Covering 'Tainted Justice' And Winning A Pulitzer

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Wendy Ruderman (left) and Barbara Laker i

Wendy Ruderman (left) and Barbara Laker were praised by the Pulitzer committee for their "resourceful reporting." They spent over six months knocking on doors in some of Philadelphia's toughest neighborhoods. Philadelphia Daily News hide caption

itoggle caption Philadelphia Daily News
Wendy Ruderman (left) and Barbara Laker

Wendy Ruderman (left) and Barbara Laker were praised by the Pulitzer committee for their "resourceful reporting." They spent over six months knocking on doors in some of Philadelphia's toughest neighborhoods.

Philadelphia Daily News

Philadelphia Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for the 10-month series "Tainted Justice," an expose of alleged corruption among members of an elite narcotics squad on the Philadelphia police force.

During their reporting, Laker and Ruderman uncovered allegations against officers that included committing sexual assaults, disabling surveillance cameras during drug raids to hide their misdeeds, and filing fraudulent warrants. During several raids, the police allegedly stole thousands of dollars in merchandise and money from small retailers.

As a result of Laker and Ruderman's investigation, hundreds of drug cases in Philadelphia have been re-examined, and in some cases thrown out. In addition, the Philadelphia police launched a task force, which includes members of the FBI, the force's Internal Affairs division and the city Inspector General's Office, to investigate the allegations.

Five of the officers involved officers remain on desk duty; more than 15 civil suits have been filed in federal court against members of the force.


Interview Highlights

On informant Ventura Martinez, who alleged that he and narcotics-unit officer Jeffrey Cujdik fabricated evidence in at least two dozen cases

Wendy Ruderman: "He had come into our office looking for protection. He was terrified that he was either going to be killed by a police officer or he was going to be killed by a drug dealer on the street. ... He alleged that ... when [he and Officer Cujdik] couldn't make drug buys out of a house, the officer told him to go buy drugs elsewhere."

On fact-checking Martinez's story

Ruderman: "We went to the homes — every single house — where he said he didn't [really] make the buy [that Cujdik claimed he did in a warrant]. People had been locked up, but we talked to relatives, and we asked them what happened during the raids."

Drug baggies

Mom and pop shops in Philadelphia were busted for selling ziplock baggies like the ones pictured here. Police say the baggies are used to package marijuana and cocaine. Philadelphia Daily News hide caption

itoggle caption Philadelphia Daily News

On how the victims of the false warrants felt

Ruderman: "They knew that something wasn't right. They had told their attorney something wasn't right. But who's going to believe them? The system is entirely stacked. ... It's the police officer's word against your word, and you can get up there and say, 'Yeah, I sell drugs, but I don't sell that kind of drug' — and you know, who's going to listen to you?"

On finding out about the alleged sexual assaults that took place during some raids

Ruderman: "Just by chance, the wife of the man who was arrested told us that she was home alone at the time with her children, and that this one officer took her to a back room off the kitchen — and none of the other officers were with her — and he fondled her breasts [and] lifted up her shirt. She feared she was going to be raped. He commented on her tattoos. Asked her to pull down her jeans a little so he could see her tattoo. She was petrified. Absolutely petrified."

On the victims of other alleged sexual assaults they found

Ruderman: "Two went on the record. The third we did grant anonymity to, because the allegation was that the officer shoved his hand up her vagina. And she was petrified, and went to the hospital that night, and they did a rape kit. Because of that, she was scared, and we granted her anonymity. The other two were courageous women and gave us their names and told us their story with their faces, names and everything."

On the Philadelphia police knowing about the officer's alleged sexual misconduct

Ruderman: "It was like an open secret. It was almost like, 'Well, this is just what that cop does.' And all of the women felt the police department wasn't hearing them, because they couldn't identify the officer by name. But when they went to Internal Affairs, they were shown an array of 80 photographs of police officers, and a lot of the photos dated back years — when the officers first joined the police department — so they didn't look like they looked now."

On alleged thefts during raids against mom and pop stores

Video still from bodega surveillance camera i

A surveillance still from a bodega in Philadelphia shows an officer minutes before he tries to cut the wires. The video stills, says Ruderman, turned "criticism into silence." Philadelphia Daily News hide caption

itoggle caption Philadelphia Daily News
Video still from bodega surveillance camera

A surveillance still from a bodega in Philadelphia shows an officer minutes before he tries to cut the wires. The video stills, says Ruderman, turned "criticism into silence."

Philadelphia Daily News

Ruderman: "The police would record that they [seized] $1,000, but actually the store owners were alleging that, 'No, I had $7,000 in my store.' A lot of these store owners dealt in cash. They paid their vendors in cash. They didn't trust banks. ... So in addition to just having their stores left in shambles, they allege that thousands of dollars were gone. And when they told their attorneys about it, their attorneys said 'Well, everybody says that. Everybody says that all the time. How are you going to prove it? It's your word against their word.' "

On how finding surveillance videos changed that story

Barbara Laker: "A lot of people who were skeptical at first, with the first [cash-theft] story, when they could see visually that these were officers disabling cameras in stores, it was incredible. They could see it and believe it. Any kind of criticism [we had] gotten before from the police department went away."

On how they felt when known drug dealers were released from prison

Laker: "I definitely struggled with it. And it helped when we found the [mom and pop] merchants who had been raided by the same squad. Because they were not drug dealers. It put my mind more at ease. We were on to something that involved innocent people who had been victimized. ... So we did feel guilty about the [drug dealers], but once we found these merchants, I think in my mind and Wendy's mind it relieved our anxiety a little, because we felt like we'd found truly innocent people."

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