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Bullied in Brandon

Homophobia, harassment and hate crimes -- where were the police?


Published September 29, 2004 at 6:25 p.m.

For his 21st birthday in August, Leo Porter received a gift he'd wanted for a very long time -- a hate-crimes prevention order.

Now he wants his life back.

Not that Porter has had much of a life to speak of until now. For the last five years, he's been living in a small, three-bedroom apartment on Route 7 in Brandon and taking care of his 14-year-old brother, Jonathan, his 50-year-old, mentally handicapped uncle Edward and, until three months ago, his terminally ill mother Irene. She died on June 23 at the age of 42 from complications due to kidney failure. For the last year of her life, Irene Porter was too sick to leave the house except to make the 40-mile round trip to Rutland Regional Medical Center for dialysis several times a week.

Porter, who is the legal guardian of his brother and uncle, has been essentially acting as the head of the household since he was 9. Like his mother, Porter rarely left the house in recent years, but for an entirely different reason. Since the summer of 2001, Porter claims, he and his family have been the targets of ongoing physical and psychological harassment perpetrated by their neighbor, David Martel, Sr., and members of Martel's family.

The Martels have repeatedly denied those charges. But Porter's allegations are documented in a 16-page affidavit filed by Brandon Police Detective Sgt. Laurie Krupp. According to the affidavit, "the relentless harassment, verbal threats, intimidation and threat of physical violence on their person or property" were occurring on a daily basis and increasing in frequency and severity to the point where the Porters "no longer felt they had the ability to live normal lives."

Even more disturbing, Porter claims that until Krupp took a personal interest in this case in early 2003, his complaints were often not taken seriously by other Brandon police officers. Krupp, a 15-year veteran of the Brandon Police Department, shares that opinion. Her affidavit, which was the basis for the hate-crimes protection order obtained last month by the Vermont Attorney General's Civil Rights Unit, summarizes more than 30 calls for assistance by the Porters to the Brandon Police between April 27, 2001, and December 24, 2003. Those complaints ranged in nature from minor scuffles between the two families' children to the brandishing of deadly weapons and threats on the Porters' lives.

Some of the threats against the Porters were captured on videotape. One of those tapes was shot by Leo Porter, another by the Martels. The Martels' tape was seized in a July 2002 search of their home by the Vermont State Police in connection with an unrelated matter. According to Krupp's affidavit, that videotape contains incidents that occurred on several different days and shows David and Lisa Martel "while they threatened, harassed and terrorized the Porter family and guests." But despite this evidence, no criminal charges were ever filed against Martel or anyone in his family until Krupp got involved.

Why? No one knows for sure. But it's worth noting that on several occasions, Krupp recalls hearing her fellow officers make "unprofessional comments" about Leo Porter. It's also worth noting that while tensions were escalating between the Porters and Martels, so were internal relations within the Brandon Police Department. Apparently, those problems were serious enough that in the summer and fall of 2003, four of the department's seven officers resigned, including the police chief, as did the Brandon town manager.

No one has suggested that the alleged abuse suffered by the Porters caused most of the Brandon Police Department to resign. Reportedly, one officer had a career-ending injury and another was called away to National Guard service. But it raises an interesting question: If Porter's claims about being ignored by the police are true, was that neglect related to the fact that the other alleged victim in this story is Krupp herself?

not-so-neighborly relations

It's a warm September afternoon in the Porters' ground floor Brandon apartment, but all the windows are closed. Leo Porter, who is short and heavyset, sinks into a chair at the kitchen table, takes a drag off a cigarette and exhales with a deep sigh. While he speaks, Porter nervously brushes aside the black curls that frame his round, boyish face. He moves slowly and his gentle, subdued voice sounds like he is easily winded -- in other words, he's an easy target for a bully.

Today, the apartment is quiet. Porter's brother is still in class at Otter Valley Union High School just down the road, and his Uncle Edward is in another room with "Chops," their poodle. Porter apologizes -- Edward is too shy to talk to strangers or have his picture taken.

Porter says his family has never had problems with other neighbors. His landlord, Bryan Jones, has nothing but nice things to say about the Porter family. "They've been among the best tenants I've ever had," says Jones. "Over the years, if I had put together a top 10 list, they'd be on it."

