Lawsuits accuse police of staging raids

By Associated Press
September 12, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA - City police officers working for an elite antidrug unit regularly robbed and harassed bodega owners during sham raids, civil rights lawyers assert 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’s lawyers did not immediately return messages left by yesterday.

Police supervisors missed 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 unreliable 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.