You didn't mess with Rocky Balada.

A short, stocky Hawaiian, Officer Balada earned a reputation in the '80s as a tough street cop. "I worked the street hard," he says.

Merchants and business owners admired the way he "cleaned up" Northwest 23rd Avenue, despite what his fellow cops described as an "unbelievable" number of complaints against him.

Balada's name hit the headlines after the infamous "Satyricon riot" of April 1990, which began when he tried to arrest George Touhouliotis, owner of Satyricon, whom he caught peeing in a vacant lot outside the nightclub.

Witnesses claimed Balada whacked Touhouliotis with his nightstick with unnecessary force, sparking a melee that involving dozens of clubgoers, employees and cops. Touhouliotis and three Satyricon patrons were convicted of resisting arrest or other charges.

The Satyricon riot represented a quintessential conflict between opposing forces: order against chaos, The Man vs. The Street. Fairly or not, Balada became the focus of years of animus between Satyricon denizens and the Portland police.

Although the jury had sided with Balada, his career stalled. In 1993, he sued Police Chief Tom Potter, alleging racial discrimination. The city settled, giving Balada $34,000 and a promotion to sergeant.

He was back in the headlines in 1999, when his name surfaced in the "Centralgate" scandal. Balada had been posing as an undercover drug dealer in an ongoing Central Precinct sting called Operation North Star, personally arresting 1,000 suspects. But Balada and his fellow sergeant Richard Barton were accused of letting their subordinates take off early without clocking out. The city held a press conference and declared that 30 cops had claimed $165,000 in fraudulent overtime.

Balada was devastated. Here he was, a guy whose entire identity was based on enforcing the law and obedience to authority--accused of theft by his bosses.

In 2000, Balada did what Portland cops usually do when they're under fire--he filed a stress-related disability claim, saying the odium of being labeled a thief had destroyed his ability to work. He was demoted that June.

In 2001, Centralgate evaporated. District Attorney Michael Schrunk's final report said letting cops have the last couple of hours off without clocking out, called "cuff time," was a longtime staple of the Police Bureau, a reward for good work. Schrunk said only about $23,000 was not accounted for-- including just $877 of overtime.

"It was a witch hunt," says Balada. "Nobody up top wants to talk about it, but the street officers know we got screwed."

Today, Balada remains on leave, receiving 50 percent pay, about $39,000 a year. He helps his wife, a dog breeder, train hunting dogs. And he broods. "I'm in limboland," he says. "I spend a lot of time thinking about what was done to me."