THE DISTRICT Attorney's Office has decided to review the cases of two women who say that narcotics officer Thomas Tolstoy fondled and groped them during drug raids.
"It makes sense for us to do this now given the criticism we've received for something we never looked at before," First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann said last night.
After investigating for five years, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined several months ago to file charges against a squad in the Narcotics Field Unit tied to multiple allegations of theft and misconduct.
Yesterday, when the Daily News reported that no criminal charges would be filed, many Philadelphia residents expressed outrage.
The officers were the subject of the Daily News' 2009 series "Tainted Justice" that won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
The series began when a longtime drug informant accused Officer Jeffrey Cujdik of lying on search-warrant applications to gain access to suspected drug homes. Disturbed by the allegations, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, in February 2009, asked the FBI's corruption task force to investigate.
The probe expanded when the Daily News uncovered allegations that the squad took cash and merchandise from corner stores and bodegas. The Daily News found 22 merchants who independently said the officers cut wires to their video-surveillance systems and, after the cameras went dark, looted the stores.
The cops charged merchants with selling little Ziploc bags that police say are used to package drugs. None of the merchants, mostly immigrants from all four corners of the city, had criminal records.
One bodega owner, Jose Duran, had a backup video that shows officers slicing wires to his surveillance system before they allegedly stole nearly $10,000 in cash and cartons of cigarettes from his West Oak Lane store.
Ramsey has said that he couldn't think of any official reason for police officers to cut camera wires.
One officer, Cujdik's brother, Richard, is seen in the video searching Duran's white van. The search warrant for the store makes no mention of a van.
A couple of months after the Daily News posted Duran's video on philly.com, the newspaper reported allegations about Tolstoy, with one woman saying that he had digitally penetrated her vagina. The woman immediately walked to the hospital, where a rape kit was ordered. She didn't know the name of the officer, but Internal Affairs took Tolstoy off the street that night.
The woman, whom the Daily News calls Naomi, said she had received so many threatening phone calls - warning her not to talk - that she repeatedly changed her phone number. She told the Daily News she was too scared to press criminal charges.
Ramsey said yesterday that a federal grand jury did hear this case, but decided not to prosecute.
Dagma Rodriguez and Lady Gonzalez, who independently told the Daily News that Tolstoy lifted their shirts and fondled their breasts in two separate raids, have not been interviewed by federal or local prosectors.
Police Internal Affairs did not send their files to the D.A.'s office, Ramsey said yesterday.
"They couldn't find enough to send," Ramsey said.
McCann said yesterday that he will ask for the files. "We will review their allegations. They should be looked at," he said.
When a Daily News reporter told Gonzalez that the D.A's office will examine her case, she said, "Are you serious? I'm speechless. This is such wonderful news. I'm ready for closure. I'm so glad they will hear our voices."
Rodriguez was equally thrilled.
"It's time for justice," she said. "It's time for them to do something about this."
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, has steadfastly maintained that the officers are innocent.
Reached last night, McNesby said that he has no problem with the D.A.'s office reviewing the case.
"It's not going to change anything. There's nothing credible here. These officers will be cleared again," he said. "As long as they go back to work, we don't care. If it doesn't take another five years, I'm OK."
After the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute, Ramsey had Internal Affairs send the case over to the D.A.'s office for review.
Federal investigators identified credibility issues involving some of the confidential informants as witnesses, McCann said.
"In redoing the investigation, we didn't think we would come up with a different outcome," he said.
McCann said he was less familiar with the investigation into the raids of corner stores and bodegas. By the time his office received the case, it was five years old and many merchants had "moved on," he said.
The FBI interviewed Duran and other merchants shortly after the Daily News reports but did not follow up. None of them was asked to testify before a grand jury.
McCann said he wanted to delve deeper regarding the investigation into the bodega raids to determine if "it meets a need for further review."
Five officers, including Cujdik, his brother Richard, Robert McDonnell Jr. and Tolstoy, were placed on desk duty. All but one, who retired, remain there.
After both federal and local prosecutors declined to prosecute, Ramsey turned the files over to the Internal Affairs Bureau, which has "sustained several of the allegations" against some of the officers.
The officers could face disciplinary action, but Ramsey couldn't be more specific since he hasn't seen the findings.
McNesby said the FOP may attempt to recover lost overtime - money the cops would have earned had they not been placed on desk duty.