Drug Raid – The Cupboards Were Bare

Drug Raid - in Dudley, United Kingdom

By Judy Berman

Minutes after an undercover police officer made a drug buy from the back window of a house, I heard him over the police radio.

“It’s a go. There are three people in there.”

Then, six police officers, dressed in black, ran down a city street and around the corner.

With guns drawn and two mighty whacks with a battering ram, they knocked down the door and ran in.

The suspect tossed $350 and 12 baggies of crack cocaine out the window. Investigators said the suspect had 11 baggies on him, and he’d just sold three.

It was like the movies. Only, this time: no guns blazing or suspects jumping out of windows to avoid arrest.

This is from the way-back files when I was a cops reporter in Utica, New York.

It was a rare behind-the-scenes look for me at what goes down during a drug raid. Utica Police Chief Benny Rotundo gave the go-ahead to me and to one of the Observer-Dispatch’s photographers to join the investigators.

We wanted to be in on the action from the get-go. But they were overly cautious – and with good reason. What if something happened?

“You never know what’s behind that door,” said Sgt. Angelo Partipelo, the department’s senior investigator of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Liability concerns and safety are the reasons why many police agencies hesitate to grant this kind of access to reporters and photographers.

I told the police chief that a story I was working on – about 7 ½ years of drug arrests by SIU – would look a lot better if it was tied to a drug arrest – with me and a photographer along.

Rotundo was a savvy man. He agreed.

Once inside, the investigator, who wore a Stetson, smoked a huge cigar as he searched for evidence. He wore plastic gloves because “these places aren’t the cleanest,” and to protect himself if one of the suspects was bleeding.

He’s hearing nothing but polite denials and excuses from one of the women in the house.

“No, officer, I just came here to see my cousin, Angel,” she claimed.

The officer disagrees.

“You’ve been seen coming to this drug house several times and were inside when a drug buy was just made,” he said.

Then, he starts singing “Angel in the Morning.”

In the kitchen, there’s a box of baking soda on the counter. A cigarette butt is out in the drain.

I gingerly open a fridge door by using my pen on the handle until one of the investigators gives me plastic gloves. Inside, there’s only a can of Sprite.

Utica drug bust - UPD Sgt. Angelo Partipelo and me (Judy Berman)

Other than salt-and-pepper shakers, the cupboards are bare.

After the raid, Deputy Chief Nick Yagey joked that I was a con artist and had hoodwinked investigators into letting us go inside the drug house.

“You weren’t supposed to take any photos identifying SIU members,” he said.

Yagey claimed he could ID one who was bent over searching thru a couch for evidence.

“You couldn’t pick that face out of a crowd,” I challenged, knowing that SIU had vetted the photos before publication so no undercover officer was put in jeopardy.

“His butt, maybe,” I laughed.

Fortunately, Yagey was laughing, too, when I left his office a few minutes later.


Kudos to the police officers in the Utica Police Department who often assured my safe passage as a cops reporter at some very dicey scenes – especially Utica Police Chief Benny Rotundo, who died in 2010, and Sgt. Angelo Partipelo, who died in 2001.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie Trailer: The French Connection (1971) – Undercover cop Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in his famous high speed chase in pursuit of a criminal – great film. But this is reel life – not real life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nP_7ZopT6oM  

Music Video: Bad Boys (1992) by Inner Circle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVBB2upbVys&feature=kp  

Video: Dragnet (1951) – TV show starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday. The just-the-facts ma’am detective. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj-qhIGTXdU  

Main Photo: Drug Raid – in Dudley, United Kingdom – taken Feb. 22, 2013 by West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Day_53_-_Early_morning_drugs_raid_in_Dudley_%288497719406%29.jpg/640px-Day_53_-_Early_morning_drugs_raid_in_Dudley_%288497719406%29.jpg

Photo: Utica Drug Raid – Sgt. Angelo Partipelo and me (Judy Manzer Berman) at the scene of a drug bust in Utica, New York.


    1. I felt pretty secure. They rushed inside before we got out of our car (across the street). So they had everything under control. 😉

      I’ve been more nervous when asked to go to a dicey neighborhood at night by myself and try to contact someone for a story. There were no welcoming lights on the porch. The subject was not expecting me. Folks inside would be reluctant to open the door to a stranger. I called the office from the middle of the street and flat-out refused to knock on the door. Some news agencies are now re-examining their policy of asking reporters to cold-call a suspect out of concerns for safety/liability.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the story. We left Syracuse in 1999 to be near our family in Florida. We lived near Syracuse and have often been in Oneida. You worked at the Post Standard? When? My husband worked there, too. 😉

  1. Judy, I agree with Mark–very arresting story. I’m sure we will hear more juicy bits from your “other” life as a cops reporter in Utica, New York. You say you now live in Florida. I wonder where. We live in Jacksonville.

    1. Thank you, Marian. As I go thru my journals, I’m transported via the way-back machine to some very cool stories. I live south of you on the Space Coast in Melbourne.

  2. “You never know what’s behind the door” is absolutely right, Judy. I’d much rather find salt and pepper shakers! This is a great post, and your details are excellent.