The Martels moved to the neighborhood about a year after the Porters. For the next few years, the two families shared a common wall and covered porch -- their front doors were less than 20 feet apart. "When we first moved in, a neighbor came over and welcomed us to the neighborhood, and we did the same when [the Martels] moved in," Porter says. "Everything seemed fine. And then one day, it changed."

Looking back, Porter can't recall one specific incident that triggered the conflict and he still doesn't know why it persists. "We have no clue," Porter says. 'The only conclusion we can come to is that he [David Martel] assumed I was a homosexual."

Krupp's affidavit supports that conclusion. On or about Mother's Day, 2001, she writes, Krupp had a conversation with Martel, during which "he continually referred to Mr. Porter as a 'fucken [sic] faggot, queer, cocksucker and fucken [sic] queer bait.'"

"Mr. Martel made it clear to this officer [that] he did not approve of any alternative lifestyle and stated, 'I won't live next to any fucken [sic] fag and I'm not moving. He's got to go, they all have to go,'" Krupp writes. Martel also made it clear to her that the ongoing problems between the two families "would be endless" and that the police would be returning to that location until the Porters moved out.

Throughout the summer of 2001, according to police records, the Porters made repeated calls for help to the Brandon Police. While responding to one of those calls, Krupp asked Martel what was causing these disputes. "David Martel exploded, stating, 'He's a fucken [sic] homosexual, a faggot, and fucken [sic] queer...the mother has fucken [sic] AIDS and Eddies [sic] a fucken [sic] retard,'" her affidavit reads. "'I'm not moving, they are. I'll see to that, no matter what it takes.'"

On a recent afternoon, David Martel sits at a picnic table outside his apartment across the street from the Porters. He wears a sleeveless T-shirt and has a scraggly beard and several tattoos. The 42-year-old unemployed sheetrock worker says he's had two heart attacks and just wants to be left alone so he and his wife Lisa can raise their two boys still living at home: Bryan, 16, and Tom, 13.

Martel claims that he and his family are the victims of a smear campaign by Porter and the Brandon police. "Since I've lived here, things ain't right," Martel says. "It's a different world here in Brandon. The law is different. People are different. It's all ugly, it's all backwards, and it's all lies."

And he denies ever making homophobic or threatening remarks to the Porters. "So, he's called a faggot? So what? That's his problem. That's nothing I said. It's all lies," says Martel in a raspy voice. "I don't hate anybody, what color you are or what preference you are. I have a lot of colored friends and I've got a lot of gay friends."

Krupp's affidavit paints a much different picture of Martel. It outlines allegations of hostile behavior directed at the Porters by the Martels, including bullying, harassment, vandalism, theft and stalking. Some of the complaints didn't rise to the level of criminal activity, such as one, lodged in March 2002, that the Martels' children threw snowballs at the Porters' front door and refused to stop. Other complaints charged that the Martels repeatedly played their stereo too loudly and deliberately pounded on the wall between the two apartments, breaking pictures in the living room where Irene Porter slept.

But some complaints were more serious, such as allegations that Martel and his children repeatedly tried to provoke fights with Leo Porter. In one incident in 2003, Porter's cousin David, who was visiting from Massachusetts, was allegedly chased down the street by David Martel. David Porter suffered a bad asthma attack and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.

The line between annoying behavior and disorderly conduct can be blurry. For example, the affidavit notes that the Porters told police they were receiving threatening phone calls from the Martels. In April 2001, Edward Porter's bicycle was allegedly taken by the Martels' kids and vandalized. Another time, dead baby birds were left on the Porters' doorstep. In January 2002, David Martel, Sr., allegedly threatened to poison the Porters' poodle with antifreeze. In June 2002, Leo Porter complained to police that the Martels' kids, with the encouragement of their parents, were throwing rocks at his van. Later that summer, the Porters reported that the Martels were throwing bricks into the tree above their apartment, preventing them from leaving their home.

Of the dozens of incidents described in Krupp's affidavit, some are clearly criminal in nature. On June 16, 2002, a guest to the Porters' house, Kathleen McDonald, had her windshield smashed, causing more than $500 worth of damage. One of the Martels' children was issued a citation for unlawful mischief. However, the affidavit also notes that the citation was "never sent to the State's Attorney's Office by the investigating officer for prosecution." Krupp doesn't know why it wasn't.

