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Police Say Drug Dealers Threatened 5-Year-Old for ‘Squealing’

July 25, 1995

NEW CASSEL, N.Y. (AP) _ Five-year-old Arno Sorto wants to be a policeman when he grows up. For now, he’s under police protection, an informant in a drug arrest and allegedly the target of a death threat.

Arno was playing on the street when he saw police arresting a marijuana dealer. He showed them where the man had left his stash.

One day later, police said, a friend of the dealer approached the boy, pulled a knife, fingered the blade and said: ``For squealing you are going to get your throat cut.″

Arno drew a small finger across his neck as he imitated the man Tuesday in his family’s tiny apartment in a ramshackle Long Island neighborhood.

``They are bad. They are very bad,″ Arno said of the neighborhood’s small-time drug dealers. The boy, whose parents are from El Salvador, spoke in Spanish and a family friend interpreted.

Police have increased patrols and installed a ``panic button″ _ a device resembling a walkie-talkie that would signal a problem to officers _ in the two-room apartment where the Sortos and their five children live. The family has no phone.

Arno’s trouble began Thursday, when detectives arrested a 25-year-old man suspected of selling $5 bags of marijuana on a street corner.

As the suspect was being handcuffed, the boy showed police where the dealer had hid 67 more ``nickel bags,″ said Anthony Vessa, a Nassau County police deputy inspector.

After police left, more than 20 men gathered outside the Sortos’ home in a two-story brick apartment building, threatening and insulting them, said Arno’s father, Diego Sorto, 48.

The next morning, Diego Sorto said, a youth who sells drugs in the area tried to run his son down with a bicycle. Then the apartment’s owner told the family that a woman had urged their eviction, saying the boy was costing the dealers money.

The boy’s mother, Anna Sorto, 33, added that a man dropped his pants and mooned the boy.

After the threat involving the knife, Arno ran home and his father called police. As detectives took statements, the boy looked out the window and spotted the man he said had accosted him, Vessa said.

Police arrested Paul Dillon, 27, of New Cassel, and confiscated a knife, Vessa said. Dillon was held Tuesday on $10,000 bail on charges of menacing and weapons possession.

Diego Sorto said he would move his family out of New Cassel. ``I fear for my life,″ he said.

Anna Sorto said she lets Arno out of the apartment only when she’s with him.

Still, they are proud of their son, who was raised to believe that drugs are evil.

``Every time he sees people selling marijuana he runs to me and wants to call the police,″ Mrs. Sorto said. ``Maybe this will help clean up the streets.″

The father added: ``He always runs to greet the police and they are happy to see him. ... He said to a detective that usually comes around, `I want to grow up to be just like you.‴

The 3-foot-tall aspiring policeman was asked if he considers himself a hero.

``I am brave,″ he replied.

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