  3. Whew! That was a thrilling raid regardless if the cup board was empty or not. The farthest I’ve seen police in action is when they’re chasing a vehicle or had someone on a stop. Oh, I did see one escorted out of the E.R. But not as exciting and heart pounding action as this one. Thanks.

    1. When I see police on a chase or stop, I always wonder what’s up. I used to have a police scanner at home. But I gave that up when I left reporting. Love your reactions to my story. Thank you, Island Traveler.

  4. Wow! I think my favorite part was when the SWAT team forgot the battering ram, and they asked you to step forward and kick the door down– well done, Reporter of Steel!!

    What a wonderful post, Judy– and it certainly brings home to us readers the gritty reality of both reporting and police work. Very impressive (and a little unnerving) to think of you prowling dark streets and seeing a side of life the rest of us only “experience” via TV shows and thrillers.

    Great photo! Is that Sgt. Angelo with you? I’ll bet he was tryna recruit you for the squad, since it’s obvious you were laughing in the face of danger!! : )

    1. Mark … I like your description much better. I can see it all now. I kick the door down and wind up in E.R. with a broken foot. 😉

      The really frustrating thing about that night visit was it was to get quotes for another reporter’s story. I learned later that the reporter had turned the story in two days before. But there was no comment from the subject of the story (a city official). Turns out the reporter had talked to the official, but the official had no comment and the reporter had not put that in the story. The subject was a nice guy, but he lived in a high crime area. Hence my hesitation to knock on any doors.

      That is Sgt. Angelo Partipelo with me. Working with his unit would have been dangerous and fun. Those guys in SIU really have a risky job and they are pros.

  5. Judy, I thoroughly enjoyed this post; I wish you would write more stories about your days of mystery and intrigue! One of the things that surprised me the most was the care you had to take when handling anything inside the apartment, like using a pen to open a refrigerator door. Those little details made the episode so real and “pictureable.”

    1. Ronnie … I’m delighted that you enjoyed this story. I tend to think of those days as just doing my job, forgetting that it’s totally unlike any 9-to-5 gig I ever had. (I’ve also worked as a bank clerk, a girl Friday at an insurance agency, a medical library communications terminal operator (glorified typist), temp and food counter worker at a five and dime. Then … on to radio reporting and newspaper reporting … and, now, teaching.)

      Hey! You can’t hit a moving target. 😆

      About the fingerprints: the last thing I wanted to do was contaminate the crime scene. So I took those precautions for that reason. Glad the details brought the scene to life for you. Thank you. 😉

  6. Wonderful details, Judy — the box of baking soda, the cigarette butt, the can of Sprite. Many of today’s journalists could learn a lot from you.

    1. That’s music to my ears, Charles. (I wrote these details in my journal, but I’d have to look to see if that was in the published story when I wrote it for the O.D.) But, in fairness to many fine journalists today, those intriguing details might be cut out of the story in the interest of space. When that happens, you might hear the gnashing of teeth across the newsroom. 😉

  7. I’m amazed they let you go along Judy!! 😯 I’m guessing by the description of the empty fridge and bare cupboards that it wasn’t a home, but a convenient trading store? I remember having a boyfriend who had a virtually empty fridge – making me wonder now! 😉 No, actually I’m pretty sure his reason was because he was a bit of drinker, and spent very little time in his home, and didn’t eat much!

    Have you ever thought of writing novels? With this experience you’ve had, it would give you valuable information that some who write novels about these kinds of things just don’t have. I’m not normally very keen on reading thriller/crime novels because they are often written by people who have no idea what they are talking about, and I find some of the conversations between the police and the criminals just completely rubbish. It’s good to read something like that when it’s written by those who’ve been there.

    I saw a drug raid very similar to what you’ve described here in my own neighbourhood about 15 years ago. It was hot summer weather and my windows were wide open, I suddenly heard 6 car doors all slam one after another. Immediately I knew that was not a normal sound – a string of police cars pulled up in the middle of the road, police ran from their cars in a tight snake-like row (one behind the other) and had the front door down in 2 seconds! The people they dragged out of that house I’d never even seen in the neighbourhood before (obviously only came out at night), it was certainly an educational experience of what can be going on virtually on your doorstep. I knew the house and it’s occupants had a reputation for being a bit dodgy, but I didn’t realise it has sooo many occupants, a good half of them prostitutes! The neighbourhood has changed a lot since those door busting days, it’s quite boring now! 😉

    I smiled a lot when you mentioned the investigator wearing a Stetson, smoking a huge cigar – reminded me of the Dukes Of Hazzard!! 😀

    1. I’d be guessing, but it might have been a home that the owners weren’t able to sell because of the dodgy neighborhood. It was being used as a crack house by people who probably just crashed there.

      I have thought of writing novels The problem is I haven’t really gotten past the ‘thinking’ stage. I’ll have to work on that. 😉 I’m a big fan of mystery novels: Agatha Christie, Elmore Leonard, and many others.

      It’s amazing what goes undetected in a neighborhood – even some of the best. In the one I was describing, a couple of kids were riding their trikes/bikes right across the street from where all this took place. Scary!

      The Stetson-wearing investigator was a real character. I think he was the same one who was singing as he searched the place. 😆

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