Philly narcotics cops once the subject of corruption probe face federal civil complaint

Jon Campisi Nov. 29, 2014, 6:00pm


A Philadelphia couple has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the City of Philadelphia and four city police officers, alleging that a search of their home, and their subsequent eviction four years ago, was unwarranted.

Chadds Ford, Pa. attorney Jeremy H.G. Ibrahim filed the civil action Oct. 18 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Aaron Artz, Ella Artz, and their minor child, identified as A.A. Jr.

The defendants in the suit are the City of Philadelphia, and police officers Robert McDonnell, Jr., Jeffrey Cujdik, Thomas Tolstoy and Mark Palma.

According to the lawsuit, defendant Cujdik was allegedly contacted by a confidential information in February 2007, who told the officer that prescription pills were illegally being sold out of the East Ann Street home of Aaron and Ella Artz.

On Feb. 6, the defendants swore in an affidavit that the informant had made a “controlled purchase” of pills from Aaron Artz. The scenario was stated again on two separate occasions during that month.

The defendant officers subsequently applied for search warrants to search the home in question, and, on Feb. 21, 2007, the officers descended upon the home, the lawsuit states.

The complaint claims that the plaintiffs were evicted from their home as a result of the search, although it is not specified what exactly was found in the home as a result of the search.

In addition to the eviction, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office also forfeited a 2001 Chevrolet truck that was at the property.

During the search, the suit states, all three plaintiffs were detained in the living room and ordered to remain there.

The officers repeatedly yelled at the plaintiffs to be quiet and sit down, and they purportedly used profanities while barking the instructions, the suit claims.

Plaintiff Aaron Artz was released from prison on Oct. 27, 2010, after having served 468 days in pretrial custody, the suit states. It wasn’t until January 14 of this year that the plaintiffs, for the first time, were able to obtain the police reports that specified the alleged basis for probable cause stated in the search warrant that was used by the defendants to enter the home during the search and seizure operation.

While the civil complaint doesn’t detail the specifics of the seizure, a look at Aaron Artz’s criminal complaint shows he was charged on Feb. 2, 2007, with various drug violations, including the manufacture, delivery and possession with intent to distribute pills, criminal use of a communication facility, use and possession of drug paraphernalia and other controlled substances violations.

Bail, which was set at 10 percent of $25,000, was posted on Oct. 27, 2010, and paved the way for Artz’s release.

The lawsuit states that to date, the plaintiffs have no knowledge of any disciplinary action having been taken against the defendants by the police department for their actions.

The suit claims that the plaintiffs have suffered “serious and permanent” trauma, including pain, financial loss and emotional distress.

Through the lawsuit, the plaintiffs question the police department’s policy and custom of using confidential informants in its investigations. The lawsuit also contains counts of unreasonable search and seizure, failure to train and supervise, supervisor liability, malicious prosecution and false arrest.

Three of the defendants – Jeffrey Cujdik, Robert McDonnell, Jr., and Thomas Tolstoy – were involved in a corruption probe back in late 2009 that led to them being stripped of their police powers and being taken off the street. The narcotics officers were the subject of an expanding federal-local investigation into allegations of perjury and police misconduct, including fabrication of evidence, according to local news reports.

According to a November 2009 Philadelphia Daily News report, Cujdik and his fellow squad members in the Narcotics Field Unit, were known to lie on search warrant applications, and as a result, numerous drug cases by the District Attorney’s Office were either put on hold or thrown out.

The status of the corruption probe could not be immediately determined.

In the Artz lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek compensatory damages in excess of $100,000, punitive damages in excess of $100,000, interest, attorney’s fees, costs of the suit and other court relief.

A jury trial is being demanded.

The case number is 2:11-cv-06493-TON.

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