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.
Again, what happened next is a matter of debate. Wuchko says that four cars surrounded him: three Minneapolis squads and an unmarked. He stuck both hands out his rolled-down window to show he was unarmed.
In Wuchko's account, an officer opened the front door of the DeVille and yanked him out of the driver's seat. The cop stuck his thumb in Wuchko's face and pulled Wuchko's hat off. The officer pushed him down, stuck his knee in Wuchko's back, and shoved Wuchko's face into the ground. Then the officer cuffed him.
Wuchko passed a Breathalyzer test and police released him. Then he walked to Hennepin County Medical Center. He called his lawyer, Paul Applebaum, throughout the night, updating him on what had occurred.
Wuchko didn't know who the cop was, but says he was big: 6 foot 8, 330 pounds. "Milk drinker," he calls him, "fuckin' hay bailer. Farm boy." Wuchko filed a complaint with the review authority. (The authority confirms that the report has been filed, but will not release information until a complaint is found to be justified.)
Minneapolis Police declined to give many details on the incident, because it is under investigation. But it's clear that the cops are arguing that Wuchko provoked the use of force.
"We did encounter resistance," from Wuchko, says Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Palmer, of the April 22 arrest. "Force was used to overcome that resistance, and that force is documented in the supplements to the reports."
Palmer was doubtful that Wuchko was targeted, or that officers even knew about the lawsuit. "It would be very unlikely that an officer would have access to any information about a pending lawsuit," he says.
Whatever transpired that night, it has not helped Wuchko walk the straight and narrow. On April 30, Wuchko showed up nearly an hour late for a media interview. "I'm drunk," he said. "No, I'm not drunk." As he described his latest claim against the police, he would interrupt his narrative by randomly breaking into song: "All by myself...Don't want to be...all by myself." He'd taken four shots of vodka to brace his nerves before the interview, he says. The shots had interacted badly with his new pain medication.
Later that night, Minneapolis police were called to Wuchko's home. The police report says officers again used force and took Wuchko to Hennepin County Medical Center. Wuchko called the next day, outraged that police had Tased him. He has since filed another complaint with the civilian review authority.