NEW YORK — Lawyers defending three police officers charged in a subway station baton sex attack case portrayed the accuser as a scammer who made up the story to get money from the city.
In opening statements Thursday, defense lawyer John Patton said former tattoo parlor employee Michael Mineo was not sodomized by a police baton and there was no evidence to prove Mineo’s statements that he was attacked with it in 2008.
“Once you’ve seen Mr. Mineo, you’ll find him a theatrical, posing type of individual who’s going to make a claim,” said Patton, who represents Officer Richard Kern.
Kern, who was 25 at the time, is charged with aggravated sexual abuse and assault. He is on trial with officers Alex Cruz and Andrew Morales, who are accused of covering up the attack. They are charged with hindering prosecution and official misconduct.
All three have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, Kern could face up to 25 years in prison; the others could face up to four years. They could also be fired from the department.
A fourth officer at the scene, Cruz’s partner, has not been charged and was expected to testify for the prosecution.
Despite the seriousness of the charges, the case has not brought public outcry like other instances of alleged police abuse. A few officers and Patrick Lynch, head of the patrolman’s union, appeared in court Thursday, but there were no protests or demonstrations outside.
It was a contrast to the protests and show of police support at the 2007 case of officers accused in the shooting death of Sean Bell, who was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets on his wedding day.
The response to the Bell trial was tame in the wake of the Abner Louima case a decade ago, where thousands of protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest police abuse. Louima was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick in a police precinct by officers in 1997 in one of the worst cases of brutality in NYPD history.
Race figured heavily into the Louima case and stoked tensions in the city, with Louima being black and the officers white. In the current case, Mineo is white, and the officers black, white and Hispanic.
Assistant District Attorney Charles Guria said the confrontation began when the officers were called to a fast-food restaurant on a report of a stolen cell phone on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2008, and saw Mineo, who was smoking pot, and a friend, he said.
“I don’t care what kind of law Michael Mineo broke, there’s no explanation, no excuse,” Guria said in his opening statement.
Realizing he had been spotted, Mineo swallowed what was left of the joint and bolted for the subway, Guria said.
Witness Andrea Dallas, outside awaiting her husband who worked at the station and was inside with their child during the incident, testified she saw Mineo running, his pants sagging and his rear end showing, pursued by the officers.
Most of the officers chased him across the street and down into the station, where he was eventually handcuffed. On the ground, his hands behind his back, Kern sodomized him with the baton while Cruz yelled insults at him, prosecutors said.
Dallas’ 13-year-old son, James Avery, testified that he heard one of the officers suggest Mineo had hidden drugs up his butt.
They brought him outside screaming and instead of arresting him, they wrote him a summons for disorderly conduct and let him go, telling him they’d arrest him if he ever told anyone, investigators said. The summons had a bad date and it would never have gone before a judge, Guria said.
“The officers were trying to make sure Michael Mineo didn’t go to a hospital, didn’t go to a police station,” Guria said.
Guria said Mineo’s DNA was found on Kern’s baton, his boxer shorts were ripped and he was admitted to the hospital with injuries. A medical record obtained by The Associated Press described Mineo as being the victim of an “anal assault.”
The AP does not usually identify people alleging sexual assault, but shortly after the attack, Mineo’s lawyers issued a news release naming him with his approval. He has repeatedly made public statements about the encounter.
Defense attorneys say Mineo is a crafty scam artist who is using the media and the district attorney’s office to get a big payday. He filed a civil suit against the city for $220 million. Those proceedings will come after the criminal case.
Cruz’s attorney, Stuart London, said his client’s partner kicked Mineo and threw him to the ground after the officers nabbed him. London suggested the partner, Noel Jugraj, wasn’t on trial because he agreed to testify against the other three officers.
“Michael Mineo in this case has become a packaged product. A product motivated by money,” London said.
Richard Murray, who is defending Morales, claims his client saw nothing because he was with Mineo’s friend back at the restaurant. Morales is accused of doctoring the summons and covering it up.
The defense attorneys had no explanation for the hole found in Mineo’s boxer shorts, but they argued it would be unlikely for an attack to occur at a busy subway station in the middle of the afternoon, although the station is residential and fairly quiet. They also suggested Mineo exaggerated his injuries and may have even exacerbated a pre-existing medical condition during the struggle.