On December 6, 2005, 29-year-old Lashane Westbrooks
stopped on the way to a store in Brooklyn, New York to talk to 24-year-old Jerome Cruz. As they chatted, several New York police officers rushed up and arrested them.
Westbrooks and Cruz were charged with selling drugs to an undercover police officer named Sean Johnstone, who was assigned to the Brooklyn South Narcotics Unit.
Westbrooks and Cruz went to trial before a jury in Kings County Supreme Court and were convicted in October 2007 based on the testimony of Johnstone and the arresting officers. Westbrooks was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and Cruz was sentenced to a year in prison.
Not long after, Johnstone and another narcotics unit officer, Julio Alvarez, claimed to have recovered 17 plastic bags of cocaine, rather than the 28 bags they actually recovered from a different drug suspect in Brooklyn. A day later, Johnstone, in a police vehicle, was overheard on a departmental tape recording bragging to another officer about the practice of keeping drugs to give them to informants, officials said.
In November 2007, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office moved to vacate the convictions of Westbrooks and Cruz. The cases were dismissed and both men were released.
In December 2007, Johnstone and Alvarez were each charged with official misconduct, falsifying business records and filing false documents. Ultimately, the Brooklyn South Narcotics unit scandal widened to include charges against other officers and the dismissal of hundreds of pending drug cases in which the officers were involved. Johnstone and several other officers were convicted of misconduct. One officer pled guilty and testified at the trial of other defendants that it was a routine practice to plant drugs on defendants so that detectives could meet arrest quotas.
Westbrooks later filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit against the City of New York and reached a $60,000 settlement.
– Maurice Possley