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Police loot and destroy shops, keep cash, candy and cigarettes for themselves

Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and his Philadelphia narcotics squad raided a tobacco shop for selling small zip-lock bags considered to be “drug paraphernalia.” Ignoring the ridiculousness in criminalizing and prosecuting the sale of small zip-lock bags, the cops took it a step further  and committed more absurdities.

Cujdik and his team, drew their guns and destroyed the two surveillance cameras in the store. They handcuffed the Korean store owners, Mr. and Mrs. Nam. They then proceeded to ransack the store and take cash from the registers. When Mr. and Mrs. Nam returned to their store, they also found a case of lighter fluid and many Zippo lighters had been taken. The police claimed they had seized $2,573 in the raid while the Nams say they had roughly $4,000 in the store.

When the Nams’ son came to the store later, he found chocolate-bar wrappers on the floor. He said that the cops took Snickers and drank sodas during the raid.

The Philadelphia Daily News interviewed 7 other store owners who told similar stories. The officers destroyed surveillance cameras each time, took cigarette cartons, cell phones and candy. The officers failed to document $8,200 in confiscations in one case, and $7,000 in yet another case.

One store owner, Luciano Estevez said he had about $9,000 in the store, but the police seized it and documented it as $800 (read full story here).

One store owner did manage to retain a tape depicting an officer clipping wires of a surveillance camera. The cops returned and demanded the video at gun point and slapped the store owner across the face.

In all 8 cases investigated by the Daily News, Cudjik applied for the search warrant and was a major player in the busts.

A former informant named Tiffany Gorham reported that when Officer Cujdik raided a store, he’d give her cigarettes. At least 3 informants who worked with Cujdik have confirmed that they too received cigarettes from Cujdik.

It appears that foreign store owners are easy targets because they struggle more with communication and are less likely to file complaints. These store owners had to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in bail and legal fees after their arrests for selling plastic zip-lock bags. They lost thousands more because their stores were forced to be shut down at least temporarily.

When do the “few bad apples” excuses stop? This was not merely one officer, it was an entire squad of officers who clearly conspired and worked together to carry out missions where they essentially looted, assaulted, and stole because store owners were selling the wrong size of plastic bags.

The problem with the “few bad apples” argument is that not only are there more than just a few bad apples, the good ones don’t really seem to mind the behavior of the bad ones. Those who do not behave reprehensibly nevertheless cover for their comrades, and try to pacify the public with internal “investigations,” many of which lead to paid suspension (i.e. a vacation).

In this case, the entire squad decided this was perfectly acceptable. And apparently their supervisors did not have much of a problem with it, as these weren’t exactly covert operations.  It was practically police policy, and would have continued to happen but for media intervention, and ultimately, federal intervention.

As sad as the story is for some of these store owners, the reality is that the militarization of America’s police forces results not just in gang-like looting and theft, but often results in unjustified death and death of innocent people. A raid map from the Cato Institute depicts these details.

So is this what it has come to? The public is at the utter mercy of the police, unless we are lucky enough to get a major newspaper to notice us, and beg the FBI to intervene. Sounds like accountability at its worst.

While some foolishly contend that if people just stopped breaking the law, and stopped smoking weed or selling small plastic bags, they wouldn’t get robbed or shot, it seems that the opposite reasoning makes more sense: if the police stopped frequently, intensely, and violently raiding stores and homes for non-violent offenses, they would drastically reduce the number of innocent deaths and needless thefts.

Of course, that is assuming they want to reduce the number of innocent deaths and needless thefts. This is a debatable idea, since these cops clearly benefited greatly in cash, candy, sodas and cigarettes from their needless thefts.

Police can only raid so many houses before it is no longer the case that innocent deaths were an “accident” or “unintended consequence” on the job. When police are regularly conducting these violent raids, it becomes almost certain that once in a while someone will get the address, location or identity wrong and an innocent person will suffer or will die. This ceases to be an accident or unintended consequence, and instead is a foreseeable, and even intentional byproduct of enforcing oppressive laws.

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Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.