Tijuana Brown was asleep in her Jamaica, Queens, town house early the morning of March 5 when New York City police officers burst through her front door.
They executed a so-called “no-knock warrant” and stormed into the home with no warning just before 6 a.m. Brown’s 10-year-old son, newborn granddaughter and a handful of other family members were in the house at the time.
NYPD officers were fueled by a tip from an informant, who told narcotics investigators one of Brown’s adult nephews living at the house was selling drugs from the residence. Surveillance footage from a Ring security camera mounted on Brown’s front porch showed officers using a battering ram to break down her front door and rush into her house. Brown said the officers destroyed her front door and she had to spend $1,500 to make repairs.
They spent more than an hour ransacking the home, searching for guns and drugs to support the informant’s claims. All they found, according to The New York Daily News, was enough marijuana to roll two or three joints.
“When they were leaving I heard one officer say, ‘Well, this was a bust,’” Tijuana Brown told the Daily News. “They said they were sorry for the inconvenience. Inconvenience? An inconvenience is when your train is running late, not when they’re busting down the door to your house and turning the place upside down.”
Now Brown is speaking out about the incident. She said police needlessly terrorized her family and the impact of the raid has been traumatic on her household.
“I’m constantly jumping now when I hear a noise,” she told CBS New York. “I don’t sleep straight through the night anymore.”
NYPD released a statement saying police worked with prosecutors from the Queens District Attorney’s office to secure the warrant, which a criminal court judge signed and reviewed. They said there was probable cause to support the claims of drug activity, and investigators gathered evidence because the complaints were “getting worse.”
But Brown disputes that notion and said no drugs were ever sold from her house. She claimed when she asked to see a copy of the warrant during the raid, officers gave her no information and their badges were covered with black elastic.
“What’s the difference between somebody breaking into my home that is a dangerous criminal and the police department?” she asked while being interviewed by NBC New York.
Andre Brown, Tijuana’s 36-year-old nephew, was the target of the raid. Police said he’s been convicted of carrying an illegal firearm and is “on parole for a violent robbery in which the victim was stabbed.” Andre Brown made no bones about his criminal past, telling the Daily News he spent eight years in prison for the robbery conviction, but denied being involved in selling drugs today.
He suspects the cops’ informant was a man he doesn’t know who came to the house two weeks prior to the raid, asking to buy drugs from him.
“He said he wanted to buy and he said he was friends with Sandra,” Andre claimed. “I don’t know any Sandra and I kept asking him, ‘Who are you? I don’t know you. Buy? Buy what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Andre Brown eventually dismissed the man and said, “I didn’t think anything of it at the time.”
Police charged him with drug possession for the small amount of marijuana they found during the raid. Before he even appeared before a judge, the Queens district attorney dropped the charge and sealed records of the arrest.
Meanwhile, Tijuana Brown is in process of filing to be reimbursed by the city for the repairs she was forced to pay for. She plans to hire an attorney.
“What the police department needs to do is to learn how to speak to people with respect. Everybody is not a criminal,” she told NBC News.
Frustrated by the police department’s response, Brown reached out to her local legislator, New York Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, who chairs the city’s Committee on Public Safety. Adams brought up the raid at Brown’s house during a March 16 committee hearing as city officials were discussing a police reform plan that New York City is currently fine-tuning.
Adams said she was concerned upon hearing about the no-knock warrant, a police raid that allows officers to raid a property without giving residents notification such as knocking or ringing the doorbell prior to entry. Warrants of the no-knock variety have come under national scrutiny since March 2020 when police in Louisville, Kentucky, shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, who was asleep in her home when plainclothes officers executed a no-knock raid at her apartment.
Adams called the incident at Brown’s house an “absolute disaster” and indicated she wants NYPD to temporarily halt and examine the use of no-knock raids. She cited Brown’s experience and questioned how the community could believe in a citywide reform plan when police mistreat citizens.
“We still have verbiage coming out of precincts across the city, ‘If there’s a problem, call your councilmember.’ Well, your councilmember is not law enforcement,” Adams said during the March 16 hearing. “That is still a resonating theme throughout precincts across the city, most recently as last week. So again, how am I supposed to convince my constituents? How am I supposed to convince them when they see instances day after day where they are still treated the same, they are still being disrespected, they are still being dishonored, their words aren’t valued, and it seems that their lives are not valued. How are we to convince them that this is not just more talk and rhetoric?”
New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the department should be consulted before any law changes are made to ban or restrict officers’ use of no-knock warrants. But he agreed with Adams that such incidents erode the public’s trust in reform efforts.
“One bad incident sets us back,” he said during the hearing last month, although he indicated he didn’t yet know the details of the incident in Queens. “If what you described is right, that story will be told 100 times. And that’s the message we’re trying to tell our cops that they represent a brand, and don’t be remembered for your worst day.”