A federal lawsuit filed on March 11, 2015 claims James Angone was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned after leaving a Queens methadone clinic. Angone maintains an undercover New York Police Department officer framed him for attempting to sell narcotics after he refused the officer’s proposition to give him his medication.
The NYPD’s efforts to arrest patients and, at times, turn them into confidential informants, is neither new nor rare. In February of this year, journalist John Knefel published an excellent investigation into the practice, which has been documented across the country. John’s piece notes that a report by VOCAL-NY (PDF) found “nearly four in ten methadone patients in New York City have been stopped and frisked by police outside their clinic, while seven in ten had seen someone else get stopped and frisked.”
According to one focus group featured in the report,
The police came and arrested a few of the people on the program … If they need a spot to meet their quotas, they just come to the methadone programs and mess with people, search them for no reason; they don’t even identify themselves … I have missed a dose because of the police. I just didn’t want to go to the program because [police] were just coming on certain days of the week to meet their quotas and I didn’t feel safe.
Angone’s story fits perfectly with those described by Knefel and VOCAL-NY. In the complaint, Angone states that he had been a patient at Narco Freedom — a methadone treatment program located in Queens, New York — for many months. Patients like Angone typically visit their clinic daily to receive their dose of methadone as they fight their heroin addiction. Because Narco Freedom is closed on Sundays, the program has a policy in place by which patients are to come in on Saturday, take their dose in front of a staff member, and receive a sealed container with Sunday’s dose to take with them. The patient is to return the container when they return to the clinic on Monday.
That’s what James was doing on the morning of Saturday, October 18 2014. But when he left Narco Freedom with his weekend dose, Angone says he ran into two plainclothes individuals, at least one of whom was an undercover officer. They stopped him and asked to buy his methadone. Angone says he refused and left to enter a nearby corner store for a cup of coffee.
When Angone walked back onto the street, he was confronted again — this time by two plainclothes officers claiming he fit the description of a “known seller.” He was arrested and brought to the 114th precinct station in Astoria, Queens. He was brought to court a few hours later and arraigned on charges of “criminal possession and sale of a controlled substance in the third degree,” based on allegedly false statements made by the undercover officer.
According to the complaint, NYPD Police Officer Michael Johnston swore before the court that “undercover [officer] and defendant Ancona stated in sum and substance to defendant Angone, ‘give me the bottle and I will give it to him, you give me $5, and then if he’s a cop only I will get pinched.'”
Officer Johnston claimed Angone then gave Ancona the container of methadone and received $40 in return. He also claimed Angone told Ancona “I need the bottle back,” at which point the officer stated Angone “went between two parked vehicles at the location and poured the liquid in an empty juice bottle” the undercover had on him. Bail was set, which Angone could not afford, and he was taken to jail.
Angone denies all of the allegations made by police against him — and the officers deny those made against them by Angone. But most importantly, one month later, when Angone got his day in court, a grand jury listened to his testimony and dismissed all the charges against him. He was released the same day.
Angone’s lawsuit seeks relief for false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, and malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and negligence.