron W. Brown changed the way Buffalo police operate. Among other things, he instructed police to no longer request no-knock warrants without a clear and present danger to the community or an officer. Brown was responding to the death of Breonna Taylor, a nursing student killed when Louisville, Ky., police burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant. No drugs were found.
At the time of the Arroyo raid, Buffalo’s narcotics detectives executed about 800 warrants a year, according to one detective’s testimony in the case. The number has since fallen at least in half, a police spokesman said.
Crystal J. Rodriguez owned 304 Breckenridge. When she sat for a deposition, Rodriguez stressed to the lawyers she was there as the property owner at the time of the raid, not in her capacity as a City Hall employee.
Rodriguez in 2013 headed the city's Commission on Citizen Rights and Community Relations, an agency that, among other things, helps citizens file complaints against the police and can act as a police department watchdog. She no longer works for the city.
Rodriguez recalled that she went to the property to meet a contractor the day of the raid and found it under police control. The detectives told her little at first, she testified.
When they finally gave her access to Arroyo’s apartment, she found it strewn with his belongings, not at all like he normally kept it, she told the lawyers. She saw the carcass of Cindy, a dog she said had been “extremely sweet.”
Rodriguez told the lawyers Arroyo would sometimes complain to her about the drug dealing that went on around the property. She said she called Arroyo at work to tell him of the raid and Cindy’s death.
”He was devastated,” she testified. “He began crying on the phone. He asked, why did this happen? Why did they have to shoot her? He kept saying oh my God, oh my God.”
Arroyo was at work at a security job when the narcotics team burst through his apartment door. He now lives in Titusville, Fla., and works a security job there.