New cop misconduct alleged: 4th drug officer off street; women cite groping
HER BACK PRESSED against the wall, Dagma Rodriguez stood in a dark bedroom as Officer Thomas Tolstoy moved closer. She trembled in fear.
HER BACK PRESSED against the wall, Dagma Rodriguez stood in a dark bedroom as Officer Thomas Tolstoy moved closer. She trembled in fear.
It was just after 5 p.m. on April 3, 2008, during a drug raid on the West Kensington rowhouse where she lived. Tolstoy had ordered her into the room, telling her that he needed to talk, she said.
"He started rubbing my breasts, rubbing my nipples," said Rodriguez, a 33-year-old mother of three. "I was so scared. My legs wouldn't stop shaking."
Rodriguez said she grabbed Tolstoy's wrists to try to make him stop. He didn't, she said.
" 'You've got some big t--s. I love these t--s. I bet you've got big bras. What size are you?' " she said he asked. " 'Can I see them? Let me see them.' "
"I said, 'No! No!' I was so nervous, I started crying. He told me to shut the f--- up . . . . He kept rubbing me and I started crying more."
Rodriguez is one of at least three women, including Lady Gonzalez, of Kensington, who say they were fondled and groped by an officer. Rodriguez and Gonzalez later identified the officer as Tolstoy. Police sources say that Tolstoy is also the focus of an investigation into the third woman's complaint.
Rodriguez and Gonzalez have lodged separate complaints with the Police Internal Affairs Bureau.
On May 20, Tolstoy became the fourth officer to be taken off the street in connection with an expanding FBI and Internal Affairs investigation into allegations of police misconduct.
That alleged misconduct was first reported by the Daily News in February with complaints about Narcotics Field Unit Officer Jeffrey Cujdik, Tolstoy's fellow squad member. One of Cujdik's informants told the Daily News that Cujdik sometimes lied on search-warrant applications to get into suspected drug homes.
The scandal expanded in March after the Daily News reported that Cujdik, Tolstoy and other officers disabled surveillance cameras during raids of mom-and-pop stores that sold tiny ziplock bags, which police consider drug paraphernalia. After the officers cut or yanked the wires, thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise went missing, the merchants said.
Now the probe has widened further to include allegations that Tolstoy, 35, abused women during drug raids. The women came forward independently of one another and don't know each other.
Tolstoy has been placed on desk duty, taking reports of minor crimes over the phone, said Internal Affairs Chief Inspector Anthony DiLacqua.
Tolstoy had to relinquish his police-issued weapon "due to an Internal Affairs investigation," said DiLacqua, who declined to elaborate.
Asked whether Tolstoy is under increased supervision, DiLacqua replied, "In a sense, yes. He's not in the field. His supervisor could be sitting two or three desks down.
"Until we investigate further, we don't want him taking police action," DiLacqua said. "We don't want to expose the city to other accusations or to any liability or risk."Tolstoy, a 10-year veteran of the force who has received at least four commendations for his work, did not return phone calls from the Daily News.
Jeffrey Cujdik's attorney, George Bochetto, has said that his client has done nothing wrong and that the accusations against him are lies.
No officer has been charged with a crime.
Two women speak out
Rodriguez and Gonzalez, neither of whom has a criminal record, told remarkably similar stories in separate interviews with the Daily News.
In both cases, Tolstoy asked the women whether they had any tattoos before he allegedly touched their breasts. No drugs or weapons were found on them.
Initially, neither woman was able to positively identify her alleged assailant.
Internal Affairs investigators had shown them a series of about 80 photographs of officers, some clearly dating back years, the women said.
The sheer number and outdated images made it impossible for them to identify Tolstoy, the women said.
"I felt like they were hiding him," Rodriguez said.
Gonzalez's attorney, Jeremy Ibrahim, a former city prosecutor, said that the typical number of images used in a photo array is seven.
"To show 80 photos that are outdated is not a legitimate investigative technique," said Ibrahim, who accompanied Gonzalez to Internal Affairs. "It's clearly unfair to the victim.
"The process almost seemed as though it was designed to help conceal the identity of the assailant," he said, "rather than provide the victim a fair opportunity to identify her assailant."
DiLacqua would not comment about the number of photos shown to the women, but said investigators "want to get an ID."
Each woman quickly identified Tolstoy when a video of a grocery-store raid was shown to them. They viewed the video separately and without suggestive prompting by reporters.
In the video, first posted on the Daily News Web site, philly.com, on March 30, Tolstoy is among six officers seen and heard in a September 2007 raid of a West Oak Lane grocery store.
