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Fred Skinner

Fred Skinner, of Victory, recalls his home being mistakenly raided by police searching for drugs. Damage to his home includes two kicked-in doors.

There are few people less likely to sell drugs than Fred Skinner.

The 76-year-old lives alone on Mc Neeley Road in Victory, getting by with help from neighbors. Much of his home has been quietly abandoned because he can’t get up and down the stairs; his son, also named Fred Skinner, said his mind “goes in and out.”

Since suffering a stroke last July, he speaks haltingly, sleeps with an oxygen tank and has a pacemaker in his chest.

Skinner doesn’t hear as well as he used to, but there was no missing the pair of crashes he heard late in the morning on March 13.

The first was at the outside door to his front porch and the second was at the inner door from the porch to his living room. About eight uniformed police officers burst into his kitchen, finding him at the table with a plate of breakfast crumbs.

“I was just setting there at the table,” he said. “They busted in and said, ‘Don’t move,’ so I didn’t move. I didn’t know what to do — I didn’t know why the troopers were running through the house.”

The officers spread out into the basement and second floor then quickly returned. Someone was handcuffing Skinner’s arms behind his back when they looked through the mail on the table and saw his name.

“They said, ‘Is this your name?’” Skinner said. “I said, ‘Yes.’ Then they said, ‘Wrong house.’”

 

The officers left as quickly as they came, leaving his doorknob on the porch floor and the two doors broken open. The whole incident took five minutes.

Once they left, Skinner called Barbara Bailey, his neighbor across the street. Bailey saw five or six patrol cars at the house next door to Skinner’s and went out to them.

She asked who they were and what they were doing; they told her they were conducting a drug raid from Rochester, she said.

“I said, ‘What about Fred Skinner’s house?’” Bailey said. “And he shrugged like he wasn’t telling me a damn thing.”

No one was home at the other house, either -- Bailey said the man who lives there is often out of town. The officers left without an apology or information about how Skinner might get reimbursed for the damage.

The raid was conducted by the Rochester Police Department and the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force, which is led by the Auburn Police Department and, in this case, also involved the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office.

No one involved would specify the purpose of the raid or say why the officers broke into the wrong house. No arrests have been made in the original drug case, which is still active.

The Rochester Police Department was the lead agency. Department spokesman Stephen Scott declined to comment but said there is an investigation into the incident.

“We haven’t determined there was a mistake yet; the investigation is still ongoing,” he said.

 

Skinner didn’t tell his son about the incident until Friday morning, three days after it happened.

“When Dad told me it was eight or nine (officers), it didn’t seem like it jibed. Why would they just come bust through the door?” the younger Fred Skinner said. “But when you looked at (the outer door), it definitely had a mark like a big ram of some kind had hit it.”

The younger Skinner called the police Monday morning -- six days after the raid -- and got a call back from APD Chief Gary Giannotta, who apologized and encouraged the Skinners to get an estimate for the damage.

The elder Skinner got the estimate last Tuesday -- $1,250 of damage to the two doors, he said. He hasn’t been to his basement or second floor since the raid because he can’t climb the stairs, so he doesn’t know if anything there is out of place.

He said he did not hear from police until Tuesday, a full week after the incident.

“I think somebody should have come back to say, ‘Hey, we apologize for breaking up your place and we’ll take care of it,’” the younger Skinner said. “It’s kind of an invasion of privacy for breaking up the door and then not saying anything. ... I would have thought they could have handled it (better), but so far they seem to be taking care of it.”

Police told him on Tuesday they would pay the estimate, he said.

Giannotta declined to comment on why it took police seven days to contact Skinner. He said he didn’t remember when he personally learned of the incident and didn’t know when law enforcement first got in touch with the family.

He also declined to comment on whether he instructed someone to contact Skinner when he first learned what had happened.

“The man’s son understands what will take place,” he said. “It’ll be made right.”

 

Some law enforcement agencies have written policies about what to do after breaking into the wrong building.

The New York Police Department, for instance, specifies that the commanding officer be notified immediately and that a uniformed officer stay at the scene until a city contractor arrives to repair the door.

Other agencies will be sure to have a contractor on-call for immediate repairs.

Departments with a higher volume of incidents are more likely to have policies in place, according to Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

“Obviously it’s better to have a procedure in place rather than to make it up as you go along,” he said. “If you have a truly innocent person, it’s incumbent on the law enforcement to make that right as soon as possible. ... There should be apologies right up front. If you made a clear and obvious mistake, it’s not going to help things if you deny or hide your responsibilities.”

The APD has no formal policy, Giannotta said.

“There’s not anything in writing, but we repair the damage we’ve done,” he said. “Thankfully it doesn’t happen that often.”

The Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office also does not have a formal policy for when deputies enter the wrong house, Sheriff David Gould said.

“You can’t write a policy for every single thing that’s unusual,” he said. “Every single police department has a different way of doing things.”

Skinner said he isn’t looking forward to seeing any more law enforcement at his house -- even for an apology.

“I don’t think people have a right do that to you,” he said. “Why didn’t they just come to the door and knock on it? I’d have let them in.”

 

Staff writer Justin Murphy can be reached at 282-2237 or justin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenMurphy.

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