This pattern of abuse, says Porter, had a profound effect on his family's daily lives. "Oh, we completely stopped living," he says. "We covered our windows with blankets. Whenever we would drive our car to leave, we would have to check our brakes first because they threatened to cut our brake lines and loosen our lug nuts. People stopped coming to our house because of it."

To make matters worse, Porter claims that with the exception of Krupp, other Brandon police officers often didn't take his complaints seriously, which only encouraged Martel to become more aggressive. Krupp's affidavit notes, for example, that on April 6, 2002, Porter called the police after Martel allegedly threatened to enter his home and physically assault him. When an officer responded, Porter gave him a videotape of the incident.

According to a police transcript of that tape, Martel is heard saying, "You fat fuck. Stay off my property. And if you talk to my kids like that, I'm gonna kick your ass. I'll throw a brick right through that window, you fat fuck." Later, Martel says, "I'll walk right in there and I'll beat the living shit out of you, got that, you faggot? I'm tired of your bullshit." Yet despite this evidence, no criminal charges were ever filed.

On the same videotape, Martel blames Porter for his family being evicted from their apartment. Jones, who was also the Martels' landlord, confirms that he evicted the family in part because they didn't pay their rent, but also because of their ongoing conflict with the Porters.

"It's not a good situation when it gets to the point where one of them has to go," Jones says. "And it took me a couple of months to figure out which one." The Martels subsequently moved into an apartment across the street from the Porters.

But the situation only got worse after that. On April 7, 2002, Brandon police responded to their second call in two days from the Porter household. This time, according to police records, Leo and Irene Porter asked Krupp to take possession of their handgun for safekeeping, fearing that their neighbor might break into their apartment and steal it. "It was at this time [that] Leo Porter and Irene Porter advised [me that] David Martel, Sr., had been getting more and more aggressive towards them, making comments towards them regarding a handgun in his (David Martel, Sr.'s) possession," Krupp writes.

There was no evidence that Martel had threatened the Porters with a gun -- according to the affidavit, Martel denied owning one. However, on May 10, 2003, in an unrelated incident not involving the Porters, Martel was charged with reckless endangerment with a gun. The weapon confiscated in that case "resembled a .357 Magnum and also fit the description [that] Leo and Irene Porter described in prior incidents" with Martel.

But Porter says that, far from recognizing the escalating problem, the other Brandon police were largely indifferent -- and sometimes even hostile -- to his complaints. Worse, he says, they threatened him with criminal charges if he continued to "waste their time" with his persistent calls. As a result, Porter started asking specifically for Krupp, and if she wasn't on duty, would leave her messages rather than speak with other officers. Krupp learned later that she never received many of Porter's messages.

"There was a period there where I had no contact with [the Porters] and I assumed everything was OK, when, in fact, their life was absolute hell," Krupp recalls.

In the meantime, Porter says, the growing tensions with his neighbors began taking their toll on his mother's physical and emotional health. "She didn't want to go to dialysis," Porter says. "It was making her chest pains come more often. She was afraid she was going to come back home and one of us was going to be dead because of the Martels. And she expressed that concern to the police and got nowhere with it."

It wasn't until April 2003, while Krupp was conducting a routine review of the department's statistics, that she recognized the seriousness of the situation. "I realized how many times officers were being dispatched to this location, and I was finding that little to nothing was being done," Krupp says in a recent interview. "I started researching it more myself and realized, we've got a huge problem here. Things are escalating to the point of being out of control."

For example, Krupp's affidavit describes one visit to the Porter household, during which she found Irene Porter sitting in her wheelchair, crying. "It was clear to this officer [that] Irene and Leo Porter lived their life in fear, daily, at the hands of David Martel, Sr.," it reads. "Leo and Irene both described suffering from sleep deprivation, staying up all night to keep watch in fear [that] David Martel, Sr., would make good on his threat to break into their apartment and kill them in their beds, slicing them up with his machete, which he made visible to Leo and Irene on several occasions."

Martel readily admits that he owns a machete and occasionally uses it to clear brush. But he denies that he ever threatened the Porters with a machete or gun. He describes himself as "an easygoing person" who doesn't know how he became the target of Leo Porter's "fantasies and lies."

