According to testimony from a police corruption trial currently roiling the city of Philadelphia, officers from an undercover drug squad took the latter route back in November 2007. After arresting their suspect, Michael Cascioli, in the hallway outside his 18th floor apartment, the officers took Cascioli back inside. Although they lacked a search warrant, the cops searched Cascioli’s rooms anyway. According to a federal indictment (PDF), the officers “repeatedly assaulted and threatened [Cascioli] during the search to obtain information about the location of money, drugs, and drug suppliers.”
Cascioli kept $800 of cash in his nightstand, which he told the cops about. The officers allegedly “took money from [Cascioli’s] nightstand and used it to purchase pizza” for themselves.
Cascioli, who gave an interview last October to the Philadelphia Daily News, said the cops wanted much more cash. (The trial has largely focused on allegations that members of the squad shook down drug suspects for money and valuables.) “I’m going to f—ing break your face if you don’t tell us where the f— money is,” Cascioli recalled one officer saying. Another allegedly urinated on some of his possessions. The government claims that the officers also roughed up Cascioli, punching him in the stomach.
After a few hours of this, which involved an attempt to lure one of Cascioli’s suppliers to his building, the officers focused on Cascioli’s Palm Pilot, which they (correctly) believed contained the information they wanted. But Cascioli wouldn’t provide the password. He claims that police then tried to extract the password through intimidation.
Cascioli says [Officer Thomas] Liciardello asked him a question: “Have you ever seen Training Day?”
When Cascioli said yes, Cascioli says Liciardello looked him in the eyes and said: “This is Training Day for f—ing real,” and then instructed officers Norman and Jeffrey Walker to take him to the balcony.
According to Cascioli and the indictment, Liciardello told them to “do whatever they had to do to get the password.”
Out on the balcony, Cascioli says officers Norman and Walker lifted him up by each arm and leaned him over the balcony railing.
In his testimony at trial this month, Cascioli provided more details, under oath, about what happened that night. The Palm Pilot, he said, contained records on his $400,000 stash, which he had split for safekeeping between the home of his brother and the home of a friend. When the cops allegedly took him out to the balcony, Cascioli said he truly feared for his life.
“They started to lift me a little,” he said. “My feet were off the ground.”
He said he was afraid. “I thought they were going to drop me” over the railing. Cascioli said he then gave up his password.
Given that Cascioli was in fact a significant drug dealer, his testimony might sound dubious. (Indeed, the head of Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police last year told a local paper that Cascioli’s account “sounds ludicrous. This isn’t a Lethal Weapon movie.”)
But last week, one of the cops who had done the threatening took the witness stand to corroborate Cascioli’s account. Jeffrey Walker, who was arrested in an FBI corruption sting back in 2013, admitted that he and another officer had in fact leaned Cascioli over his balcony to elicit the password.
According to the indictment, the night only ended when officers “stole personal items belonging to M.C. valued at approximately $8,000” before leaving for good.
The whole crazy case is a reminder that strong passwords are excellent tools for protecting your information from distant Internet predators. But when the predators have you alone in a room, the real question isn’t about the strength of your password but about how much pain and fear you’re willing to endure before giving it up.