Update on Bodega Raids by Rogue Philly Narcotics Unit

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Previously (here and here), I blogged about a rogue narcotics unit in Philadelphia that was raiding bodegas on the flimsy excuse that the stores were selling resealable zip-lock bags that could potentially be used by drug dealers. Bodega owners say the cops were cutting the lines to surveillance cameras, then stealing cash, alcohol, cigarettes, and snack food from the stores. The Philadelphia Daily News was able to obtain footage of the cops cutting off one of the cameras during a raid, then inquiring to the store owner about whether the camera feeds went to a computer that was on or off-site.

The lingering question, here, is how this unit was able to operate like this for so long without any oversight. Why wasn’t anyone questioning the use of such aggressive tactics in searches not for drugs, but for no more than an otherwise legal product? Why did no one in the department ask why an “elite” narcotics unit was wasting its time busting immigrant shop owners with no criminal record for selling bags instead of pursuing actual drug distributors?

It’s one thing to have a few rogue cops that, once caught, are fired and—hopefully—criminally charged. It’s a more wide-ranging and serious problem if there are institutional failures in the Philadelphia police department that allowed Officer Jeffrey Cujdic’s scam of terrorizing immigrant shop owners to flourish.

Now, the Daily News has published the results of its review of the search warrants obtained by Cujdik’s unit over the last several years, and the results are troubling. They find a wholesale lack of supervision of Cujdik and his men, even as complaints against them mounted.

Narcotics enforcement is ripe for corruption because officers handle large amounts of cash and drugs, legal experts say.

So the Police Department has procedural safeguards: A supervisor must review and approve all applications for warrants, officers must never meet an informant without another officer present, and at least two officers should conduct drug surveillances.

Yet supervisors and officers often disregarded those rules, a Daily News review of hundreds of search warrants found.

In several cases, officers worked alone with informants and were the only ones to watch drug buys. Yet supervisors approved those search-warrant applications…

Cpl. Mark Palma, a narcotics-squad supervisor, was apparently not bothered when Officer Richard Cujdik, Jeffrey’s brother, worked alone on a three-day surveillance job in September 2007.

Palma approved a search-warrant application for Jose Duran’s West Oak Lane grocery store, based on Richard Cujdik’s assertion that he watched a confidential informant – CI #142 – enter the store to buy ziplock bags three times.

The validity of that search warrant is now in question.

For the last buy, Richard Cujdik wrote that he “observed” CI #142 enter Duran’s store at about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2007. Yet the Daily News watched the time-stamped Sept. 11 surveillance footage of the store between 4 and 5 p.m., and no one asked for or bought a ziplock bag.

Sgt. Joseph Bologna supervised the ensuing raid, part of which was captured on video. The Daily News obtained the video and posted it on its Web site, philly.com.

The video shows Bologna directing officers to “disconnect” camera wires. They do so with pliers and a bread knife. Bologna makes no effort to stop Richard Cujdik when the officer searches Duran’s van, allegedly without a warrant.

Duran alleges that officers seized nearly $10,000 in the raid but documented taking only $785.

While Cujdik has been demoted to desk duty pending the results of internal and federal investigations, Bologna has since been promoted to lieutenant.

The Daily News reports that all of this has happened less than five years after an agreement between the city and civil rights groups expired, stemming from a scandal in the 1990s in which narcotics cops went to jail for lying on search warrants, shaking down drug dealers, and making dozens of wrongful arrests. That agreement required more vigilant oversight of the city’s narcotics units by police supervisors to guard against mistaken raids, corruption, and false statements on search warrant affidavits. Not only does it appear the brass in Philly didn’t learn from that scandal, the Daily News writes that it’s unclear if Philly PD officials ever actually carried out the requirements put forth in the agreement.

Hats off to Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker for pursuing and sticking with this story, despite attacks on their character and credibility by Cujkik’s supporters in the Philly police union.

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17 Responses to “Update on Bodega Raids by Rogue Philly Narcotics Unit”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    I’d like to play that the next time the police come to a school to tell kids how they fight the bad guys.

  2. #2 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    With the impending death of city newspapers, so goes reporters like this….

