Rogue Philly Narcotics Squad Terrorizing Immigrant Grocers

Friday, March 20th, 2009

From the Philadelphia Daily News, this one will make your blood boil:

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 the February issue or Reason, 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: Per the comments, this isn’t the first time Officer Cujdik’s name has been in the news.

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48 Responses to “Rogue Philly Narcotics Squad Terrorizing Immigrant Grocers”

  1. #1 |  Pat | 

    Perfectly normal for the Philadelphia Police. This has been normal since the days when Frank Rizzo ran the department. And it happens with impunity because prosecutors are content to fall back on insurance pay outs to anyone who wins a lawsuit against the city. The settlements always include a provision that the aggrieved will never again talk in public about being abused by police. I personally refused to be a party to one such settlement after police, colluding with right-wing union thugs, brutalized and illegally detained 86 anti-Nixon protesters on Independence Mall in 1972. In the shadow of the Liberty Bell.

    This has been going on a long, long time.

  2. #2 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Well, this is a great way to take immigrants’ money.
    Aside from any Constitutional issues, what are the chances
    the Nams would have financial resources to fight the charges?
    It all comes to money. The cops found a new way to steal
    people’s money. That”s expected in a third world Banana Republic, but
    it goes on day after day right here in the gool dol’ USA.

    Chalk up another horror story to the “Drug War.”
    And thank God Almighty children won’t be exposed to any more
    tobacco pouches.

  3. #3 |  Bob | 

    Jeffrey Cujdik… Why does that name sound familiar…

    Oh! Because it’s this guy:
    http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20090223_Cop_added_insult_to_injury__she_says.html

  4. #4 |  wunder | 

    I don’t even have words. No insight, no commentary, except – what despicable thugs.

  5. #5 |  Rhayader | 

    Wow, just disgusting. Why does it seem like this kind of crap happens every day, everywhere, and nobody ever gets so much as a reprimand, let alone a pink slip?

    It’s hard to look at stories like this and believe we are not beyond redemption in this country.

  6. #6 |  av | 

    Yeah, it looks like Jeffrey Cujdik has gone rogue. The newspaper seems to have this guys number. What is the police dept. doing about it?

  7. #7 |  Aresen | 

    The only encouraging thing about this is that it got the attention of the mainstream media.

    I wonder if one could get a RICO indictment against the PPD?

  8. #8 |  Philadelphia Police Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and His Narcotics Squad Abuse Shopkeepers David and Eunice Nam And Smash Their Cameras | Popehat | 

    [...] The thugs had badges. [...]

  9. #9 |  JS | 

    Rhayader-“Wow, just disgusting. Why does it seem like this kind of crap happens every day, everywhere, and nobody ever gets so much as a reprimand, let alone a pink slip?”

    Because it won’t make the Bill O’Reilly show or the evening news anywhere.

  10. #10 |  MacK | 

    This on Cujdik is even better.

    http://www.philly.com/dailynews/local/20090305_Did_cop_cross_the_line_again_.html

  11. #11 |  thomasblair | 

    From the update link:

    Cujdik is now on desk duty, his gun and badge taken, police said.

    I guess that internal investigation found that he’d committed no errors.

  12. #12 |  Scott | 

    What is the police dept. doing about it?

    Laughing like hyenas. Who wants to bet that the seized surveillance videos are featured prominently at every PPD social gathering in the officers’ basements and garages?

  13. #13 |  Wayne | 

    One possible lesson: hide at least one of your security cameras, let the visibly one be a dummy.

  14. #14 |  Pat | 

    Philly police and drug task force police SOP.

    In May of 2008 the new police commissioner disbanded the corrupt 136 member special police narcotics task force saying that he wanted more generalists on the streets and fewer specialists who ignored most crime. In January the city announced a 15% decline in homicides.

    Coincidence?

  15. #15 |  William | 

    I’m sure these are just a few rogue officers. We mustn’t extrapolate their behavior to the vast majority of good officers out there. Just a few bad apples. Besides, how can you expect them to behave any differently what with their tough job and all…

    Time to go listen to some Bodycount.

  16. #16 |  fwb | 

    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 the February issue or Reason, 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,

    What world do you live in? There is no justice. In most states having the small ziplocks can get you nailed. In NM, IF the state can find even traces of drugs on you, you can be charged with possession. And of course since ALL government IOUs (you might call them dollars BUT the paper stuff ain’t) have traces. In AZ, you can go to jail for having cigarette papers to roll your own.

    Da Man does what da man wantsta! Our system is one of THEM vs us with THEM carry the power. People laughed when the term jack-booted thugs first came out. Have a run-in with cops some time and you will change your tune.

    We have not lived in a free country for a really long time. Maybe it’s a conspiracy maybe not but by making everyone a felon, those in charge can assure that very few folks are left to elect the “leaders”.

    When the cops confiscate your bucks/property you have little chance of ever recovering. First they charges are levied against the property, not you and since it’s civil, the system works by preponderance of evidence NOT innocent until proven guilty. And this is not new. I read numerous stories about cops at every level stealing from the innocent well back into the 80s. And if one evaluates history, the use of power for theft goes back forever.

