Sunday, February 9, 2003

Retiree's life turned upside-down



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Samuel Higgins thought he'd have a restful retirement in the home he loves. He'd worked for more than 28 years on General Motors assembly lines, often double shifts, in Norwood and Indianapolis. But at 62, instead of rest, mostly Higgins is getting stress.

In 1999 police raided his home, a condominium in Mt. Auburn, looking for drugs and for his son. Three years later, he's still fighting in court to get reimbursed.

Also, he's been on the losing end of a pension mixup that last summer cut his monthly checks in half. Unpaid bills may cost him his home.

Now his case against the city is coming to court on appeal and he can't afford an attorney.

Higgins speaks slowly and quietly. Sometimes he sounds confused. He suffers seizures and walks with a cane.

He says he's angry about the police and his pension; he's trying to fight for himself. But he's not sure how.

Easy street

A 300-pound drum fell on Higgins in 1996, injuring his back and head. Higgins, forced into early retirement, bought his condo partly with his worker's comp settlement.

He had decks built outside so he could enjoy his flowers and city view. A Jacuzzi came with the condo; he put dozens of potted flowers and plants around it and throughout his home.

Not bad for someone who didn't finish high school and whose first job was in a junkyard at age 11.

But his home isn't his haven anymore.

In November 1999, police acted on what they thought was a reliable tip. A confidential informant said one of Higgins' sons was in on a major cocaine purchase and had stowed the drugs and money at his father's place.

The police got a warrant and bashed in the front, side and rear doors.

They emptied all of Higgins' closets, punched a large hole in the ceiling, and up-ended the flowers and plants, caking dirt into the wall-to-wall carpet.

A videotape taken by Higgins' brother shows speakers and vents ripped from walls, a large rattan chair broken in half, personal papers and photos covering the floor so densely you can't see the rug.

Higgins kept his hats in hat boxes and his shoes shined. That night they were trampled and soiled.

He returned home from taking a meal to his disabled ex-wife, and police handcuffed him. He overheard officers questioning how a retired, black auto worker could afford such nice things.

"Mister, I worked all my life for this," he replied.

One officer asked Higgins about his son, who at 34 never lived there but "checked up on" his father every couple months, Higgins said.

Contraband

In the end, police found no cocaine, but they found two marijuana cigarettes and marijuana baggies hidden under a mattress. Higgins said it belonged to a house guest.

Police also found about $1,000 in various nooks, crannies and flowerpots. Higgins says that was his savings.

A month later, on Christmas eve, police arrested Higgins for the marijuana. A grand jury refused to indict. No charges were filed against his son.

City attorneys disclosed at a pretrial hearing in April that the informant lied about the stash and stole officers' money. It was still a legitimate search, the lawyers said, because of the warrant.

The judge looked at photos of the damage and said a jury will have to decide if the search and damage were "reasonable."

Higgins lost his attorney in August and missed a court date. The judge dismissed the case, but Higgins is appealing.

"I was raised to always work for yourself, be independent,'' he said.

"Now they're trying to take it all from me."

Email damos@enquirer.com or phone 768-8395




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