On May 5, 2003, Spruill was preparing to begin her long-term job with the New York City government when New York City police officers broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade into her apartment. They were acting on what appeared to be false information that Spruill’s apartment contained guns and drugs.
Officers carried out a no-knock search warrant based on information provided by a drug dealer who told officers that his supplier was storing guns and drugs in Apartment 6F at 310 West 143rd Street. The dealer told police that he had seen armed people and dogs in the apartment on three separate occasions. During the 6:10 a.m. raid, however, police officers discovered only Ms. Spruill and determined that the information was false.
Ms. Spruill, who was dressed for work, was briefly handcuffed after the concussion grenade exploded, but a police captain quickly realized that the apartment was not furnished as described by the dealer, and she was released. Ms. Spruill initially refused medical attention, despite the fact that she told the captain she had a heart condition. An ambulance was called, and on the way to Harlem Hospital Center, she collapsed and died at 7:50 a.m.
Police Chief Raymond W. Kelly stated at a press conference seven hours after Ms. Spruill’s death that it did not appear that the drug dealer had previously given information to police, despite being registered as a confidential informant. The police chief also stated that it was unclear whether officers from the 25th Precinct involved in the raid had the building or apartment under surveillance prior to executing the search warrant, which was signed by Criminal District Judge Patricia M. Nunez.
Chief Kelly ordered an investigation into the entire incident after apologizing to the victim’s family and suspending the use of concussion grenades, which are designed to stun and disorient people with a loud noise and a flash. He stated that he had delegated administrative duties to the lieutenant who had decided to use the grenade until the investigation was completed, and that he would review the use of the grenades and the execution of search warrants.
Alberta Spruill’s death was determined to be a homicide. In addition, city attorneys agreed to pay her family $1.6 million. The settlement was notable not so much for the amount as for how quickly it was reached. It happened only five and a half months after Ms. Spruill died.
Alberta Spruill’s niece, Cynthia Howell, and other family members survive her.