  3. #3 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    *these…hard to be a grammar nazi when I can’t use wurdz right.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    The FOP story brushes over the fact that Cudjik is seen disconnecting cameras during a raid. If you have nothing to hide….

  5. #5 |  skootercat | 

    In many cases of bad conduct by police, if one looks at the supervisors and chiefs above these criminals-in-blue, it has been said those police bosses were usually as bad when they had the run of the streets as a patrolman. All of us need to do a better job with those we elect to hire and oversee the police. If Congress, statehouses and local government started losing seats due to poor oversight of the police, things might change. Same with drug war. It all changes when police misconduct, drug war, etc. is the reason why incumbents get sent home…then it will all change.

  6. #6 |  Chris K. | 

    Again tall trees and short ropes.

  7. #7 |  Marty | 

    just like drug dealers won’t stop (because of the profits), drug cops won’t stop what works for them, either.

    it sucks to be stuck in the middle of such an easy to fix mess…

  8. #8 |  Bob | 

    So…. Police Supervisors like Cpl. Mark Palma are just as corrupt and dirty as the people under them? No big shock there.

    With lack of transparency comes lack of accountability.

  9. #9 |  michaelk42 | 

    Strangely, they haven’t hit Michaels yet that I know of.

    http://www.michaels.com/art/online/displayProductPage?productNum=bd0604&channelid=

    And we’re not even back in the adhesives aisle yet.

  10. #10 |  Anthony Taurus | 

    Corruption goes to the top. It’s been allowed to fester and now this is what WE (across the US) have to deal with.

  11. #11 |  chris | 

    Sgt. Bologna? Really? Where’s the Salami?

    CIII

  12. #12 |  supercat | 

    What needs to happen, IMHO, is for enough people to start realizing that some government employees are robbers and need to be treated as such. Let it be known that any police force which wantonly refuses to reign in the totalitarian anarchists in its midst will be regarded as an anarchist organization.

  13. #13 |  JS | 

    #5 | skootercat, you’re right but at this point no politician feels any pressure to reign in the police but rather they feel pressure to “get tough on crime” and hire more police. We have to get the word out to the public about how out of control police are in this country. 90% of what Radley reports on here never make the evening news so unfortunately most of the public isn’t even aware that there is a problem. Also as you said, we must demand our elected officials reign them in and right now nobody is going to do that. What we need is for somebody to collect a lot of examples of this and be able to present in a way that even the law and order conservatives stop seeing the police as heros and protectors and start seeing the problem. Until then there is no hope.

  14. #14 |  jaydee | 

    Most of these raids took place in North Philly which contains some of the country’s largest open air heroin markets. The police do absolutely nothing about the open air markets to the detriment of neighborhoods suffering from this blight. I had to drive through Kensington yesterday and what I witnesses in 15 minutes was astounding!

  15. #15 |  Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-05-22 – Friday Lazy Linking | 

    [...] Gangsters in Blue come to Philly. Radley Balko, The Agitator (2009-05-01): Update on Bodega Raids by Rogue Philly Narcotics Unit Balko asks, apparently non-rhetorically, Why did no one in the department ask why an elite [...]

  16. #16 |  Ex-Gangster | 

    There are more then just Narcodic Officers taking money off drug dealers. There are uniform officers doing the same. I’ve seen uniform officers take new sneaker , jersy’s , cd- movies off of people trying to make a dollar the honest way. I’ve seen Officers take mercendise off street venders then tell them to get the fuck off the corner. To me that is Robbery! And the City Officals wonder why people now-a-day act the way they do towards the Police Department. People now-a-day tend to believe that when they are pulled over by any Law inforcement Officer they are going to be robbed , assaulted , set-up or racailly profiled!!!!!!!

  17. #17 |  Philly Police Union Looks To Oust Retired Cop | The Agitator | 

    [...] to strip a retired captain of his union membership, because he had sex with a 14-year-old girl illegally raided immigrant-owned bodegas across the city, then stole from and threatened their owner… illegally arrested and nearly killed a man for legally carrying a firearm beat his girlfriend and [...]

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