A 57-year-old woman died of a heart attack Friday after police, who thought her apartment was a gun and drug stash, broke down her door, tossed in a “flash grenade,” stormed inside with guns drawn and handcuffed her before realizing their error.
“Obviously we’re deeply saddened. This is a tragedy. This should not have happened,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said of the death of Alberta Spruill, who worked for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
At a news conference, Kelly offered “condolences and sympathy” on behalf of the Police Department and a personal apology to Spruill’s family.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, calling the incident a “terrible episode,” said, “I join all city employees in grieving the loss of our dedicated and hard-working colleague.”
Spruill went into cardiac arrest about a half-hour after 12 police officers raided her sixth-floor apartment about 6:10 a.m. She died shortly before 8 a.m. at Harlem Hospital Center.
Melvin Boswell, 35, the man who police said they believed was using Spruill’s apartment as a drugs cache, with a vicious dog or dogs on guard, was in police custody, having been arrested on a drug charge Monday. He lives in the same building as Spruill, but on the ninth floor.
Boswell’s distraught girlfriend, Isabel Llanos, 48, said Friday evening that Boswell has used crack and has an 11-week-old pit bull mix named Bighead but that he doesn’t have a gun. A tearful Llanos accused police of “making him out to be a killer” to cover their mistake.
Kelly promised a “thorough investigation“–a pledge also made by the mayor–and said all aspects of the raid are under investigation, from the reliability of a confidential informant who first led police to Spruill’s apartment, to subsequent efforts by police to confirm the informant’s tip, to the decision by police to use the flash grenade.
Kelly immediately placed on desk duty the police lieutenant whose decision it was to use the flash grenade and banned use of flash grenades department-wide. The device was used in this instance, he said, because police believed there may have been people wielding guns, or dogs, in the apartment.
The department has carried out more than 1,900 search warrants this year, Kelly said, and only four of those have been conducted at wrong locations, none resulting in injuries.
*Article originally published on Chicago Tribune.