Recently, there have been a spate of charges against officers in New York and other cities captured on video cameras in incriminating acts. Philadelphia police appear to have different approach: they first methodically disable cameras before allegedly committing criminal acts. In one video at the heart of the current scandal, Officers Jeffrey Cujdik and Thomas Tolstoy allegedly enter a bodega with other narcotics members and immediately disable the security cameras by cutting wires before removing cash and pigging out on free food. In the September 2007 video, Tolstoy looks at each of the camera and tells the team: “I got like seven or eight eyes. There’s one outside. There is one, two, three, four in the aisles, and there’s one right here somewhere.”Unfortunately for them, there was a back-up system.
The scene is described in the article below:
Then Sgt. Bologna looks up and waves his finger toward the ceiling: “Whaddya got, cameras over there? . . . Where are they hooked up to?”
In fact, every officer seems fixated on the surveillance system.
“Where’s the video cameras? The cassette for it?” Richard Cujdik asks.
“Does it record?” Jeffrey Cujdik quickly adds.
Officer Kuhn then steps up on a milk crate that he had placed underneath a ceiling camera and struggles to reach it. “I need to be f—ing taller,” Kuhn mumbles as another officer laughs.
“You got a ladder in here, Cuz?” Kuhn asks Duran.
“Yo,” Tolstoy calls out from behind the register. “Does this camera go home? Can you view this on your computer, too?”
“I can see [at], yeah, home, yeah,” Duran replies.
“So your wife knows we’re here, then?” Tolstoy asks.
“My wife? No. She not looking the computer right now,” Duran says.
“Hey, Sarge . . . Come ‘ere,” Tolstoy shouts out.
Bologna ambles over to the front counter.
Jeffrey Cujdik leans in and whispers, “There’s one in the back corner right there.”
“It can be viewed at home,” Tolstoy says.
As the others talk, Officer Parrotti reaches up to another camera in front of the register. He pulls the wire down and slices it with a bread knife taken from the store’s deli.
“OK. We’ll disconnect it,” Bologna assures Tolstoy. “That’s cool.”
Meanwhile, Parrotti’s hand covers the camera lens and he appears to yank the camera from the ceiling.
The screen goes black.
“They could watch what’s happening at the store at your house?” Bologna asks.
The audio cuts out.
After locating Tolstoy’s “eyes,” the Nacotics Field Unit Officers cut every wire. They then arrested the owner for misdemeanors and take nearly $10,000 in cash. Also missing are cartons of Marlboros and Newports. the officers also allegedly drank free sodas and wolfed down fresh turkey hoagies, Little Debbie fudge brownies and Cheez-Its.
What is also equally disturbing is the pretext of the raid. In Philadelphia, police may raid businesses that sell small zip lock bags as drug paraphernalia. Under state law, it’s illegal to sell containers if the store owner “knows or should reasonably know” that the buyer intends to use them to package drugs. It strikes me as a facially absurd law that is ripe for abuse.
The video reinforces the accounts of other businesses complaining about some of the same officers coming in to their businesses and cutting the surveillance systems before looting cash, products and food. At least eight other stores reported the same tactics by Cujdik and others.
All of the raids were made under the pretext of this baggie law and the owners complained that thousands of dollars were taken but that only a fraction was recorded at the station.
Cujdik is already under investigation for allegedly lying on search warrants to gain access to suspected drug homes. His brother — Officer Richard Cujdik — is also involved in some of these allegations.
Notably, in the raid, the Cujdik brothers, Tolstoy, Thomas JKuhn, Anthony Parrotti and squad supervisor Sgt. Joseph Bologna entered despite that fact that no ziplock bags were sold during the period of their surveillance. They also search the owners van despite not having a warrant for the van.
During the raid, Jeffrey Cujdik told Duran that he was seizing the cameras and computer monitor “as evidence because you’re selling drug paraphernalia. So we gotta get rid of it. . . . You got yourself on video selling drug paraphernalia.” A ridiculous and transparent suggestion.
Despite this ridiculous law and these equally ridiculous assertions, Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon in February 2008 sentenced the owner Jose Duran to nine months’ probation after he pleading “no contest” to the charges. He lost his business.
For the full story, click here.