Jill Porter: Go ahead, be furious - but not at the messengers of 'Tainted Justice'

Posted: February 25, 2009

SO, YOU'RE livid.

You read about the suspected drug dealer who was freed in the aftermath of this newspaper's "Tainted Justice" series, and you're outraged.

The expose, written by Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, revealed that a Philadelphia narcotics cop allegedly falsified evidence to get search warrants for suspected drug houses.

The first prosecution to fall apart after the stories were published involved Thomas Cooper, a crack dealer facing life in prison who was let loose last week.

Yes, society was this close to being spared the further ravages of a predator convicted of selling crack across the street from a school. Instead, the prosecution dropped the charges because the evidence that justified the search warrant was deemed suspicious.

Judging by the response to the story, many of you blame . . . reporters Laker and Ruderman.

"You f------ piece of s---!" one reader wrote to Laker in an e-mail. "You are a disgrace to yourself and your family and this city!

"Its a shame that you have an ability to get the word out about the positives of this police department . . . and this is how you earn your money."

"I am disgusted by your article," another reader e-mailed Laker.

"The timing of its publication was obviously planned to coincide with the last cop killing to lessen the severity of its impact. It's people like you who are to blame for the unprecedented violence against the Philadelphia Police."

Laker and Ruderman are also being savaged on a police Web site and are being wished all manner of misfortune, including death, by furious readers.

I'm furious, too.

But not at Laker and Ruderman, for god's sake.

I'm furious that a two-time convicted drug dealer walked free because a police officer allegedly abused his power and failed to make a legitimate case.

I'm furious that one police officer could generate suspicion and disrespect for law enforcement and tarnish the honorable work of his colleagues.

I'm furious that so many people apparently think that "breaking the law to enforce it," as one of my colleagues put it, is acceptable.

It might help to remember that Laker and Ruderman didn't set Cooper free.

Charges were dropped by a federal prosecutor "in the interests of justice," and the case was dismissed by a federal judge.

That drastic outcome gives credence to the reporting done by the Daily News.

A cache of drugs worth roughly $15,000 was found in Cooper's house during the raid - crack and marijuana and cocaine, according to reports.

But that doesn't justify a falsified search warrant.

It just makes matters worse, knowing that straightforward police work might have nailed this guy.

Instead, he went free.

And who knows how many other defendants will escape prosecution because of shoddy and shameful shortcuts, allegedly perpetrated by an officer of the law?

A federal and local task force is investigating allegations against Officer Jeffrey Cujdik. Hundreds of criminal cases potentially are at stake.

The act of falsifying a search warrant ought to send chills down your spine, because it leaves all of us vulnerable to being falsely accused.

I know that "violating rights" is considered by some to be a supercilious left-wing concern, that any means is deemed justified so long as the bad guys get nabbed - be they drug dealers or suspected terrorists.

But once the rules are bent in pursuit of a criminal, then - sorry to lecture - none of us is safe.

If power can be abused in pursuit of a "good" outcome then it can be abused for any reason whatsoever. And then we're captives of a capricious and arbitrary system instead of an institution of laws.

The work of Laker and Ruderman is particularly noteworthy at this moment, when the company that owns this newspaper has filed for bankruptcy and our future is uncertain.

"Tainted Justice" nobly champions the rights of victims who may be unpopular and unlikable but who deserve the protection of the law nonetheless.

Without newspapers, who will be the watchdogs? Who will perform this urgent function?

You may be furious that a suspected drug dealer was freed - as well you should be.

But don't aim your fury at Laker and Ruderman. *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/porter

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