BY FRANK PARLATO
Working off a tip from ‘snitch’, Buffalo Police Lieutenant Sean O’Brien and Detective Shawn Adams went before the Chief Judge of Buffalo City Courts, the Hon. Judge Thomas Amodeo, and swore they had probable cause to raid a house in Buffalo where a man – whose name they did not know – was selling heroin and marijuana.
Neither could police tell the judge the age, height or weight of the man, or whether he was white, brown, yellow, black or red, but they knew his address was 85 Ullman; a green house, with white trim.
On Dec. 15, the search warrant was signed. Where the name of the target is normally listed were six initials: FNU, LNU, (First Name Unknown; Last Name Unknown).
On the early morning of December 21, in the final hours of darkness of what was the longest night of the year, a SWAT of Buffalo Police Narcotics Officers, in paramilitary gear, stormed the Ullman St. home.
Inside, they encountered a grey haired, white man and a Shepard.
Within seconds, police ordered the man to lie on the floor face down and shot his dog in the head.
Moving through the house, they found another white man, with dark hair, in an upstairs bedroom. He had been sleeping, but gunshots that killed the dog awakened him. He was ordered to the floor.
Scouring the house, pulling items out of closets and dressers, knocking over décor, moving deftly around the dead Shepard, they searched for marijuana and heroin.
On the Winter Solstice, with dawn not arrived, an old man was on the floor, his dead dog nearby and a young man face down in his room. It must have seemed like the wild hunt of Odin. Innocence or guilt is not considered, save to leave the leg of a slain animal, in this case a dog.
While there was no heroin or marijuana in the house, in the room upstairs, police found a baggie and inside it, residue, whitish in color, almost microscopic in quantity. Police knew the baggie had once been used to hold a dime bag of cocaine – worth $10. It held 25 cents worth of cocaine dust.
They arrested Garret Aljoe, 33, an employee at a local pizza parlor. Handcuffed, they led Garret out to a waiting car.
Downstairs, police allowed the grey haired man to get up off the floor, as Buffalo Animal Control Officer Anibal Sepulveda gathered the carcass. After eight years with the family, the Shepard was leaving in a bag, headed to an incinerator at the SPCA on Ensminger Rd.
The police joked among themselves, judging the old man of no account, speaking of heroics – in shooting a dog not once but twice – as if the old man wasn’t present and they had returned from Cain’s hunt.
As bravely as they stormed in, they strode out, seemingly wild on steroids, leaving the old man to mop up the blood and pick up possessions scattered on the floor.
When they left, the old man called Matt Albert, Esq. a lawyer well known for representing people whose homes have been wrongly raided and their dogs shot to death.
And while police never bothered to learn the name of the man whose home they raided, they could have learned it easily enough. A simple google search of the address would have revealed it. He was retired Sergeant First Class, Gary L. Aljoe, 64, a veteran of 37 years in the US Army.
He retained Albert to sue the city.
During his tour of duty, Sgt. Aljoe was an engineer who led men to build and rebuild. Not too long before he retired, he had been in Panama building schools and clinics.
And 15 years ago, on another somber Christmas, he was stationed in midtown Manhattan. The year was 2001. He arrived in the few days following 9-11.
For months, Sgt. Aljoe worked amid toxic dust from collapsed towers and decaying bodies. He toiled amid pulverized concrete, and airborne cellulose, lead, mercury, carcinogen asbestos, dioxins, and PAHs exacerbated by fires that burned for months.
Sgt. Aljoe was picking up the pieces, and breathing in crystalline silica, lead, cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – carcinogenic; and substances which trigger kidney, heart, liver and nervous system disease. This was well known to the Federal EPA at the time, and the Army that was called in. At the vanguard was SFC Gary Aljoe.
To the police who invaded his modest home and killed his dog, he did not look like much. Then again, Sgt. Aljoe never expected the Chief Judge of the City, on the word of police who could not even name him, would authorize the raid of his home in predawn darkness.
Albert moved quickly for his client and stopped the incineration of his dog which was transported to Cornell University for an independent necropsy report which is expected to show whether the dog was shot at a distance and not a threat to officers.
Albert is pursuing lawsuits in a dozen wrong house raids and dog killings. He says city attorneys discount claims of poor clients whose property, they say, is worthless, whose dog is worth no more than the price of a new one, and whose right to not have their home invaded on the word of a snitch is proportionate to the political or economic power they hold.
The city will face Sgt. Aljoe, a hero of 9-11.
Police and the judges who empower them to raid the homes of poor people, may wish to consider that in these homes live real people.
He thought he would retire quietly, but a dark and dreadful influence caused a deep injustice to Sgt. FC Gary Aljoe which he is honor bound to protest.
In a sense, he has been called to serve his country again.