It was 9:30 PM, in the Flatbush neighborhood situated in the middle of New York City’s largest borough, Brooklyn. Our undercover officer just purchased five black-topped vials of crack cocaine for $50.00 from a peep-hole spot.
The crack epidemic was in full swing. The crack den was an old video arcade taken over by the Spangler Posse, a violent Jamaican gang heavily involved in the crack trade. After the UC was safely away from the set, we began our raid. Sergeant Larry Festa, Detective Paul Rossi, and I, walked quickly to the front door while the other field teams covered the rear.
Detective Rossi, swinging a heavy-duty sledgehammer, struck the door on the lock, over and over, until the thick metal door swung open. Once inside, we ran abruptly into a darkened narrow lobby and were met by another metal door five feet away. Detective Rossi quickly shouted “Stand Back!”, and fiercely struck the door in the same fashion as the exterior door.
The door swung open within seconds. We started looking for anyone who might be the dealer and for anyone, for that matter, moving in the shadows of the poorly-lit rooms. The drug dealer, according to the UC, was only a voice with a heavy Jamaican accent and a set of eyes on the other side of the exterior door peep hole.
FLOOR “BOOBY TRAP” WITH TILES INTACT APPEARS NORMAL AND SAFE
After entering the inner sanctum of the crack den, we heard sounds in the rear of the old arcade next to a Pac-Man machine. Shining our flashlights and pointing our revolvers, which we were only authorized to carry at the time, I saw a person climbing downward into an apparent trap door. He was a medium build male with long dreadlocks.
I quickly shouted “Police Don’t Move!” I ran toward the trap door as it closed. Within a few feet of the trap door, I felt my feet suddenly become strangely lighter. This feeling lasted only for a fleeting moment, like I was walking on air, until I realized I was falling through the floor to the basement below. Luckily, depending on how you want to look at it, I dropped straight down to a beam supporting a series of false floor tiles and abruptly and fiercely landed on top of the beam which was between my legs.
The pain in my groin, overshadowed the pain in my lower back, but both were overshadowed by the anger I felt, now, at the dreadlocked crack pusher. I pulled my twisted pain-filled body from the beam and looked downward to see how far the floor below was from the ceiling which I now dangled.
Still very angry and determined to catch the Dread, I contemplated jumping 10 feet to the ground but I was soon interrupted when the beam supporting me, and the floor around me, collapsed. I crashed to the cold concrete basement floor with debris falling around and on top of me. I heard the Sergeant’s voice, shouting “Don’t Move! We’ll get you help!”
Even angrier, after my fall, I disregarded the sergeant’s orders and stood up. With pieces of wood and a layer of dust in my hair, I picked up my revolver and flashlight from the floor.
I stood up and started to walk toward the next room where I heard noises and assumed the pusher was located trying to escape. I peeked around the doorway leading to the next room. I shined my extra-bright flashlight toward the noise and captured the Dread like a deer in a car’s headlights.
I pointed my gun in his direction and shouted, out of anger and pain, “I am going to blow your #$%&?@ head off!”, in a high-pitched voice, probably from the pain in my groin, that momentarily even frightened me.
The dreadlocked pusher stopped dead in his tracks apparently opening another trap door on a wall, we learned later, leading to an adjacent building. “Don’t shoot, Mon!” he screamed in a heavy Jamaican accent.
By this time, Sergeant Festa and Detective Rossi arrived to my side in the basement and knocked the pusher, who was obviously still thinking about escaping, to the ground and placed him into handcuffs behind his back. Just then, I collapsed to my knees from the pain and the weakness in my legs.
I spent that night in the hospital and several weeks of x-rays, MRIs and physical therapy. As a result, I sustained two severely herniated discs in my lower back, a bruised knee and strained groin (you figure it out).
To this date, sixteen years later, as a result of drug dealer’s booby trapped floor, I suffer low back pain and sciatica, (pain emanating from the lumbar region of the low back into the legs) daily.
Booby trapped floors, like the one I experienced, are becoming more common. These floors are purposely constructed to give an appearance of normal flooring so the approaching Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) will not hesitate to walk on it.
Once the LEOs weight is placed on the false flooring, he/she will fall with the collapsing floor beneath his/her feet. With many booby trapped floors, there is an additional danger waiting below. These dangers can range from spikes to nail boards or from a tub of acid to attack dogs.
I consider myself lucky that the booby trapped floor I encountered was not equipped with another dangerous trap waiting below.
Several times over the past 17 years of my 23 year law enforcement career, I have experienced booby traps, elaborate fortification systems, and escape devices.
It is an important aspect of law enforcement that is often overlooked and more often extremely dangerous. Every law enforcement officer working the streets, prisons and jails, or a probation and parole beat must carefully consider the potential presence of booby traps during their daily duties.
Criminals are becoming quite savvy and more ruthless while the courts are becoming more lenient. These criminals have nothing to lose! Booby traps and other devices that aid escape will become more prevalent and more potentially lethal.
Be careful out there!
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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