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.

For Porter's part, his rap sheet contains four felony drug convictions in the past six years, but no history of violence or weapons use. In 1997, he was convicted of both second- and fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance, which stemmed from two separate busts. In each case, he was sentenced to a year in the workhouse and three years of probation. Prison terms of 48 months and 17 months were stayed on the condition that Porter stayed clean.

He didn't. In March 1999, he was busted with crack cocaine at a Super 8 Motel in Brooklyn Center. Responding to a stolen-vehicle report, Brooklyn Center cops entered Porter's motel room and discovered 37.5 grams of crack. He pleaded guilty to second-degree possession and received a 74-month prison term. At two press conferences last week, Porter owned up to his troubled background. "My life, I'm not an angel," he said at one point. "I'm through with that life."

In January, Minneapolis police officers stopped a stolen black Cadillac near the intersection of West Broadway Avenue and Penn Avenue North. Porter was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County Jail. During a search, police discovered three or more grams of crack in his rectum. Porter again pleaded guilty, this time to fifth-degree possession, and was expected to receive a prison sentence of 30 months. The sentencing was postponed until 2004--partly because Porter was due to become a father in January.

 

IV. Police Procedure

That Porter had a history of hiding drugs in his rectum--and, more importantly, that police knew it--adds a measure of credibility to Fourth Precinct Commander Tim Dolan's claim last week that Porter's alleged injury was related to "hiding dope up his butt." On the other hand, does it mean that cops didn't "[take] a toilet plunger and [ram] it all the way up his ass," as one source bluntly explained last week? No. But it does suggest a motive for an invasive search.

Even if the alleged assault did not occur exactly as Porter says, any field cavity search by police beyond peering into mouths with flashlights would likely constitute a significant breach of civil rights. Most metro police departments, and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department, have policies explicitly prohibiting body cavity searches by officers in the field. The Minneapolis Police Department policy and procedure manual does not address the issue explicitly, but according to MPD Sgt. Ron Bellendier, it is not regarded as permissible. "Most of the time, if you're going to do an invasive search, you would need a warrant and it would be done at a medical facility or by a medical person at the jail," Bellendier says. "Cavity searches don't happen in the field, with the exception of the mouth, where people hide drugs."

Of course, people also hide drugs in other body cavities--a fact well known to cops. After the Porter case hit the headlines, a second man, Daniel Laird, came forward claiming that he had been subjected to an inappropriate search during a routine traffic stop by a Minneapolis police officer in 1999. Laird concedes that police had reason to believe he might be hiding drugs in his rectum; a few days earlier, he says, he had been arrested with a friend and attempted to hide some crack in his buttocks, which was discovered after he was booked in the Hennepin County jail. But, Laird says, he wasn't holding on the night of the traffic stop.

"The cop just jumped out of the car and said, 'Larry, do you have any crack in your ass?' I said, 'I'm not pulling down my pants.' I was handcuffed; they threw me on the grass. One of the cops pulled down my pants and put on a glove and slipped a finger in my ass," Laird recalls. Shortly afterwards, Laird says, he complained to Internal Affairs but says nothing came of his request for an investigation. He was also unable to interest any lawyers in his case.

"I've talked to a lot of people about what I told you, but nobody listened," Laird adds. "That shit is still in my head. Every time I get high I think about that shit. I went and got drunk, and went down to the Fourth Precinct and cussed them out. They didn't even take me to jail. They just threw me out."

 

V. The "Informant"

The precise nature of Porter's relationship with the MPD also remains an open question. In his first press conference, Porter repeatedly identified one of the officers, Jindra, by name. There was an air of familiarity in Porter's comments, suggesting that the two knew each other. Last week, the Star Tribune reported that "sources" said Porter had worked as a snitch for the cops.

Saying he feared for his life, Porter vehemently denied the claim on Thursday. "All my cases I pleaded guilty," Porter noted at his second press conference in as many days. "In '99 they tried to convince me to snitch, but I wouldn't help the cops. I served my eight months."

Black leaders were uniformly outraged at the snitch story, claiming it had to come directly from the MPD and that it put Porter's life on the line. It is certainly true that police historically have used such allegations to compromise--often fatally--individuals they have targeted. The practice even has a colloquial name: "hanging a snitch jacket" on somebody. There is also circumstantial reason to doubt that Porter was a snitch: He was named as the basis for the drug warrant that police served that day. (As a general rule, police are not in the habit of busting each other's confidential informants; preferential treatment is one of the carrots that keep snitches cooperating with cops.)

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