Officer Down

Seven years ago Tony DiIoia was a bright-eyed Minneapolis rookie. Then came the beatings, the lawsuits, and the pink slip.

O'Connor says she presented DiIoia with reinstatement papers, but he ignored them and the encounter quickly escalated into a physical confrontation. According to DiIoia's report, he wrestled with and then cuffed the 98-pound woman. In her complaint, O'Connor says she believed that DiIoia was going to sexually assault her, and that she screamed, "Rape!"

"All I wanted," she says now, "was for some other officer to take me to the hospital. I mean, he was throwing me over the trunk of his car, and he was trying to get on top of me. He never said, 'I'm taking you in for this or that.' He was just attacking me." Another officer arrived at the scene and transported O'Connor to Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, where she was treated for complaints of shoulder pain (and where a blood test showed that she was two months pregnant). She was subsequently charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of disorderly conduct. On advice of attorney Udoibok, O'Connor refused a plea bargain; the charges were dismissed following three days of testimony that concluded with a mistrial.

"There is no question my client's civil rights were violated," says Udoibok, adding that he believes O'Connor was stalked. According to the attorney, the effects have been more psychological than physical--a fact that, he concedes, may make for a tougher sell with a jury. Still, the suit seeks damages in excess of $75,000.

Sheriff Frank won't comment on O'Connor's allegations, though he notes that the couple never filed a formal complaint with his department. DiIoia is less circumspect. "What a joke," he scoffs when asked about the suit. "She's claiming that I was going to rape her in a ditch on a busy road? At rush hour? I can't believe they're actually claiming this stuff. They're just looking for a handout."

 

Since he got his last paycheck from the sheriff's department in August, DiIoia has been employed as a loss-prevention specialist for a low-end retail chain whose name he doesn't want disclosed. He works in stores throughout the metro area, going from one mall to the next. Mostly he investigates employee theft, occasionally hiding in false ceilings and peering down on the unsuspecting workers. It's familiar work--he did the same kind of job while attending community college. But it's not the same as being a cop. "You don't have the same powers," he laments. And you don't make the same money: DiIoia says he's had to dip into his retirement fund to support his wife and three-year-old son.

He still hopes he'll eventually go back to police work. Should he fail, he says, he'll try to make a living as a private investigator, maybe work a little surveillance.

Meanwhile he's retained three attorneys--one for the lawsuits filed against him, one for his arbitration proceedings and one for a civil suit he hopes to file against Frank. The latter will have to wait until the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is done reviewing the discrimination complaint he filed this summer. According to Barbara Nevin, DiIoia's attorney on that case, it could be another six months before the department issues a finding.

The delays irk DiIoia. "I can't go on like this forever," he says with a note of resignation. "It seems like I have no rights. A murderer gets a right to a speedy trial. I don't. I sit and wait. I guess you've got to play the game, and it's a tough game."

As he nears the end of another shift, the last of the shoppers are filing out the exits. Piped-in Christmas music plays over the speakers, and the drab fluorescent lights cast a grayish pall over the scene. DiIoia looks a touch gray himself. He says he still struggles with depression, though not as badly as he used to. Sometimes he feels he's failed his family.

"What do you do?" he muses. "You want to be something your whole life and then you just see everything go away, your whole life slipping away."

To this day DiIoia insists he's done "absolutely nothing wrong." And it's not, he adds, as if he can't tell wrong when he sees it: "When I was in Minneapolis, there were guys who did things they shouldn't do, who used excessive force," he offers. "It's frustrating. You see people get away with things and then you end up in a situation like this."

"This," to him, is a quagmire where people are trying to drag him down, "lying their asses off," ruining his career. The O'Connors, he insists, are after money--"bottom feeders," he calls them--and so is Buelow. The latter may succeed with his lawsuit, DiIoia ventures, since the department sustained that excessive-force complaint. "This is all real unfortunate," he sighs. "The truth may never come out in a public forum. They'll settle with a gag order."

The truth, in DiIoia's mind, is that he has been a victim--of circumstance, of the dilemmas inherent in police work, and most of all of a bad boss. The shooting in Minneapolis led to his depression. The beating in Afton caused his secret to be revealed. And that left him helpless against a man he calls "evil" and "prejudiced." Of all the allegations leveled at him, none seems to upset DiIoia more than a near-footnote in the Buelow lawsuit: The claim that he received preferential treatment from his nemesis, Frank, because the sheriff was a neighbor and law enforcement buddy of his father.

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