On the afternoon of Oct. 15, a body piercer named Michael Mineo was approached by a group of police officers who thought he was smoking marijuana. Mineo fled into a subway station, argued with the officers, and was issued a ticket for disorderly conduct.
But what really happened inside that subway station is highly contested, and has led to one of the most explosive allegations of police brutality by the NYPD in recent memory.
Mineo claims four officers assaulted him in horrific fashion, yanking down his pants and sodomizing him with a walkie-talkie antenna so brutally that he was left bleeding. He says the officers then put him into a police car, and, unsure what to do with him, let him go with a minor ticket and told him to keep his mouth shut. He spent the next four days in a hospital.
The police department says Mineo's claims are greatly exaggerated, denying that he was sodomized and describing the altercation as a "scuffle." Police officials say that witness accounts back up their claim.
The Brooklyn District Attorney is taking the allegations seriously enough that he convened a special investigative grand jury to decide whether to bring charges against the officers.
"Because it's a special grand jury, they will only focus on this case," said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. "What he's created is a separate track, solely for this case, that exhibits his agreement that this is serious enough to warrant a concentrated look."
The grand jury must sift through contradictory and possibly confusing evidence, and legal experts say it could take a few weeks before any decisions are reached.
The evidence will likely include medical reports, scientific tests of the walkie-talkie, and testimony from witnesses and the officers.
Both sides say they have witnesses who either saw the attack or didn't see it, including a transit worker and his 12-year-old son who said they didn't witness the alleged sodomy even as Mineo was yelling out that he was being "violated."
But a law enforcement official confirmed reports Friday that a transit officer involved in the incident has volunteered to speak to prosecutors, and that his account may support Mineo's.
Prosecutors had not yet spoken to the officer as of Friday. But initial conversations with his lawyer suggest he "backs up the victim," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the grand jury investigation had not been completed.
Hospital discharge papers reviewed by The Associated Press show that upon arrival at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center on Oct. 15, Mineo was diagnosed with "anal assault." The hospital discharge papers from Oct. 19 said Mineo arrived at the hospital complaining he had been assaulted by police with a foreign object.
A second law enforcement official told the AP that a baton and a radio antenna taken from the locker of one of the officers was tested and found Monday to be negative for fecal matter, blood and tissue. Results from DNA tests that could yield more evidence were pending. The official spoke on the condition of anonmyity because the investigation is ongoing.
Questions have also surrounded the disorderly conduct ticket that the officers issued Mineo.
The ticket shows he had identification on him, but his attorneys say he didn't. The summons describes the offense as "blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic causing public alarm and fear," and doesn't mention anything about drugs.
In addition, there is at least one outstanding warrant on Mineo — for drinking alcohol in public — that was either ignored or undiscovered by the officers issuing the summons.
The saga has drawn considerable attention, with the Rev. Al Sharpton showing up at Mineo's hospital bed last weekend after he suffered complications from his injuries.
It has also evoked comparisons to Abner Louima, who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick in a police precinct by officers in one of the worst cases of brutality in NYPD history.
But there are many differences between the two cases. The 1997 case stoked racial tensions in the city, with Louima being black and the officers white. Mineo is white, and the officers are black, white and Hispanic.
From the beginning, police have made it clear that they welcome a thorough grand jury investigation.
"We are working closely with the district attorney," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday. "Our Internal Affairs Bureau people are very much involved in the investigation as it is conducted through the auspices of the grand jury."
It is unclear what charges the grand jury might be considering. But legal experts said that if the officers are indicted, it will likely be some form of assault, and if Mineo's story is found to be false, it's not likely he would face any additional charges.
The officers are still on duty but have been assigned to administrative duties because members of the press were attempting to interview them, police officials said. The fact that the NYPD kept the officers on duty after Mineo came forward signals that they have strong doubts about the allegations.
The case is also being investigated by the police department, but the department must wait until the district attorney's investigation is completed before interviewing the officers.