Police in Philadelphia staged raids to rob shops

Associated Press Writer

Philly police officer cutting wire to camera before they rob store.

Philly police officer cutting wire to camera before they rob store.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — City police officers working for an elite anti-drug unit regularly robbed and harassed bodega owners during sham raids, civil-rights lawyers charge in several federal lawsuits against the officers and the city.

The lawsuits accuse brothers Jeffrey and Richard Cujdik and other drug squad members of disabling security cameras before stealing cash, cigarettes and other merchandise from the mostly immigrant shopkeepers.

A seven-minute security video of a Sept. 11, 2007, raid at the store of one plaintiff, Jose Duran, shows police handcuffing Duran and two customers, milling by the cash register and using a knife to slash a cord on the video camera. Officers later seized the video equipment and searched Duran’s vehicle, but had no legal right to do so, Duran’s attorney said.

The Cujdiks and two colleagues have been on desk duty since the accusations surfaced this year in a series of Philadelphia Daily News articles. The FBI and the department’s Internal Affairs division are investigating.

The Cujdiks’ lawyers did not immediately return messages left by The Associated Press on Friday.

Police supervisors missed obvious red flags, said David Rudovsky, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who filed two of the suits this week.

The search warrants often focused on the sale of small plastic bags allegedly used to package drugs – the “drug paraphernelia” at the heart of many of the bodega raids. They also relied on lies from shaky informants, he said.

“You would hope high-ranking supervisors would be saying, ‘Why are you spending your time raiding these shops?'” Rudovsky said.

In at least one case, a search warrant alleged that an informant had bought the baggies on a certain day, but store security video shows no such sale, according to both Rudovsky and the Daily News. The warrants also utilized clearly unreliable informants, lawyers said.

A police department spokesman called the focus on the plastic baggies a legitimate strategy to interrupt drug sales.

“If you can’t package it, you can’t sell it,” Sgt. Ray Evers said. “It is a viable way of trying to curtail some of the drug sales. Is it the only way? Absolutely not.”

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who has issued swift police sanctions in other cases, has pledged to discipline any officer found guilty of misconduct. He’s also earned the trust of many small grocers after meeting with them about the raids.

“Commissioner Ramsey has been very sincere,” said Danilo Burgos, president of the city’s Dominican Grocers Association, which has about 300 members.

Burgos has worked in the grocery business for 20 years, starting as a boy in his parents’ store in North Philadelphia. He said police harassment has been a problem for decades.

Police would go into his parents’ store “and verbally abuse everybody that didn’t speak English,” Burgos recalled. “There has been a culture. It was left unchecked.”

Many shopkeepers have been afraid to complain about the police because of immigration issues, language barriers or other fears, Rudovsky said. That’s allowed the problem to fester, and reach even the elite drug squad to which the Cujdiks were assigned, he said.

The video of the unit’s raid on Duran’s store, which is posted online, has inspired others to come forward with complaints.

“Even if you believe in the war on drugs, there has to be very, very close supervision and monitoring. That hasn’t happened,” Rudovsky said.

Posted by on Sep 11 2009. Filed under Good Cop / Bad Cop. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Comments for “Police in Philadelphia staged raids to rob shops”

  1. […] bags, which police consider drug paraphernalia." The Pulitzer Prizes | Public Service Police in Philadelphia staged raids to rob shops | Street Gangs Resource Center – Los Angeles … Terrorizing Immigrants | Philadelphia Independent Media […]

  2. Sam

    Extraordinary match yesterday, I cannot stand the Eagles or Giants but that was a fantastic game to see

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