Three NYPD officers have been acquitted of all charges in an alleged sodomy attack in a subway station.
The verdict came Monday. Officer Richard Kern faced as many as 25 years in prison on a charge of aggravated sexual abuse. Officers Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz faced up to four years in prison on charges of hindering prosecution.
Michael Mineo, a tattoo-parlor employee, claimed Kern violated him with a police baton after he ran from cops inside a Prospect Park subway station on Oct. 15, 2008 following a marijuana stop. Mineo has filed a $440 million lawsuit against the city.
After the verdict, Kern said he feels "great" and is looking forward to "protecting the people of Brooklyn."
Meanwhile Mineo said outside court that he "had a feeling" the officers would be acquitted.
Just last Friday, the judge had excused a juror for spreading misinformation.On Thursday, after two days of deliberations, the jury sent out a note saying the now-released juror claimed Kern had been previously convicted of police brutality.
The juror was replaced Friday by the lone alternate and deliberations had to start over.There had been two civilian complaints made against Kern, but he was exonerated both times.
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.
The president of NYPD's largest union hailed the acquittal.
“This jury weighed the lack of physical evidence, the lack of injury and the lack of motive in this case against the credibility of a known criminal opportunist and correctly cleared these three dedicated police officers of any wrong doing against this con artist," the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement.