The owner of a West Oak Lane convenience store where a raid by a police drug squad was captured on the video-surveillance camera until police cut the wires has sued police and the City of Philadelphia in federal court.
The video of the Sept. 11, 2007, raid and search of Jose Duran's Super One Market at 7301 N. 20th St. was heavily publicized after it was posted earlier this year on the Philadelphia Daily News Web site.
The video shows members of the police Narcotics Field Unit entering the store about 7 p.m., questioning Duran about the locations of store cameras, and then beginning to search among displays.
After several minutes, the video shows an officer climbing toward a camera and grabbing the wires before the screen goes black.
Some officers have said the practice protects the identities of members of the drug unit and ensures that the video feed is not alerting others to the raid.
But the tactic was criticized by police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and prompted protests from Latino business owners who accused police of preying on small businesses for selling plastic bags often bought by drug dealers to package illegal drugs.
The Duran case is among many being investigated by a task force of FBI and police Internal Affairs officials after one drug officer's former confidential informant publicly alleged that some officers made up information to get judges to approve search warrants for people police believed were selling drugs.
Four veteran drug officers - Jeffrey Cujdik and his brother Richard, Robert McDonnell, and Thomas Tolstoy - have been put on desk duty pending the outcome of the inquiry.
The lawsuit filed in federal court by Center City civil-rights lawyer David Rudovsky contends that police destroy video equipment to "cover up illegal searches and seizures."
The lawsuit said officers "intentionally and maliciously destroyed [Duran's] property, consumed food and beverages that were the property of [Duran], stole . . . money and merchandise and deliberately caused food and other items to spoil by their illegal search practices."
Duran has said that police destroyed $15,000 worth of video equipment and stole or ruined an additional $10,000 in cash or merchandise.
Rudovsky also filed a federal suit Thursday on behalf of another bodega owner, Jose Santana, whose J.R. Mini Market at 5030 Haverford Ave. in West Philadelphia was searched by drug officers on Aug. 20, 2008.
Both Cujdiks, Tolstoy, and three other police drug officers are named as defendants in the Duran suit. Jeffrey Cujdik, McDonnell, and two others are named in the Santana lawsuit.
Both suits seek unspecified money damages.
In both cases, police were searching for drug paraphernalia - specifically, small plastic bags often bought by drug dealers to package narcotics. In both stores, police say they confiscated paraphernalia.
The lawsuit contends that Duran pleaded no contest and was entered into a first-offender program only because police had concealed evidence that would have tainted the search.
All the charges against Santana were dismissed.
None of the officers has spoken publicly about the allegations. Lawyers for Jeffrey Cujdik and officials of the Fraternal Order of Police have called the charges baseless and termed them lies by police informants and drug dealers.
Rudovsky said Duran and Santana had been interviewed by the FBI as part of the investigation. Neither has been asked to testify before a federal grand jury, he said.
About a dozen civil-rights suits have been filed against the Cujdik brothers and other drug officers involving the allegations under investigation.