Top cop: Officer's car-stop ticket sale was 'extortion'

Posted: August 24, 2015

"EITHER YOU buy these or I take your car, 'cause it's unregistered."

Officer Matthew Zagursky didn't mince words Thursday when he flashed tickets to the Hero Thrill Show, a fundraiser that supports the families of fallen officers and firefighters, to two men after pulling them over.

And yesterday, hours after a recording of that exchange went viral, Commissioner Charles Ramsey didn't either.

"No part of that video is good," Ramsey said of the footage, which also shows Zagursky spouting homophobic slurs. "It's just bad all the way around."

Ramsey said Zagursky, 32, has been pulled from North Philly's 24th District and placed on administrative duty as the Internal Affairs Bureau investigates the video, posted to Facebook by a user named "Rob Stay Faded."

"He used the tickets as a lever to not do his duty; that's extortion," Ramsey said of Zagursky. "Whether or not it's criminal is a decision above my paygrade."

In the video, the driver gives Zagursky $30 for two tickets to the Hero Thrill Show, an annual fundraiser that pays the college tuition of the children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty

After the money changes hands, the officer jokes with the driver, asking him about his "f----t ass wipers," referring to the pink-tinted windshield wipers on his car.

When the driver tells Zagursky they're in solidarity with his grandmother, a breast-cancer survivor, the officer tells him he looks like "a fruitcake."

"Rob," the driver in the video, did not return a request for comment last night.

Zagursky, a nine-year veteran of the department, wasn't suspended as of yesterday, but that could change, depending on what Internal Affairs finds.

It was too early in the investigation yesterday to determine if this was the first time Zagursky hawked tickets to the Hero Thrill Show during a car stop, according to Ramsey.

The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 outside the Wells Fargo Center, features stunts performed by officers from Highway Patrol and other units.

Jimmy Binns, a criminal-defense attorney and officer in the Darby Township Police Department, has run the Hero Thrill Show for a decade.

Yesterday, Binns told the Daily News that the video is "indefensible" and called it a "sorry day for the Hero Thrill Show and the Philadelphia Police Department."

"It's just ridiculous; I can't imagine what would prompt a police officer to this," Binns said. "This is not what the show is about."

Binns said that it was the first time in his experience that the fundraiser faced such a controversy.

"That's just not how we sell tickets," he said. "Fifty-five thousand people attend each year, and I can guarantee you that not one was extorted to buy their ticket."

Ramsey echoed that statement, and expressed his frustration at the impact the incident will have on the fundraiser.

"[Zagursky has] tainted something that, to me, is as close to sacred as we get in this business: taking care of families after their loved one is killed in the line of duty," he said.

There's no "internal pressure" to sell tickets to the show, Ramsey said, though officers can volunteer to do so on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police.

John McGrody, FOP Lodge No. 5's vice president, did not return a call for comment last night.

Unorthodox ticket sales aside, Ramsey noted that driving an unregistered vehicle is a crime, one that justifies an officer pulling the vehicle over in what's called a "live stop" and having it towed.

But he also said that it's not uncommon for officers to give those motorists some leeway.

"Enforcing the law is one thing, but we're human beings at the same time," Ramsey said. "You try to have some compassion for the circumstances people find themselves in: Sometimes they don't have means, and you can use a certain amount of discretion in cutting them a break.

"But that's not what this officer did."


On Twitter: @Vellastrations

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