  17. #17 |  Pat | 

    Yes, there have been good cops on the Philly department. but they are systematically driven out of the department whenever they become obvious.

    After the 1985 MOVE confrontation the one officer who disobeyed orders and went near the burning home to save two people who were trying to escape the flames was driven out of the department. His character was assassinated by the police union and he was driven to a mental breakdown.

    The detective who was assigned to record the minute by minute record in the police command center had his desk ransacked, his record destroyed and his character assassinated until he was forced into retirement. All because he kept an accurate record of the events of the day when the police really did not want an accurate record of the events of the day.

    A year after the confrontation the union was distributing memorabilia, hats, pins and the like, with a helicopter with a satchel being dropped and the saying “Philadelphia Police bomber Squadron”. Proceeds were to go to the police officers with cases against them for the confrontation. I was in the media at the time. Police were selling the things to journalists. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the joke. When I tried to get one of the hats I got a cold shoulder from both police and journalists. Many of the journalists had covered the mass murder and razing of the city neighborhood.

    Many in the media in Philly are every bit as apathetic toward human rights and the constitution as the Philly police they cover.

  18. #18 |  Marty | 

    do narcotics squads do anything that’s not terrorizing?

  19. #19 |  Zargon | 

    “What is the police dept. doing about it?”

    Wrong question. Rather, “What are the incentives for the police dept. to do something about it, and to not do something about it”.

    The frist question will merely answer the “what”. The second will answer the “why”.

  20. #20 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    1985 MOVE! How many of you remember that? Five kids (and 6 adults) were allowed to burn to death by the Philly police.

    Nothing changed. NO TIME SERVED for any “official” of the city.

    So after such an obviously criminal act (per PSIC commission), I hope you adjust any belief of what the state is capable of. They literally burned kids alive and no one served a day in prison.

    Lather, rinse, repeat at Waco. Who’s next?

  21. #21 |  Michael | 

    I don’t think that it is as hard to tell, who the bad guys are, now. This paraphernalia thing is, way, out of hand.

    They need to go empty out all of the stores that have soda cans! Since they are going to cut back on the plastic, I would guess there will be a lot more cans! Any self respecting druggie knows, many, commonly used, articles, in daily life, they can use to smoke their stuff! I have seen aluminum foil, also used, in videos on you tube.

    Where do they stop abusing these “laws”? I guess if you are a white owner of a store, the same as the Nams! It points out that, obviously, no one is safe from these jack booted thugs! Well, at least I am, a little, safer than the Nams. I am of the “correct” skin color!

  22. #22 |  Pat | 

    “Rogue Philly Narcotics Squad” “Rogue” is a misnomer.

  23. #23 |  Aresen | 

    @ Pat # 21

    Actually, I think it’s redundant.

  24. #24 |  Pat | 

    #19 | Boyd:

    I covered that for the Philly Daily News. the officers who tried to do the right things that day were later driven out of the department and in at least one case out of his mind. The guy who saved the two people was one of an elite tactical squad and it literally broke him to get the reactions he got from fellow officers, who treated him worse than shit for his life saving actions.

    The MOVE confrontation was a pre-meditated mass murder by the police department. Many of the young line officers that day are senior commanders today.

  25. #25 |  Pat | 

    #22 | Aresen:

    LOL!

    I stand corrected.

  26. #26 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Who is Jim Bell?

  27. #27 |  j.d. | 

    first, I live downtown philly, and i think the same thing happened to Latimer Deli (owned by some nice Chinese people) on 15th.

    Second, I know some people are pointing out that the whole squad should not be blamed for the transgressions of a few. I agree.

    But I agree to a point.

    There comes a time when the own officers, in their own self-interest, must police their own men. If one continues to accept the ‘few bad apples’ theory, then forever there will be bad apples and the people will merely accept that those with police powers will occasionally commit flagrant abuses. But this should not be an acceptable conclusion — at what point in time should the people demand such self-policing? After more of this happens? Perhaps never because there is an acceptable risk of unruly police behavior? If there is anything that I have learned from reading this blog over the past few years, it is that excusing bad apples in a department with less than stellar employees always brings about more bad behavior. At some point, I think, we should demand a bit more ‘professionalism’.

  28. #28 |  nathan | 

    “Back home, police get away with everything, including murder,” Burgos said.

    “They fear something similar could happen to them here.”

    This is the part that made me saddest. They came here hoping to escape this shit.

    They stole more than cash, they robbed these people of hope.

  29. #29 |  claude | 

    “Rogue Philly Narcotics Squad”

    A bit “redundant”.

  30. #30 |  David | 

    Ugh. When I lived in Philadelphia, the store I went to most was a corner grocery owned by an incredibly nice older Vietnamese couple. I hope they weren’t among this son-of-a-bitch’s victims.

  31. #31 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I didn’t read the story all the way through, but destroying a video camera should be obstruction of justice punishable with a long jail sentence (especially when the perp is a cop). I also believe that should be the case when cops try to confiscate personal cameras, force people to delete the pictures, or intimidate people into not filming them.

