By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
John Wuchko just can't seem to stay out of trouble with police.
The 43-year-old ex-con successfully complained against a Minneapolis officer for using excessive force against him in 2003. This April, he sued the cop and the department for violation of his civil rights. Two weeks later, he got beat up by cops again, he claims. Nine days after that, officers came to his home and Tased him. Wuchko has filed two more complaints against Minneapolis police for the recent incidents.
"I can't wait to get out of Minneapolis," he says.
Six years ago this month, Wuchko was cruising down 35th Street near south Minneapolis's Powderhorn Park in a stolen red Camaro. It was close to 2 a.m. Willie James Hamer, 30, whose big brother Baby Dee had been in prison with Wuchko, sat in the passenger seat. Wuchko had promised him a lift.
As the Camaro drove west toward 11th Avenue, a Minneapolis squad car pulled out behind it and turned on the flashing lights. Two more squads and an unmarked car appeared. Wuchko pulled over. The cops drew pistols and ordered the men out of the car and onto the ground.
What happened next is a matter of debate. Police say Hamer jumped out of the car, waving his arms wildly. He yelled out to the cops: Wuchko had just told him the car was stolen.
"You fucker!" Hamer hollered at Wuchko. "You told me it was your friend's, and now you're telling me it's stolen? Fuck you!"
Police say Wuchko got out of the Camaro just a little too slowly—slow enough that Officer Charles (Chip) Storlie thought he might run. So Storlie kicked him, aiming for the chest but connecting instead with Wuchko's face. Storlie's police report says that he then arrested Wuchko "without incident."
Wuchko's account of that night differs vastly from the police report. He claims he didn't know the car was hot. He planned to detail it for a buddy: shampoo the interior, armor the tires, steam-clean the motor.
Wuchko swears he got out of the Camaro and on the ground fast, his hands in the air. Storlie walked up to him, gun drawn.
"You need to learn to get down faster," the officer growled.
Then, according to Wuchko, Storlie kicked him in the face, knocked him down, and stomped his boot three times on Wuchko's head, grinding Wuchko's face into the pavement.
"My schnoz was just clunk, clunk, clunk, bouncing off the ground," Wuchko told the Civilian Police Review Authority, which investigates complaints against Minneapolis police. "And my lip, he broke my tooth, which went into my lip, okay. And then I lost consciousness."
Wuchko woke up in the back of the squad car, with Storlie tending to his wounds. Storlie and Officer Stephen McBride took Wuchko to Hennepin County Medical Center and waited seven hours as physicians treated him. Wuchko had suffered seven separate injuries: a laceration above his right eyebrow that required four stitches, a broken tooth, a puncture wound in his lip where teeth fragments had lodged, trauma to the bottom of his chin that resulted in a permanent scar, a bloody nose, a black eye, and gravel embedded in the skin above his right eyebrow.
Wuchko is no angel. In 1987, when he was 20, he held up a liquor store and a Perkins restaurant in Stearns County with a plastic gun. He made off with $668.62 in cash and $45.48 in checks, got caught the same night, and was charged with his first two felonies. In 1994, at age 28, he jumped onto the counter of a McDonald's in Mendota Heights with a rifle in his hand, ordered everybody down, and robbed the place. He was convicted of felony aggravated robbery and second-degree assault. He was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison but was released after serving five years and eight months. In 2006, Wuchko earned his fourth felony. While driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.16—twice the legal limit—he got caught carrying a handgun.
Then again, Storlie's history wasn't exactly clean, either. A few months before pulling over Wuchko, Storlie had shot fellow officer Duy Ngo at least six times as Ngo worked undercover. Ngo was permanently disabled; Storlie spent three days on administrative leave before returning to the force. Six years before the Ngo incident, Storlie had shot 15-year-old Lawrence Miles Jr., who was playing tag with a friend and pointed a BB gun at Storlie's partner.
Ultimately, the board determined that Wuchko's version of what transpired between the two men was the more credible. Critical to the decision were Wuchko's multiple injuries: The panel decided all that damage likely wasn't caused by a single kick to the face.
In 2006, Storlie got a letter of reprimand in his file. In 2007, he left the force.
In early April, Wuchko filed a civil rights lawsuit against Storlie and the Minneapolis Police Department.
On April 22, Wuchko was driving his Cadillac down Lake Street, close to Midtown Global Market. Wuchko could hear the annoying sound of a can of beer rattling around in his trunk. So at a red light, he popped the trunk, brought the beer up front, and continued on his way.