TWO CRIMINAL investigators, part of an FBI-led task force, came to Juan Collado’s bodega in 2009 to hear his story.
Collado struggled to explain in English how a narcotics squad had barreled into his Tioga store, cut wires to his video-surveillance system and – once the cameras went dark – stole almost $10,000 and cartons of Marlboro Lights.
He asked them for a Spanish interpreter and they promised to return with one. They never did.
Now it’s too late.
People tend to hate statute of limitations stories, because the only time they’re mentioned is when something outrageous happens. The rationale for their existence is not only sound, but critical. Delay makes the difficult task of defending against accusations essentially impossible. Would you know, no less be able to prove, where you were at a specific time on a particular date years ago? This is magnified if you were the wrong person, and had absolutely no reason in the world to note your whereabouts way back then.
Over time, witnesses’ memories fade, or “enhance” in their vivid imagination, as best serves current needs. Evidence is lost or spoiled. Proof becomes historic rather than accurate. There are situations where the crime is so serious, murder, for instance, that the law turns a blind eye to the flaws of delay, even though it may well be argued that the severity of the penalties suggests that these instances are when it is most necessary. But that’s the policy choice, for better or worse.
For these rogue cops in Philly, however, the only impediment to timely prosecution was that they were cops.
Last week, news broke that federal prosecutors had decided not to file criminal charges against the officers. And the five-year statute of limitations has run out, not just in Collado’s case but for nearly two dozen other merchants with similar allegations.
“They played the clock game. They let time run out,” said Danilo Burgos, the former head of the 300-member Dominican Grocers Association who is running for a state House seat in North Philadelphia. “Now no charges will be filed and people have no confidence whatsoever in the process.”
That, and the victims were Dominican bodega owners. Not the most politically powerful group in Rizzo’s Philly. But given the rhetoric at the ready of the government whenever it chooses to prosecute someone, they no doubt had a damn fine explanation for why this case, these cops, “fell through the cracks.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney declined to comment yesterday.
And yet, when a Dominican is sentenced in a federal court near you, after a judge denied suppression because he decided to go with the odds that the police officer’s testimony was more truthier than the defendant’s, and when his lawyer argues in response to the government’s flourish about the harm this man caused the children of North Philadelphia, don’t expect a warm reception for mentioning how the government didn’t think these cops were worth their interest.
For those who wonder why it’s hard for some people, particularly those who struggle to acclimate to our American ways, to appreciate the dignity of the law and to honor the social compact, this is why. But you hate them anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.