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Drug suspect turns tables on NY police with video

world Updated: Jun 13, 2009 22:56 IST

When undercover detectives busted Jose and Maximo Colon last year for selling cocaine at a seedy club in the New York City borough of Queens, there was a glaring problem: The brothers had not done anything wrong.

But proclaiming innocence was not going to be good enough. The Dominican immigrants needed proof.

"I sat in the jail and thought ... how could I prove this? What could I do?" Jose, 24, recalled in Spanish during a recent interview.

As he glanced around a holding cell, the answer came to him: Security cameras. Since then, a vindicating video from the club's cameras has spared the brothers a possible prison term, resulted in two officers' arrest and become the basis for a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The officers, who are due back in court June 26, have pleaded not guilty, and New York Police Department officials have downplayed their case.

But the drug corruption case is not alone.

On May 13, another New York Police Department officer was arrested for plotting to invade a Manhattan apartment where he hoped to steal $900,000 in drug money.

In another pending case, prosecutors in Brooklyn say officers were caught in a 2007 sting using seized drugs to reward an informant for information. And in the Bronx, prosecutors have charged a detective with lying about a drug bust captured on a surveillance tape that contradicts her story.

Elsewhere, Philadelphia prosecutors dismissed more than a dozen drug and gun charges against a man last month when a narcotics officer was accused of making up information on search warrants.

The revelations in New York have triggered internal police department inquiries, transfers of commanders and reviews of dozens of other arrests involving the accused officers. Many drug defendants' cases have been tossed out. Others have won favorable plea deals.

The misconduct "strikes at the very heart of our system of justice and erodes public confidence in our courts," said Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Despite the fallout, authorities describe the corruption allegations as aberrations in a city where officers daily make hundreds of drugs arrests that routinely hold up in court.

They also note none of the cases involved accusations of organised crews of officers using their badges to steal or extort drugs or money for personal gain, the story line of full-blown corruption scandals from bygone eras.

Peter Moskos, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, agrees the majority of narcotics officers probably are clean. But he also believes the city's unending war on drugs will always invite corruption by some who don't think twice about framing suspects they're convinced are guilty anyway.

"Drugs are a dirty game," Moskos said. "Once you realise it's a game, then you start playing with the rules to win the game." Just ask the Colon brothers.