"He is not a fully grown adult, he's a child. And this child, sooner or later, is going to be dragged into court for perjury," Martel says. "And if he thinks I'm gonna sit here and let him get away with this, he's wrong. He's dead wrong."

Once Krupp recognized a potentially deadly crisis unfolding, she approached her boss, Chief Craig Hanson, and asked for permission to investigate further. At first, she says, Hanson resisted the idea. "I don't believe he felt it was a serious matter, and I did," Krupp says. "When you start seeing calls where people are threatening you with a baseball bat and they're driving their car onto your porch and threatening to come through your door, there's a problem."

Despite her chief's reluctance, Krupp began delving into the case on her own time. She soon discovered that Porter's videotape, which included the threats made by the Martels, was missing from the evidence vault, as were several of Porter's written statements. "Was it brought to the chief's attention? Yes," Krupp claims. "Was anything done about it? No." But Porter had kept a copy for himself and made Krupp a duplicate.

Hanson, who now works for the Rutland County Sheriff's Department, says he remembers some minor disputes between the Porters and the Martels, but never anything violent or dangerous. "On my watch, if there were serious incidents, we certainly would have investigated them," Hanson says in a recent phone interview. "But there's nothing that sticks out in my mind." As for the allegation that evidence was lost or stolen from police custody, Hanson says this is the first he's heard of it. He also notes that an inventory of the evidence vault when he left the Brandon P.D. showed nothing missing.

Similarly, Rutland State's Attorney James Mongeon says he's never heard a report of missing evidence from the Brandon Police Depart-ment. But with other charges pending against David Martel, Mongeon defers all other questions about the case to the Attorney General's office.

Officer Chris Boucher, a former Brandon police officer, remembers going to the Porters' house on a regular basis. "Yeah, there were a lot of calls," Boucher says. "Basically, that's where we went, every summer for the last three or four years." But Boucher, now a school resource deputy at Otter Valley Union High School, doesn't remember anything serious occurring there -- "just back-and-forth stuff between neighbors," he says.

But Krupp believes it was far more serious than that. "It wasn't until I started this whole [investigation] that I realized how dangerous it had gotten," she says. "I'm amazed that no one was seriously hurt. I'm amazed no one was killed."

Krupp won't speculate as to why her fellow officers didn't pursue the Porters' complaints more aggressively. She will say, however, that "comments were made [about Leo Porter] that shouldn't have been made." Were those comments homophobic in nature? "They were unprofessional comments," she says.

And if the lines of communication within the Brandon P.D. weren't working as well as they should have, perhaps it's because Krupp, the department's only female officer, had her own situation to deal with.

protect and serve?

It's hard to imagine that Detective Sgt. Laurie Krupp is intimidated by much. Standing 6-foot-3 and built like a rugby player, the 42-year-old single woman has wavy brown hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a no-nonsense style. When questioned by a reporter, she exudes the natural skepticism of a cop and answers only the questions she's asked, speaking in short, declarative sentences. She hasn't gone looking for someone to tell her story to, but neither does she shy away from unpleasant questions when they're asked. As she puts it, "I lie for no one."

At about the same time that Krupp took an interest in the Porters' situation, she says, working relations within the Brandon Police Department were deteriorating for her. "I came to work, did my job and went home. I didn't talk much to anybody," says Krupp. "The workplace was very uncomfortable and things got sexual."

What does she mean by "sexual?" According to Krupp, her chief "pretended to masturbate in front of me and my [female] secretary and thought it was funny," she says. "He would expose his penis to us all the time. He would take off his clothes, take off his underwear, roll them in a ball and throw them at your head while you were typing on your computer or talking on the phone. He would walk up to my desk while I was talking on the phone, drop his pants and do a hootchie-kootchie dance."

Krupp claims that this and other offensive behavior occurred "all the time." But despite her repeated complaints to Hanson's boss, then Town Manager Michael Balch, the problem was never addressed. Instead it was dismissed as "locker-room" horseplay. As a result, she claims, her fellow officers "made my life a living hell."

In 2001, for example, the state's attorney removed Krupp's name from the state's death-scene investigator list for supposedly botching the investigation of a felony car accident. In response, Krupp's chief and town manager tried to demote her. Krupp challenged her demotion through the union -- and won. In November 2002, arbiter Harvey Shrage ruled that Krupp had been wrongfully demoted and ordered her reinstated to her previous rank of sergeant. "It was a witch hunt," Krupp says. "If I sneezed the wrong way, they disciplined me."

