A Salt Lake couple's story of a beating at the hands of a Salt Lake police officer last fall clashes with the report of the incident filed by that officer.Darin Walker claims in a federal court lawsuit that Salt Lake police of-ficer Dennis Huie beat him extensively Sept. 13 after arresting him in his home when he wouldn't give his name. Walker said Huie handcuffed him, then beat him with his fists and a metal object, slammed his face into the doorjamb of the apartment next door, threw him down a flight of stairs, dragged him down two more flights by his handcuffed arms and slammed his face into the windshield of a police car.
Huie's report said he used force on Walker because Walker attacked Huie and another officer, kicking one officer and tearing Huie's nameplate off.
Before the videotaped beating of Rodney King by six Los Angeles police officers seared issue of police brutality to the forefront of the collective American consciousness, judges and juries were inclined to believe police officers.
That changed when the media published the L.A. officers' report on the incident - an account shown to be pure fiction by the videotape of King's assault.
Now, police officers and their reports are as vulnerable to doubt as a man with a criminal record who said police beat him.
Salt Lake attorney Ross C. Anderson, who represents Walker, learned after filing - and winning - several civil rights cases involving police that "we certainly can't accept a police officer's word simply because he is a police officer."
Salt Lake attorney Jeffrey Eisenberg thinks that skepticism is a good thing. Eisenberg won a police brutality suit against the Salt Lake Police Department in 1989 when he found an eyewitness who discredited the police officer's version of the incident central to the suit.
The officer stopped Emmanuel Onyeabor as he was walking to a doctor's office. Onyeabor, a black South African native, had recently undergone back surgery and leaned heavily on his cane while he walked.
The officer stopped Onyeabor, demanded his name and where he was going. Onyeabor asked what grounds the officer had for stopping him and refused to tell the man where he was going, Eisenberg said.
The officer jerked Onyeabor's cane away and handcuffed him to a police car while a police dispatcher ran a computer check on the man, Eisenberg said.
Deprived of his cane, Onyeabor lost his balance and fell, further injuring his back. That injury required a second surgery.
The case was destined for a short trial and a favorable verdict for the officer until Eisenberg found his eyewitness. "The witness testified in quite some detail that my client did nothing to provoke the attack," Eisenberg said.
The judge awarded Onyeabor $37,000 for medical and legal expenses. Apparently confident that they would win the case, the Salt Lake County attorney's office "had a very cavalier attitude to the case," Eisenberg remembered. "They offered me $500 to settle it and did virtually nothing to prepare for trial.
"I think there was a presumption that judges and jurors would believe police are telling the truth."
If there was such a presumption, it faded with the Rodney King video. Now, when Darin Walker faces the officer he says beat him, they will do so on level ground.