Gay man alleges police misconduct after beating

In the wake of a bizarre, violent incident at the Saloon on April 3, a gay man has filed a complaint against the Minneapolis Police Department. But officers investigating the incident say the man, George Valdez, appears to have been the aggressor in the fight.

Depending on whom you believe, Valdez was either the victim or the perpetrator in the scuffle at the Minneapolis bar; his version of the story differs starkly from that of police and the people with whom he fought. He either went wild and bit people like a rabid dog, or he was himself attacked and bit back merely to protect himself. Valdez insists it was the latter. "That was the only defense I had," he says.

Valdez, 29, has filed a complaint with the city's Civilian Review Authority based on his claim that a police officer responding to the incident acted with discriminatory misconduct by ridiculing his sexual orientation while he lay injured. The board is investigating the case to make a recommendation on whether the cop in question ought to be sanctioned.

Valdez was badly injured in the brawl, sustaining a hairline fracture in his shoulder blade, a lacerated scalp, and numerous bruises. If you believe his version of how that happened, the incident could suggest a case of straight people taking out anti-homosexual wrath on a gay man who got too close. If you believe the police and the other brawlers, Valdez picked the fight after he was spurned by a woman for dancing and grinding against her, and that he began biting people indiscriminately, only to find himself beaten in retaliation.

Four others were hurt in the incident too -- allegedly injured by Valdez. One of them, George Pfeffer, 32, of Minneapolis, says he was bitten so badly on the finger that the wound nearly scraped bone and he narrowly escaped permanent tendon damage.

Pfeffer says Valdez brought the whole thing on himself by foisting his "erotic dancing" onto Pfeffer's wife, Michon. Pfeffer says he wasn't dancing with Michon at the time, but one of his gay friends was. When Michon refused to take part in Valdez's antics, Valdez got hostile. Pfeffer says there was shoving, and suddenly Pfeffer's friend found himself with Valdez at his feet, allegedly biting a leg through the denim of his jeans. Other friends came to help, trying to pull Valdez away, Pfeffer says.

The whole group was kicked out of the bar, Pfeffer says. While they were outside, he says, Valdez approached and taunted them, refusing to go away. When Michon Pfeffer called Valdez "a pussy" for his biting escapade, Pfeffer alleges, Valdez smacked her in the face, and another melee ensued. Pfeffer says the group was only trying to restrain Valdez until police arrived, but he was out of control, biting at everyone he could. "He was freaking out," Pfeffer says.

Valdez says that story isn't true, that he only bit people to protect himself. "I shouldn't have bit this guy," he admits, "but at the time I was bleeding from the head. I didn't think of anything else. I reacted in anger." He also says he was attacked from behind in the street, after the crowd waited for him to emerge from the bar.

Police, however, have sided with Pfeffer and his friends. It now appears that if anyone is to be criminally charged in the case, it will be Valdez. Authorities are awaiting medical reports from the four biting victims before deciding whether to press assault charges, says MPD spokeswoman Penny Parrish.

The crux of Valdez's complaint isn't that he was attacked. It isn't that police failed to protect him, or that they failed to arrest the people he says attacked him. Instead, it is that he was ridiculed afterward by a police officer -- he says he doesn't know the cop's name -- when a medical attendant asked the officer whether Valdez's pants should be removed to check for lower-extremity injuries.

"'Oh, he'd like that,'" Valdez says the cop snickered. "It was totally improper."

Valdez complained to the MPD about the comment, firing off a letter to Chief Robert Olson that was also sent to Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. The mayor even called to express her support and regret over Valdez's treatment. But that's not enough, he says. Valdez wants the officer punished, though he expects the cop will get no more than a slap on the wrist.

At least one Minneapolis police commander, Inspector Sharon Lubinski, agrees that Valdez's treatment was "disturbing." But citing data-privacy laws, she would not elaborate, saying the officer's behavior lies at the heart of Valdez's complaint, which is still under investigation. She says only, "I trust in the civilian review process to come to a conclusion. If discipline is necessary, that's what will occur."

For his part, Valdez says, the incident has left him permanently soured toward Minneapolis cops and their attitudes toward gays. "I'll still avoid them like the plague," Valdez says. "If I can't use them, I won't call them."

 
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