Drug Policy

Rogue Police Narcotics Squad in Philly Terrorizing Immigrant Grocers

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From the Philadelphia Daily News, a blood boiling article:

ON A SWELTERING July afternoon in 2007, Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and his narcotics squad members raided an Olney tobacco shop.

Then, with guns drawn, they did something bizarre: They smashed two surveillance cameras with a metal rod, said store owners David and Eunice Nam.

The five plainclothes officers yanked camera wires from the ceiling. They forced the slight, frail Korean couple to the vinyl floor and cuffed them with plastic wrist ties.

"I so scared," said Eunice Nam, 56. "We were on floor. Handcuffs on me. I so, so scared, I wet my pants."

The officers rifled through drawers, dumped cigarette cartons on the floor and took cash from the registers. Then they hauled the Nams to jail.

The Nams were arrested for selling tiny ziplock bags that police consider drug paraphernalia, but which the couple described as tobacco pouches.

When they later unlocked their store, the Nams allege, they discovered that a case of lighter fluid and handfuls of Zippo lighters were missing. The police said they seized $2,573 in the raid. The Nams say they actually had between $3,800 and $4,000 in the store.

The Nams' story is strikingly similar to those told by other mom-and-pop store owners, from Dominicans in Hunting Park to Jordanians in South Philadelphia.

It goes on like that, detailing story after story in which this rogue squad of thugs raided an immigrant-owned grocery store, terrorized the shopkeepers, cut the wires to security cameras, then helped themselves to the inventory. In one case, a grocery owner says the same narcotics squad came back for a second raid, but not to look for drugs. They came to confiscate a surveillance video from the first raid, a video that apparently captured the likeness of one of the cops just before he cut the camera's wires.

Also, is it really illegal to sell small plastic bags in Philadelphia? Even if that's the case, it obviously wouldn't justify these tactics. But as Jacob Sullum explained in our February issue, generally speaking, for an otherwise innocuous product to be considered illegal paraphernalia, it would need to be sold in close proximity to something related to illicit drugs, or found in conjunction with an actual illicit substance. Perhaps Philadelphia has a specific law prohibiting the bags, but if it does, that wasn't mentioned in the article.

MORE: This isn't the first time Officer Cujdik's name has been in the news.