"That's him," Rodriguez said, as she covered her mouth and sobbed the instant she saw Tolstoy on the screen.
"I'm 150 percent sure," she said. "I'll never forget that face. Never. I don't erase people's faces. Especially not that one."
Gonzalez, when she saw the video, was just as certain.
"Oh, my God, that's him," she cried, as soon as she saw Tolstoy on the video. "My heart is racing right now. Just to see him come through that door [on the video] like that makes me shake all over. It brings back a lot of bad memories."
Gonzalez recognized Tolstoy by voice alone. "That's him talking right now. I know it. It still disgusts me."
She said that after seeing the video she told the Special Victims Unit and Internal Affairs investigators that she had identified Tolstoy.
Yet, Gonzalez said that she still worries that Tolstoy will return to her house, because he had taken her keys during the raid and threatened that he would come back. Gonzalez had her locks changed.
"He told me he's coming back," Gonzalez said. "I worry about that every day. People worry about criminals out there doing stuff. People shouldn't have to worry about cops. He doesn't deserve to wear the police badge. If he did it to me, he'll strike again."
Both women told attorneys, friends and neighbors what happened to them, long before they spoke to the Daily News.
Rodriguez, alone in that dark bedroom with an officer forcing himself on her, emerged shaken and sobbing.
Angel Castro, who lived next door to Rodriguez, said he saw Rodriguez crying on the porch after the officers left.
"She looked so lost and sad," Castro said. "I asked her if she was OK. She told me, 'No.' . . . She told me an officer touched her breasts. He was feeling up on her, rubbed up on her.
"It was the look on her face," he said. "It was like she was reliving it all over again."
Rodriguez said that when the cops burst through the door in the early evening of April 3, 2008, her fiance, Armando Souverain, was cooking chicken on the stove.
" 'What are you doing - killing cats?' " one of the officers asked her, Rodriguez said.
The officers took everyone in the house - her three children, four nephews and Souverain - outside, except for her.
Rodriguez said that Tolstoy turned to her and said, " 'Let's go upstairs and talk.' "
That's when he told her to stand against the wall as he fondled her breasts, she said.
" 'Don't cry. Shut up. Be quiet,' he kept telling me," she said.
Another officer, apparently hearing her sobs, walked upstairs. " 'Is everything all right?' " he asked, according to Rodriguez.
Tolstoy then removed his hands from her breasts, she said.
Rodriguez fell to the floor, gasping for breath. "I think he would have raped me if no one had come in," she said.
"I couldn't breathe. I got heart problems. I told him I needed my heart pills.
"He turned to me and said, 'Take your s--- pills.' "
Rodriguez said that she has not been the same person since that day.
"I feel disgusted, so sick. He made me feel like a pig. I keep asking why this happened to me."
Rodriguez, Souverain and her children moved shortly after the raid. The West Kensington house is now abandoned and boarded up.
During the raid, Souverain was arrested on drug charges. Police said that they found a little more than 3 ounces of marijuana in the house and a firearm, which Souverain and Rodriguez describe as a hunting rifle. The case is pending.
Souverain said that while he was locked up after the raid, Rodriguez told him what Tolstoy had allegedly done to her.
"I went off," Souverain said. "I was in jail and there was nothing I could do but punch the walls. All I could think of was that he could go back and do something more.
"Anytime she sees a cop or hears a siren, she gets nervous," he said. "When the kids get close to her chest, she doesn't like it. She doesn't want to be touched by me.
"She's just not the same."
Neither is Lady Gonzalez.
A raid in Kensington
Gonzalez was at home with her five young children on Dec. 14, 2007, when Tolstoy, Cujdik and seven other narcotics cops stormed her Kensington house.
The raid was prompted by a drug buy at the house three days earlier, according to a search-warrant application. The document said that a police informant had bought a packet of cocaine from Gonzalez's husband, Albert Nunez, on the front porch, while Officer Robert McDonnell watched.
But the informant, Ventura Martinez, told the Daily News that the search warrant was based on a lie: He never bought drugs from Nunez. Nor was he with McDonnell that day, Martinez said.
McDonnell is one of the four officers, including Cujdik and Cujdik's brother Richard, who have been placed on desk duty as a result of the joint FBI and Internal Affairs probe.
During the raid, one cop took Gonzalez's kids, crying and screaming, to a neighbor's house.
Gonzalez said she heard cops stomping around upstairs when another officer, who identified himself to her as "Tom," led her into a small room off the kitchen.
