Buffalo, New York – When a man purchased an abandoned house at a city auction for tax-delinquent properties one year ago, he had no idea that the same people who were supposed to protect him from trespassers, would be the ones to illegally enter his property and threaten him.
Mohammad Ismail told Buffalo News that he knew the decrepit house was going to need a lot of work when he purchased it for $14,000—as it had not been lived in for years—but he had big plans to renovate it into a home for his wife and four children.
Ismail said that after his purchase of the home was finalized, and he obtained a building permit, he was working on the house on April 18 when he was approached by two Buffalo police officers. Officers Christopher Fields and Debra A. Strobele were both in uniform when they arrived in a patrol car.
Fields claimed he was the owner of the house, and he threatened that he would arrest Ismail and take him to jail if he did not leave. Ismail complied and said he left the house and went to City Hall to confirm that he owned the home.
The report from Buffalo News confirmed that Ismail is the owner, and noted that records from the city’s Division of Housing and Inspection show that there were “numerous code violations at the property stretching back to 2013, the year Fields took ownership of the house.”
Officer Strobele returned to the house again on April 23, with a different officer, and continued to harass Ismail. This time, the encounter was caught on video by Ismail’s cousin.
“YOU’RE TRESPASSING! What don’t you understand about that?” Strobele yelled. “If he comes here and he wants you locked up, you can go to jail.”
Ismail respectfully gave the officers the number of a contact the city had given him, and said he was told to talk to the police supervisor.
“It’s not your house. It is not your house,” Strobele said. “He still owns it. He’s in court for this house.”
“No, sir. It isn’t. He still has it,” the other officer said, backing up his colleague.
“You don’t have keys, he changed the locks, he told you that the other day. How did you get in the back of there? How did you get in the back of the house? How did you get in? He owns this house, you don’t own it,” Strobele yelled, continuing to berate Ismail
Ismail remained calm as Strobele continues to raise her voice, move closer to him, and point at him, yelling, “Get your shit and get out. You take care of this on Monday. Get your shit and get out. Now. Go. Goodbye. Or I’m going to take you to jail.”
The second officer attempted to explain the situation to Ismail calmly, claiming that there was a problem with the deeds for the house.
“OK. I’m respecting you. If you want me to go, I’ll go. No problem,” Ismail replied. “This is my house, and they told me that if anyone comes in, to call 911.”
“WE ARE 911,” Strobele yelled in response.
Following the encounter, Ismail filed two separate complaints with the Buffalo Police Department and provided them with video evidence. However, as a report from WIVB News noted, the department responded by sending Ismail a letter in August, saying that there was “not sufficient evidence” to prove he was mistreated. Fields was cleared of any wrongdoing.
However, Strobele was not. Ismail received a second letter in October claiming that the police commissioner had “determined that there is sufficient evidence at this time to clearly prove your case and has determined the case disposition be carried as ‘sustained.'”
As Buffalo News noted, this could mean that Strobele could face consequences ranging from a disciplinary conference to a suspension. The report confirmed that she is still employed by the department, and works in the Strike Force unit.
Ismail is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Fields, Strobele, the police department and the city of Buffalo. In a statement, Ismail’s attorney told Buffalo News:
“Mr. Ismail has filed this lawsuit against the officers and the City of Buffalo because no one should live in fear of being kicked out of their home. He worked hard to save the money to buy the house and had invested a significant amount of time and resources into the rehabilitation of a property no one had cared about for years. We as a society entrust police officers to preserve and protect our people and community. When that trust is broken, through the abuse of their authority and power, then there needs to be punishment.”