Image: AP

In December, according to a lawsuit, NYPD officers prevented a family from entering their Queens apartment for several days because of allegations that drugs were being sold there. A great bust for the cops, except that the suspected drug dealer had moved out in August.

The officers were operating under a municipal law known as “nuisance abatement,” which allows them to shut down properties that they believe are being used to commit crimes, without actually charging anyone with criminal wrongdoing, which would allow them the chance to argue their side in court.

The law was drafted in the 1970s to target brothels in Times Square, but has been increasingly used against New Yorkers in their homes in recent years. Extensive New York Daily News and ProPublica reporting on the subject reveals that cops often execute these nuisance abatement actions, based on very little evidence, for crimes like selling drugs and gambling.

The aforementioned lawsuit, filed today in Brooklyn federal court by Austria Bueno, alleges that Bueno and her husband and sons were barred from entering their Queensbridge Homes apartment after a police executed a nuisance abatement action meant to target the apartment’s previous tenant. In January 2015, the tenant allegedly sold crack to an undercover informant, and drugs and guns were found in the apartment shortly after.

But Bueno and her family did not move into the apartment until August, after that tenant moved out—a fact that should have been very easy for the NYPD to discern. Queensbridge Homes is a public housing complex, meaning all the cops would have had to do is call up the housing authority and ask. The family spent three days unable to enter their apartment under threat of arrest before their attorney successfully argued their case in court.

Bueno’s suit makes specific reference to the Daily News and ProPublica’s reporting, pointing to those organizations’ findings that nuisance abatement is carried out in a racially and economically biased manner.

Bueno’s suit seeks unspecified damages. It also asks that New York City’s nuisance abatement be declared an unconstitutional violation of due process.