Civil Liberties

Video of Rogue Philly Narcotics Unit in Action

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a rogue narcotics unit within the Philadelphia police department that was terrorizing grocery stores owned by immigrants. All of the raided store owners told a similar story: The unit raided under the pretense that the stores were selling small plastic bags commonly used by drug dealers to package narcotics. The cops then disconnected the stores' security cameras. Once the cameras were disconnected, they then looted the stores of snack food, cigarettes, and cash. According to store owners, the official police reports often underreported the amount of cashed seized from the stores.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has since published accounts of more raids. And the Philadelphia Daily News has posted video from one of the raids, (video doesn't seem to be working, but you can watch at the link, or read the transcript here). The officers seem particularly concerned about whether the video from the cameras can be viewed outside the store, and where the video is stored. In the story from last month, at least one store owner told the Daily News that the police returned to his store in a second raid solely to confiscate the computer that hosted the video of them disconnecting the video cameras during the first raid. These cops obviously didn't want a video record of what they were doing, at least one they couldn't confiscate.

According to press accounts, the warrants weren't obtained to search for actual illicit drugs, but merely for the open sale of plastic zip-lock bags, which aren't illegal by themselves, and have perfectly legitimate uses. It's a ridiculous law that requires mind reading on the part of investigators—the bags become illegal to sell only once the merchant suspects his customer might use them for illegal purposes. (It's the same odd concept of criminality that led to the bizarre arrests of several dozen Indian convenience store workers in Georgia in 2005.)

Meanwhile, the head of this particular narcotics unit, Officer Jeffrey Cujdik, is coming under fire in other cases, too. One of his longtime informants has come forward to say Cujdik routinely lied on warrant affidavits and police reports, including describing controlled drug buys that never happened. One of those cases resulted in a botched raid on Lady Gonzalez, who alleges one of Cujdik's officers sexually assaulted her during the raid.

Cujdik has since been stripped of his gun and badge, but he remains on paid desk duty.