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.

Whether or not Porter ever worked with police, it bears noting that to air such an explosive allegation publicly is generally understood to put the alleged snitch's life at risk. Whoever made the claim would seem to have been acting with extreme malice.

 

VI. The Fall

Who to believe?

Stephen Porter maintains that police detained him in a separate room for a long period of time during the bust at 2519 Third Street. Witness accounts seem to support that, and the timeline of events is consistent with it. (Porter was eventually booked into the Hennepin County Jail at 6:53 p.m.) Earwitnesses from inside and outside the house say they heard blows and/or screams of pain. (Though little is known about the medical report from Porter's subsequent examination, the Star Tribune did report that "sources familiar with the medical report filed by a doctor who examined Porter on Monday night said his injuries were consistent with his report of soreness and tenderness of the rectum," a characterization that is consistent with Porter's story--but also consistent with his past practice of hiding drugs inside his rectal cavity.)

Here are Porter's own words about what occurred, from his Wednesday press conference: "Officer Jindra gestured to Officer [inaudible] to go get something out of the bathroom. So when he returned, he had a plunger... Officer Jindra tried to stick it up my butt four times. I felt it twice go in. I got teared [sic] tissues in my back--my butt."

On its face this sounds quite different from the images conjured by the memory of the Louima case, and one possibility is that Porter is telling the truth about the outlines of the incident, but that the extent and savagery of his injuries have been exaggerated in ensuing days.

Which leads us to the matter of The Fall, Porter's widely questioned collapse at the end of that Wednesday press conference. As seen from behind (a view best captured by Fox 9's footage), it does appear that Porter's herky-jerky tumble may have been deliberate, a view shared by many of those present. Michelle Gross, the head of Communities United Against Police Brutality and a registered nurse, says she thought it looked like a pratfall, too, until she reached Porter's side and found that he had a rapid pulse and seemed "shocky." Still, press footage of Porter on a stretcher shows him neither in apparent pain or shock--he appears to look around alertly, with a neutral expression on his face.

Whether real or contrived, Porter's dramatic fall changed the stakes in the case. Now he must prove that his injuries are equally dramatic, or he will be accused of making the whole thing up--even if his injuries are consistent with a less sensational version of his story.

 

VII. Winners & Losers

To be fair, it was neither Porter nor his handlers who first suggested that something grave had occurred. It was Chief Robert Olson, whose somber press conference and quick summoning of the FBI led most observers to assume the worst from the start. But consider Olson's situation: He is the chief of a police department with a long history of trouble and controversy, and he is looking for another job. Under the circumstances, openness and rigor were the only smart play: If the charges proved true, the chief would be seen as acting vigorously and responsibly. If the charges proved false, then Olson would have effectively dragooned the federal government into discrediting some of the MPD's most persistent critics. He can't lose.

Timing was everything with regard to Olson's announcement last Tuesday. Activists note that there were several times during Olson's tenure when he might have called on the FBI to investigate police misconduct. That he would do it at the end of his term, and announce it in a way that was sure to generate huge publicity, is notable. The investigation is sure to take three months, and won't wrap until Olson's contract expires on January 1. The city will be left to deal with the aftermath.

However serious Olson believed the situation to be, this also serves as a parting shot in his war with Mayor R.T. Rybak. Ever since Rybak tried and failed to oust Olson in April 2002, the chief has outmaneuvered the mayor on all political fronts. Olson has refused to criticize the mayor in the media, taken great pains to strengthen relationships with leaders from minority communities, and generally appeared to be going about his business of fighting crime.

"You could see it on their faces at the press conference," one insider surmised. "Rybak was standing behind Olson with his head down." And when Rybak spoke, says the source, one could imagine Olson's thoughts. "He looked at him as if to say, 'Take that, you prick. Try to get rid of me? How do you like me now?'"

On Friday night, Olson and Rybak, along with council members Natalie Johnson Lee and Don Samuels, held a community forum at Farview Park, just blocks away from the scene of the Porter arrest. For two hours, the four of them answered hostile questions and absorbed angry accusations from some 300 people, nearly all of them African Americans from the north side. There, Olson had completed a remarkable transformation: After eight years of being criticized for failing to improve relations between cops and minorities, Olson was suddenly being praised for reaching out to the African American community, and demonstrating that he cared about problems plaguing blacks on the city's north side.

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