"He tells me to get my back against the wall. He asks me if I had any tattoos," she said.
She showed him the small ladybug on her wrist. He asked her if she had one on her lower back, she said.
She told him that she did. He asked to see it, she said.
"I then lifted up my shirt a little bit so he could see the tattoo of the Puerto Rican flag," she said.
He then pushed her jeans down to reveal "the crack of my ass," she said. " 'Mmmm, a Puerto Rican,' " he said, according to Gonzalez.
He spun her around, unzipped her blue jacket and lifted up her shirt and bra, she said.
"He totally just touched my breasts," she said. "I was scared. I was in a panic. I didn't know what to do. I thought he was going to rape me."
When the officers were heard coming down the steps, Tolstoy took his hands off her and told her to go to the kitchen, she said.
Nunez, Gonzalez's husband, admits that he had a small amount of marijuana, which police found in a kitchen cabinet. He insists that he never had nor sold cocaine.
The officers ransacked the house for more than three hours, Gonzalez said. They didn't find anything more than her husband's dime bag of weed, until Jeffrey Cujdik decided to check the back room off the kitchen one last time, Gonzalez said.
He emerged with a teddy bear that he said contained a small pouch that held 47 packets of cocaine.
Nunez, a truck driver, is accused of drug-dealing. His case is pending.
Gonzalez has filed a civil lawsuit against the nine officers who participated in the raid. The suit, filed in federal court, seeks more than $600,000 in damages and attorneys' fees.
The city has filed a motion to put the case on hold. "Due to the possibility of criminal charges being filed, the individual defendant officers cannot be compelled to testify at a deposition due to possible Fifth Amendment concerns," Assistant City Solicitor Armando Brigandi wrote in a May 4 filing.
Gonzalez said she was outraged that superiors didn't immediately remove Tolstoy from the street after she told Internal Affairs investigators that he had molested her.
Cop had been investigated
Internal Affairs has investigated Tolstoy before.
He was taken off the street from Oct. 16, 2008, until Jan. 12, 2009, DiLacqua said.
Tolstoy was restricted to desk duty at narcotics headquarters, but was permitted to keep his police-issued weapon.
Tolstoy was put back on the street "because the direction of the investigation led us to believe it was OK at the time," DiLacqua said.
DiLacqua declined to say what had prompted the October 2008 removal of Tolstoy, but sources familiar with the case say it happened after a woman complained of sexual misconduct.
The Daily News was unable to find the woman who sparked the Internal Affairs investigation. But Daily News reporters knocked on doors or made calls to roughly 100 homes raided by Tolstoy and fellow squad members in 2007 and 2008, and found at least 12 women who said the officers degraded and demeaned them.
Denise Thompson, 48, of West Philadelphia, said an officer, whom she described as white and stocky with brown hair, took her alone to an upstairs bedroom when a house on Redfield Street was raided last August.
"He asked me what my chest size was," said Thompson, who was wearing a white low-cut dress at the time of the raid. "I said, 'What has that got to do with anything?' "
"I thought it was sexual harassment," she said.
In a June 2008 raid of a Northeast Philly home, a female occupant said that four male officers barreled into her bedroom, even though her husband had told them she was upstairs asleep, naked.
The woman, then 30, did not want her name made public because she was embarrassed and afraid. She said she gripped the bed covers to her chest when one of the officers, whom she described as white, with a big belly, scruffy brown hair and a small goatee, forcibly yanked them from her.
"I kept telling him, 'I'm not dressed. I'm not dressed,' " said the woman. "But he was adamant about getting the covers off. The way he ripped my covers off, it was like vicious. I thought something was going to happen."
She reached for her clothes and turned to dress with her back to the cops, but the officer who pulled the covers ordered her to turn around. She stood naked before them. She was so scared that she put her clothes on inside out, she said.
The officers sent the woman downstairs, where she said she heard them chuckling in her bedroom. After they left, she found her personal items, including what she called "sex toys," strewn around the room. An item of her lingerie - a black leather teddy - had been taken from a drawer and laid out on top of her dresser, she said.
"It was creepy," she said. "They didn't physically touch me, but I felt violated."
She said that she never complained to Internal Affairs because she feared retaliation.
Police arrested her 35-year-old husband for allegedly selling a small amount of prescription pills. The case is pending. The woman was not charged. The couple has no prior criminal record.
"I'll never get that day out of my head," the woman said. "Ever since this happened, I don't sleep. I'm not comfortable in my house . . . I felt like all my dignity had been stripped from me."