But Krupp says her work environment only got worse after that. She became depressed and withdrawn, had trouble sleeping and was afraid to go to work. She claims the police harassed some of her friends and a private detective staked out her home for two weeks. Fearing further reprisals, Krupp began carrying a running tape recorder at work.

When the situation didn't improve, Krupp filed a lawsuit in October 2002 against Hanson, fellow police officer Michael O'Neill, the Brandon Police Department and the town, alleging nine counts of "inappropriate sexual behavior." In court papers, both of the officers and the town denied Krupp's allegations, arguing that her own behavior had contributed to the hostile work environment. The case was settled out of court in the summer of 2003. Krupp received an undisclosed cash payment and was promoted to detective.

Currently, none of the other parties to the lawsuit is willing to speak about Krupp's allegations. O'Neill is not with the Brandon Police Department anymore and could not be reached for comment. Former Brandon Town Manager Michael Balch resigned in late 2003 and is now working as the town manager in Pittsford. He had no comment for this story. Hanson would not comment on the harassment suit, either, except to say that he left the Brandon P.D. for a better job with the Rutland County Sheriff's Department.

Other former Brandon cops who might be able to confirm or deny Krupp's description of her work environment, including Boucher (who left the department the same day Hanson did) and Francis Martin, also refused to comment on the sexual-harassment case. However, both say that they left the Brandon P.D. for better jobs elsewhere.

Of the seven police officers who worked at the Brandon P.D. at the beginning of 2003, only two remained at the end of the year. Brandon's law-enforcement crisis was so acute that in September 2003, the town Select Board assembled an advisory committee to consider disbanding the Brandon Police Department altogether and contracting out the town's law-enforcement services to the State Police and Rutland County Sheriff's Department. The plan was later scuttled, following overwhelming community opposition.

"I'm the last one left standing," says Krupp, who is now trying to rebuild the force. Several months ago, Brandon hired a new police chief, Lonnie Hatman, from out of town -- North Pole, Alaska, to be exact -- and Krupp says her work environment has improved dramatically. But she remains bitter about what happened to her. "I don't feel vindicated. Not at all," she says. "What happened to me was terrible. No female should have to go through this."

Krupp has another frustration. Several months ago she learned that much of her work on the Martel case was in vain. Many of the complaints cannot be prosecuted because they are several years old and their statute of limitations has expired. Others, she says, weren't adequately investigated when they occurred. "When I was building that case, I worked on it seven days a week. It was one month of solid investigation," Krupp says. "And to find out that they wouldn't prosecute it was just a killer... And it wasn't through any fault of mine. It was the fault of the other officers I worked with."

Martel, who currently faces two disorderly conduct charges involving Porter, calls Krupp's dogged pursuit of him just another example of the "discrimination" he and his family have suffered at the hand of the Brandon P.D. During his recent interview, Martel points to a tattoo on his right arm -- a snarling face. "Take a good look at that picture. Know what it means? That's the feeling I have inside from the last three years of living here," Martel says. "It's a feeling of being trapped, of being in a box, trying to look out, trying to come out of it, trying to get away, trying to make things right. How come nobody's listening? How come people ain't looking? Why is this going on like this?"

If Krupp feels bad for anyone, she says, it's Irene Porter, who died not knowing whether her sons would be safe. "Irene was a very, very nice woman, a very soft-spoken woman. She would have given you the shirt off her back in a pouring rainstorm," Krupp says. "Nobody deserves what she went through. Nobody."

Leo Porter doesn't know what he'll do next. Though he feels somewhat safer now that a hate-crimes prevention order forbids the Martels from having contact with him, the two families still live very close to one another. Porter also points out that one of the former Brandon police officers, Chris Boucher, now works at his brother's school as the school resource officer. That job might sometimes involve handling students' complaints about bullying and harassment.

Porter may also file a lawsuit. But he says it's not money he's looking for -- just recognition that what happened to his family was real. "My mother gets no justice out of this now," Porter says. "I just want people to know what we went through because of these officers. Now, they're working at another place and this is going to happen to somebody else."