The Surreal Story of the Camera Cutting Cops

When I google "Worst Person Ever," the fifth thing that comes up is State Rep. John Perzel. Rep. Perzel deserves that honor for the piss poor, underhanded, undemocratic, regressive and anti-Philadelphia way he managed the Pennsylvania State House. But for today, he gets a one day reprieve, because of these guys:

THE NARCOTICS officers knew they were being watched on video surveillance moments after they entered the bodega.

Officer Jeffrey Cujdik told store owner Jose Duran that police were in search of tiny ziplock bags often used to package drugs. But, during the September 2007 raid, Cujdik and fellow squad members seemed much more interested in finding every video camera in the West Oak Lane store.

"I got like seven or eight eyes," shouted Officer Thomas Tolstoy, referring to the cameras, as the officers glanced up. "There's one outside. There is one, two, three, four in the aisles, and there's one right here somewhere."

For the next several minutes, Tolstoy and other Narcotics Field Unit officers systematically cut wires to cameras until those "eyes" could no longer see.

Then, after the officers arrested Duran and took him to jail, nearly $10,000 in cash and cartons of Marlboros and Newports were missing from the locked, unattended store, Duran alleges. The officers guzzled sodas and scarfed down fresh turkey hoagies, Little Debbie fudge brownies and Cheez-Its, he said.

Pretty terrible. But, in the era of the magical internets, it looks like today's worst person era had a real 'oopsie' moment:

What the officers didn't count on was that Duran's high-tech video system had a hidden backup hard-drive. The backup downloaded the footage to his private Web site before the wires were cut.

This is so bad that it is bizarre. Put it this way, when you make an officer alleged to be selling crack look good by comparison, you know you are doing a bad thing.

It has been a rough year or so for the PPD. With all the tragedies they have seen, and with the goodwill that Chief Ramsey seems to have engendered, the relationship of the police to the general public seems about as close I can ever remember it. Stories like these go a long way to destroying that.

And it is a reminder that oversight, both from the media and from the government, will always, always be needed.

Maybe obvious

but bears repeating: this, like the Luzerne County juvenile court mess, is so awful because it involves an abuse of pretty-absolute power.

From the March 20 article, before the video turned out to apparently substantiate the store owners' stories:

Danilo Burgos, president of the city's Dominican Grocery Store Association of more than 300 members, said one member recently alleged that police cut video-camera wires and stole $5,000 while searching his store. The store owner told Burgos that he didn't want to report it.

"Most of these people just want to earn a decent living and go on about their business," Burgos said.

And many Dominicans often are afraid to speak up because they come from a country where police are notoriously corrupt.

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

"They fear something similar could happen to them here."

Moe Maghtha, who moved to the United States from Jordan in 1999, said his father's experience with Cujdik and the other narcotics officers has left him too scared to operate his South Philly tobacco shop.

"If he sees cops now, he freaks out," Maghtha said. "My dad never been in jail. My dad never been in trouble. Now he's like a little kid that got bit by a dog. He won't go out."

Maghtha, 23, said he had to give up his job as a satellite-dish technician to take over his dad's store. Maghtha's father, 53, recently suffered heart problems and did not want to be interviewed or allow his name or the name of his store to appear in this article.


Sirilo Ortiz said that on the evening of Nov. 1, 2007, he had emerged from the basement of Lycomings Grocery in Hunting Park to see a gun barrel pointed at his face.

After Cujdik and his squad members burst into the store, they cut the wires to the surveillance camera with wire cutters, he said, then looted the store.

Ortiz, 39, who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 1996, had owned the store just five days.

One cop took a Black & Mild, a slender cigar, from the shelf and started to smoke, said Ortiz, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.

The officers took three brown boxes from his kitchen and loaded them with food, he said.

"It was like they was shopping," said Maria Espinal, who was working in the kitchen and saw the cops take boxes stuffed with packaged goods.

The cops put a gun to Espinal's head, too, she said, before identifying themselves as police. "I thought I was going to die," she said.

Ortiz said he had about $500 in his pocket and $700 in the cash register. But the police recorded taking a total of only $918 on property receipts.

Ortiz said he took a plea deal and served six months' probation and 25 hours of community service for selling the tiny plastic bags.

He was so depressed and anxious, he lost 25 pounds and could no longer work in the store, he said.

"I couldn't take it no more," said Ortiz. "Every time someone opened the door, I thought something bad would happen."

He gave the store to his brother and now drives a cab.

"Cops are supposed to take care of people and do the right thing," Ortiz said. "I don't trust them anymore. You're supposed to trust the police, but they're the ones you can't trust.

"They weren't supposed to be the ones."

When you end up driving a cab because that feels relatively safe, things are pretty bad.

I am clearly at the wrong firm

No risk of layoffs at Bochetto & Lentz with how busy they are keeping.


this just shows, again, the utter bankruptcy of the war on drugs.

great snark sean

when I lived in RI, a unit of crack cocaine was referred to as a "foil" because that's what it was wrapped in.

so we need to ban aluminum foil too.
oh and tape cassette cases, because sometimes hippies hide their weed there.

"And it is a reminder that

"And it is a reminder that oversight, both from the media and from the government, will always, always be needed." (quoted from Dan U-A above)

Now if we can have the same (e.g., media and government oversight) for attorneys in the Commonwealth, this would certainly be a step forward for a more accountable and ethical system of government for all Pennsylvanians.

Good idea for GM, Sean

Putting the name Honda on their cars might really boost sales for GM.

But I guess you are not the first one to think of it. Chrysler is going to put the name Fiat on their cars, soon.

What does this even mean?

John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, yesterday excused the actions of the narcotics squads, saying they were permitted to disable cameras to protect their own security. He said the searches did not violate any rules.

Well, McNesby will be happy to hear

that if the Constitution does protect that stuff, it probably won't for much longer. Not enough hippies on the Supreme Court, sadly.

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