Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tainted, indeed

DISGUSTING. Unbelievable. Sickening.

There are a thousand more adjectives to describe yesterday's astounding news that no criminal charges will be brought against the cops who allegedly terrorized 22 Philly bodega owners.

But you need to understand this:

The shop owners were all legal immigrants. None had criminal records. Nor had they ever met - they hailed from four corners of the city and spoke different languages. Yet the stories they told Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman were identical:

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  • Victims in 'Tainted Justice' series outraged at lack of charges
  • A Philadelphia plainclothes narcotics squad had barreled into the immigrants' bodegas, guns drawn. They had cut the wires on the stores' video-surveillance systems, robbed thousands of dollars from the cash drawers, stolen food and merchandise, and then trashed the shops on their way out the door.

    One bodega owner even had footage of the cops cutting the video wires.

    You'd think that would have been enough to get the cops busted. Or, at the very least, fired.

    But this is Philadelphia, where, a disgusted veteran officer tells me, "The only way a cop can lose his job in this city is if he shoots another cop during roll call."

    Instead, the offending officers, who've been on desk duty since Laker and Ruderman wrote about them in 2009, will likely get their jobs back, their guns and the chilling entitlement that allowed them to turn the bodega owners' American dream into an American outrage.

    Also, because this is Philly, they'll probably be awarded lost overtime, too, because we have no shame in this town.

    Not a stinking shred.

    Nor do we have the will or the decency to dig deep into the corruption that is rotting the police department from within. Sources tell the Daily News that none of the bodega owners was ever called by a grand jury to tell their stories.

    You know who else were ignored by federal investigators and the District Attorney's Office? The three women who claimed that one of the rogue cops - a menacing dirtbag named Tom Tolstoy - sexually assaulted them during drug raids. One of the women couldn't get anyone in the Police Department's Special Victims Unit to listen to her story until her lawyer interceded.

    Like the bodega owners, the women had no criminal records and were never charged as a result of the raids. They had never met one another, yet shared with Laker and Ruderman hellish stories of apparent encounters with Tolstoy.

    All three said they had been fondled. Two reported the assaults immediately to police. The third was digitally penetrated and walked to a hospital for treatment.

    When the ER staff notified police of the incident, the department immediately removed Tolstoy from street duty - even though the woman had been unable to provide his name to investigators.

    Because Tolstoy won't be criminally charged, we now must use the word "alleged" to describe the violations suffered by these poor women.

    I'll say this: If even one of the women had been a cop's sister and lived in middle-class comfort in, say, police-friendly Roxborough, you can bet Tolstoy would be behind bars by now.

    Who am I kidding? He'd never have made it to prison. His victim's brothers in blue would have meted out justice on their own.

    Instead, Tolstoy has launched a second career with enthusiasm. His LinkedIn account identifies him as the CEO of something called the Public Safety Charter High School, which "is on its way to being an innovative charter school that serves high school students who wish to pursue a career in the public safety sector."

    Grotesque.

    The only thing honorable about this case is the courage, honesty and doggedness with which Laker and Ruderman pursued it, resulting in a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for their extraordinary series, "Tainted Justice."

    It is disheartening that their work will not result in criminal charges. The immigrants' stories and those of the women deserved to be told not only in this paper but in court, before a jury.

    Laker and Ruderman have done them justice.

    This city, damn it, has done them wrong.

     


    Email: polaner@phillynews.com

    Phone: 215-854-2217

    On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

    Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

     

    Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

    Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
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