  32. #32 |  claude | 

    I just read this story over at policeone.com. Only one comment so far over there, but its a doozy.

    http://www.policeone.com/legal/articles/1798823-Shopkeepers-claim-plainclothes-cops-looted-stores/

  33. #33 |  Matt | 

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur – what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!”

    — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

  34. #34 |  Kayak2U Blog » Blog Archive » Criminal gangs roaming south Philadelphia | 

    [...] Radley Balko has the story of "rogue" police squads terrorizing immigrant shop keepers.  [...]

  35. #35 |  Pat | 

    #33 | Matt:

    Philly police are better armed and more aggressive than the KGB ever was. Plus they get to hide behind the constitution that was originally created to protect us from excessive police.

    As Philadelphia Police Commissioner at the time of the MOVE confrontation, Gregore Sambor, shouted over the bull horn prior to unleashing 10,000 rounds into the row home on Osage Ave.,

    “MOVE, this is America, come out with your hands up”.

    I repeat for emphasis, “… this is America, come out with your hands up”.

    Sage advise to all Americans confronted by their peace officer forces.

  36. #36 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    #27 JD makes the brilliant point of the day. Until ALL police feel the ramifications of the “bad apples”, there won’t be change.

    ALL police are guilty of allowing bad police to exist. We cannot allow them off the hook. We also need to throw badge-licking journalists and vote-whoring politicians into the pain-party as well.

  37. #37 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    #33 Matt,
    Reading your quote I am reminded of advice I gave a lefty friend last week. I told him to learn current definitions for “state of emergency”, “martial law”, and “relocation camps” just in case (by this I mean highly likely) we start using them here in USA in the next few years (for the good of the chillren).

  38. #38 |  ChrisD | 

    When sending my kid to day care, I wanted tiny little disposable bags to send his food in, but could not find any. Even after specifically asking at Target for “crack size” bags, they did not appear to know what I was talking about (this was in the burbs). It’s annoying/wasteful I have to send a single cookie in a bag only marginally smaller than one for sandwiches.

  39. #39 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Cynical,

    I don’t know.

  40. #40 |  Marty | 

    Jim Bell is a man with a solution for govt abuse! he’s sitting in prison right now for his trouble, I believe…

    give an MIT engineer an anarcho-capitalistic-militant attitude and you get the jim bell assassination system. I can’t confirm if it’s ever been successfully used.

  41. #41 |  supercat | 

    Sounds like those LEOs like to play cops and robbers. And lucky them–they don’t have to pick sides: they can be cops AND robbers.

  42. #42 |  Eric Hart | 

    Philadelphia is a special kind of crazy. I lived there for a year, and the kind of corruption and thuggery that exists in all areas of life there are unmatched with any other city I’ve lived in.

  43. #43 |  Mario | 

    “Until ALL police feel the ramifications of the ‘bad apples’, there won’t be change.” (#36 – Boyd Durkin)

    This is a good point. My understanding is that in army boot camp, if one solider screws up (makes his bed incorrectly, or fails to clean his gun properly), his fellow soldiers are also punished. I don’t know if I have this right or not, but if it’s true, maybe it’s time to expand this kind of discipline to police — at least to departments, or at the very least precincts, where violations have been confirmed. Punish all of the cops — they’ll soon police each other.

    This is the one bit of militarization of our police that I could get behind.

  44. #44 |  Aresen | 

    Marlo:

    I think that would create an even stronger incentive to remain part of the Blue Wall of Silence.

    The cops would blame the one who brought the matter to light, not the one who did the wrong.

    Historically, whistleblowers are seen as traitors.

  45. #45 |  Pat | 

    #44 | Aresen:

    That is dead on target. Its exactly what would happen.

    The only solution is for people to hold prosecutors accountable to prosecute police as aggressively as they do everyone else. But most prosecutors are too close to their local departments and fear a backlash that would hinder prosecutions if they try to hold police accountable. One local prosecutor in my area will simply not handle police wrongdoing cases. He hands them all to the state attorney general who has to work from a physical distance and without any inside the department help or resources. Prosecutions, on the rare occasion that they happen, are always watered down and almost beyond statue of limitations requirements.

    The one thing that I have seen really scare police out of their fecklessness are civilian review boards. Cops piss themselves at the mention of installing one in a community. Just the mention is often enough to stop any really egregious abusers. Internal peer pressures from other cops, who don’t want their own crap to get in front of unpredictable civilians, is a powerful motivator.

  46. #46 |  Windy | 

    Philly isn’t the only city with problem cops:
    Cop walks as child wronged
    http://neighbors.denverpost.com/viewtopic.php?p=721210&postvote=up&no_increase_views=1&postvoteorder=1#p721210

  47. #47 |  lori | 

    these cops were caught by a back up camera doing their crimes. yet no one has been prosecuted. lynn abraham didn’t believe in arresting and prosecuting cops. juries here don’t and from d.a. seth williams recent
    track record they won’t be.

  48. #48 |  To Serve and Protect (Themselves) « scattershot | 

    [...] Mayor Nutter, you do employ criminals, and plenty of them. Posted by Joe Filed in police Tags: budget cuts, Michael Nutter, [...]

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