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Wrongfully arrested Elmhurst brothers can sue city

The Elmhurst brothers who lost their supermarket after being falsely arrested on drug charges can proceed with a federal lawsuit against the city, a judge ruled last week.

Jose and Maximo Colon were enjoying a drink at Delicias de Mi Tierra, an Elmhurst bar, on Jan. 5, 2008, when they were arrested and charged along with four other men with selling undercover officers cocaine.

Two of the men later pleaded guilty to selling three bags of cocaine to then-Detective Stephen Anderson and then-Police Officer Henry Tavarez, the Queens district attorney’s office said. But the officers allegedly reported the men sold them only one bag of cocaine and claimed the Colons and the other two men sold them the other bags.

After being released from jail, Jose Colon went to the bar and retrieved surveillance camera footage that showed the officers never spoke to the brothers.

The brothers allege that the arrest prompted the city to revoke their licenses to sell lottery tickets and cigarettes at their supermarket, causing it to go out of business. They are seeking $10 million in damages. Their next court date is Jan. 12.

Attorneys for the city moved to dismiss the suit, arguing the brothers had not made a persuasive arguments about any policy in place to wrongfully arrest minorities or manufacture evidence against drug suspects.

But Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Jack Weinstein wrote that he and other judges had heard “anecdotal evidence of repeated, widespread falsification by arresting police officers of the New York City Police Department. Despite numerous inquiries by commissions and strong reported efforts by the present administration ... there is some evidence of an attitude among officers that is sufficiently widespread to constitute a custom or policy by the city approving illegal conduct of the kind now charged.”

Two of the police officers involved in the case were indicted by a grand jury in January. Tavarez, 27, pleaded guilty in June to offering a false instrument as part of a deal that would put him in jail for five days in return for cooperation against the other defendants, a source said.

His partner and co-defendant, Anderson, pleaded not guilty to charges of drug sales, filing a false instrument, falsifying business records, misconduct, unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy, attempted perjury and tampering with a witness for allegedly trying to convince Tavarez to claim he forgot the details of the drug bust.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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