NEW YORK – A New York City police officer accused of a sodomy attack on a drug suspect in a subway station was acquitted Monday along with two other officers who had been accused of covering it up.
Officer Richard Kern had faced as many as 25 years in prison if convicted of aggravated sexual abuse. Officers Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz could have faced up to four years in prison on charges of hindering prosecution.
Michael Mineo claimed Kern violated him with a police baton after he ran from officers inside the Brooklyn subway station Oct. 15, 2008. Mineo filed a $440 million lawsuit against the city.
The case had drawn some comparisons to that of Abner Louima, who was sodomized with a broomstick by an officer in a Brooklyn police station in 1997.
Mineo claimed he was assaulted in the subway station on an October afternoon in 2008 after they chased him for lighting marijuana on the street.
He said that after he was handcuffed, one of the officers sodomized him with a baton. According to Mineo, the officers hauled him to a squad car, but then got spooked about what they had done and tried to buy his silence by letting him go, even though there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Mineo was hospitalized for days after the encounter, then returned again later for more medical care for an abscess.
A transit system police officer who witnessed the struggle testified for the prosecution.
The Police Department initially questioned Mineo's account and allowed the officers to stay on duty. But the case gained momentum a few weeks afterward, when his lawyers went public with his allegations.
During the trial, Officer Richard Kern, accused of wielding the baton, said no sexual assault took place.
"He was acting kind of crazy; at this point I thought he was emotionally disturbed," Kern said. He said the officers had decided not to arrest Mineo because collars for marijuana possession were a low priority for the department.
The defense also challenged Mineo's credibility. He had told jurors that he ran from the officers partly because he wasn't carrying identification. Defense attorney John Patten produced a photograph of Kern, in uniform, looking at what appears to be an ID card that Mineo had handed to him.
Defense doctors testified that Mineo could have had a pre-existing medical condition to explain the abscess, and that the officer's alleged actions would have made his injuries more severe.
In many ways the case hinged on the believability of Mineo, a self-professed member of the Crips gang who has been arrested several times and admits to smoking pot regularly.
But that's exactly why he should be believed, said Assistant District Attorney Charles Guria — he has nothing to hide.
On the witness stand, Mineo was agitated, often rolling his eyes or raising his voice.
In juxtaposition, Kern and Morales testified about their Catholic-school upbringing, their Little League coaching and their families. They kept their cool under cross-examination.
But Assistant District Attorney Charles Guria argued that Mineo's past transgressions shouldn't be a factor in the case. That would mean "anybody who has ever made a mistake in their past can never go to the law," he said.
Guria said that the officers, who were in uniform at the time of the confrontation, should have been working for Mineo, not against him.
"On Oct. 15, 2008, these defendants had an obligation to protect and serve Michael Mineo as well, and they failed in that, and they committed a crime," he said.
Louima, a Haitian immigrant, won an $8.75 million settlement from the city and moved away from New York with his family. He now works in real estate investment in Florida.
One officers pleaded guilty to civil rights violations and is serving a 30-year prison sentence. Another was convicted of perjury for helping cover up the assault; his conviction was overturned, he pleaded guilty and he served a five-year term.