Bodega Owner Falsely Accused Wants his Case to Help Others

Ismael Durán is happy that his name has been cleared but he wants to set a precedent with his case. (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario La Prensa)

Charges have been dropped against a Brooklyn bodega owner who was wrongfully accused of selling alcohol to an 18-year-old, but he wants to make sure other bodegueros don’t go through the same, El Diario La Prensa reported. The article was translated from Spanish.

Ismael Durán, a Dominican bodega owner who was falsely accused of selling beer to a minor, isn’t afraid of taking his case to the bitter end. He has already started the process of suing the city.

Durán’s lawyer, Kevin Faga, confirmed that he has sent a notice of intent to sue. Now that they have a year and 90 days to reach an agreement with the city otherwise they will formally file a complaint. Faga said the amount of damages still hasn’t been determined.

“My client was arrested, detained, and falsely accused,” said Faga. “The police arrested him without investigating and they violated his rights. The fact that they lied in the report helps our case.”

Durán was arrested in April after Anthony Harriott, an 18-year-old auxiliary police officer, informed another agent that Durán had sold a beer to him at his bodega, the Giselle Mini Market in Brooklyn.

Six months after the incident, Durán, 44, is still recovering from the emotional wounds of the experience.

“I was deeply affected. I felt very bad; my self-esteem was falling through the floor,” said Durán, who has worked in the bodega since 2006, when he first came to New York. “The most important thing for me is to prove my innocence. I feel calmer now, not because Harriot was arrested, but because I hope my experience will serve as an example to other police officers so they don’t do the same thing to other bodega owners.”

After being arrested and feeling compelled to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, using a video recording, Durán was able to prove that he did not sell the beer to a minor. The charges against Durán were dropped and he didn’t have to pay the $120 fine that a judge had ordered.

Harriott, on the other hand, was arraigned on Oct. 17 at Brooklyn Criminal Court. A grand jury is now reviewing the case and will determine any formal charges against him.

“We hope that they give him the maximum possible sentence, four years in jail for every case,” said Fernando Mateo, spokesman for the Bodegueros Association of the U.S. “This is a victory for every bodega owner, waiter, and bar owner in New York City.”

Mateo is asking the New York State Liquor Authority and the district attorneys of the five boroughs to investigate all cases of alcohol sales to minors.

“Many bodega owners lose their licenses and others lose their jobs because of false arrests by the police,” said Mateo, and added that his association receives dozens of complaints on a daily basis.

Norberto Gómez, who owns a deli in Sunnyside, Queens, said the Liquor Authority operates in a “deceptive” way.

“They’re searching for ways to empty bodega owners’ pockets,” said Gómez. “They send undercover agents who will soon turn 21. If they truly want to find out, they should send minors to buy alcohol and they’ll see that no bodega owner wants to take the risk of earning 25 cents if he knew he would have to pay a fine of $2,500.”

An assistant at Gómez’s deli was fined, but even though the judge dropped the charges for lack of evidence, Gómez still had to pay a $2,500 fine to the Liquor Authority.

“I’m not saying there aren’t merchants who don’t break the law, but the majority of us bodega owners are fathers. We’re not going to sell beer to young adults because we have children,” said Gómez.

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