Behind Closed Doors

Stephen Porter may have been humiliated and abused by cops. Or he may be the best thing that's happened to the MPD in a long time.

By G.R. Anderson Jr. and Mike Mosedale

I. The Puzzle Palace

The Stephen Porter case is a prism. Tilt it one way, you can see the refracted image of Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant whose name became national shorthand for police brutality when a New York City cop rammed a broom handle up his anus in a Brooklyn station house in 1997.

Tilt it another way, and you will be reminded of a very different, equally infamous East Coast "police brutality" case from 10 years earlier--that of Tawana Brawley. Brawley inflamed racial tensions with an appalling tale of rape and humiliation at the hands of redneck cops in upstate New York. There was one problem with Brawley's story: It was all a lie, the pure fabrication of a frightened 15-year-old who didn't want to get in trouble for an unexcused absence from home.

As rumors, speculation, and facts have accrued in the blizzard of media coverage of the Porter case, almost everyone peered into the prism. Police brutality activists and other community leaders tilted it until they saw a Minneapolis Louima. The allegation certainly bore more than a passing resemblance. According to Porter, two veteran Minneapolis police officers, Jeffrey Jindra and Todd Babekuhl, sodomized him with a toilet plunger during a drug raid at a north Minneapolis duplex on a Monday afternoon. Although there were no eyewitnesses, people in the duplex said they heard Porter's cries of pain.

Charges of police brutality are hardly unusual in Minneapolis. But Police Chief Robert Olson's rapid and shaken response was unprecedented, and it fed speculation that the cops had really screwed up this time. At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Olson announced that the FBI had been called in to investigate the charges. The MPD's critics have long been accustomed to having their concerns dismissed or ignored; the chief's quick willingness to summon the feds gave credence to Porter's story.

But Olson could have had other motivations. Whether or not he believed Porter's claims, he no doubt recognized that word of such a vile attack could inflame the public to the point of violence. Last summer, after an 11-year-old boy was injured in a police shooting, riots broke out in the streets of the Jordan neighborhood. Why risk any such conflagration at a time when Olson, whose MPD contract expires at the end of the year, is in the market for a new job? In the short run, an FBI investigation might placate an angry public, even if at the same time it emboldened critics. And whatever the disposition, Olson would be gone by the time it came down. Much better to play it by the book.

Tilt the prism again, though, and Porter's allegations start to look more like Tawana Brawley's than Abner Loiuma's. First, a number of reporters and onlookers have remarked upon the difference between Porter's seemingly able-bodied gait as he left the jail and his hunched, limping appearance at a press conference later that day. There are also some striking coincidences of time. Shortly before Porter was arrested, an inmate at the Hennepin County Jail, Philander Jenkins, made headlines with an allegation that two deputy sheriffs had shoved a foreign object in his anus. Just three nights before the raid, an Abner Louima-inspired episode of the television show Law and Order: SVU aired on national TV. Of course, we don't know whether Porter watches SVU, or whether he reads the paper or knew anything about Abner Louima.

We don't know that--or a great deal else--because Porter isn't answering questions. In a hastily called press conference Wednesday, choreographed by the north side activist Spike Moss, Porter did offer explicit details of the alleged assault. But he refused to take questions from reporters. And when a limping Porter collapsed on the ground following the press conference, many reacted skeptically: He had shown no outward evidence of injury when he was videotaped walking briskly away from the jail a few hours earlier.

Meanwhile, the evidence that would most bolster Porter's claim has not been forthcoming: the medical report describing his injuries. Keith Ellison, an attorney who has represented Porter in the past and is now advising him, insists that Porter did suffer serious internal injuries and that there is a medical report to confirm as much. But, citing privacy concerns, Ellison has refused to make the report public.

Which begs an obvious and critical question: If Porter is willing to discuss publicly the details of such an appalling physical violation, what additional harm--or diminution of privacy--could arise from disclosing a medical report to that effect? The most obvious, and widespread, conjecture is that the documents simply do little to support Porter's claims.

 

II. The Incident

According to MPD records, police came to 2519 Third Street North, an up-down rental duplex abutting the western edge of I-94, at 8:34 a.m. October 13, on a domestic dispute call. No citations were served, and no one was arrested.

Police records also show that Officer Mark Beaupre had obtained a search warrant for the premises sometime in the preceding 72 hours. According to Beaupre's notes in the warrant, he had brought an unidentified informant to the house to meet "Big Steve." Big Steve welcomed the informant into the upstairs unit of the duplex and sold him a rock of crack cocaine.

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