Friday afternoon, the office of Denver Manager of Safety Alex Martinez announced that there would be no charges against the three Denver police officers who nearly beat college student Alex Landau to death in 2009.
In Martinez's mind, the case should be over at this point. But Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell thinks an important aspect of it still calls for investigation -- and one of Landau's main advocates agrees.
As we note in our original post, on view below in its entirety, Landau and passenger Addison Hunold were pulled over in January 2009, allegedly over an illegal left turn.
Afterward, officers Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton found marijuana and asked if they could search the vehicle's trunk. Landau responded by asking if they had a warrant -- after which the situation spun out of control. Landau was brutally beaten, supposedly because he'd gone for an officer's gun. Afterward, he remembers one officer asking, "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?"
Landau later filed a lawsuit and received a $795,000 settlement from the City of Denver. But the officers weren't punished for their actions after either a federal civil-rights inquiry or investigations by assorted Denver entities. On Friday, Martinez's office released a statement that reads in part, "The Manager of Safety determines there is insufficient evidence to sustain any allegations of inappropriate force, racial slurs or deceptive conduct by Officers Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton for the incident with Mr. Alexander Landau. Other than reprimands by the Chief of Police for failure to make complete reports, no disciplinary action is taken against any of the involved officers."
Hours after most of the stories about the decision had already been put to bed, Independent Monitor Mitchell, who was chosen last summer to succeed Richard Rosenthal in the post, released a statement of his own. In it, he agreed with the overall decision not to pursue charges against the officers, but suggested that another matter deserved closer scrutiny.
The statement reads:
The Manager of Safety announced that the officers involved in the Alex Landau matter will not face discipline more serious than a reprimand. Although I am troubled by several inconsistencies in officer statements, I agree that the evidence creates significant ambiguity about what occurred during this incident. There is insufficient proof to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the force used was appropriate or not.
However, I believe that there are issues in this case that have yet to be addressed. Fundamental to Mr. Landau's complaint is his allegation, made years ago, that an investigator in Internal Affairs sought to intimidate and dissuade him from pursuing his complaint. Mr. Landau alleged that Internal Affairs suggested that he was bringing false charges, summarily dismissed his allegations of racial slurs, accused him of playing the "race card," and otherwise conveyed that the incident would not be fairly investigated. I previously recommended that the Manager take action to investigate and address this allegedly biased complaint intake interview. I was disappointed to hear the Manager, in his press conference today, indicate that today's decision marks the end of the administrative investigations and employment actions related to Mr. Landau. I do not believe that Mr. Landau's complaint will be fully addressed until the alleged bias in the Internal Affairs intake interview has been investigated and resolved.
We asked Mu Son Chi, racial justice and civil rights program director for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, for his take on Mitchell's views and the case as a whole. Here's what he had to say.
In Mu Son Chi's view, "The Manager of Safety has been around for over a year now, and he's been able to generate his own record about where he stands on police accountability in relation to Alex's case, and also the case of Ashley Alonzo," who died after a police-related incident at the Denver Zoo last year. "And as Alex said, it doesn't appear the manager is interested in holding violent and dishonest officers accountable.
"For over four years, we have been asking for accountability -- asking for these officers to be taken off our streets. Two of these officers have been involved in other high-profile incidents of excessive force" -- Nixon took part in the Denver Diner incident, while Murr was at the center of the Michael DeHerrera case -- "and went on to lie about their actions. So to keep these officers on the street is absurd."
At this writing, Mu Son Chi has not yet spoken directly to Independent Monitor Mitchell, but he feels "he's absolutely correct that we need to look into how people are treated when they go to Internal Affairs -- how they're discouraged from filing complaints. This is a cultural problem and an institutional problem with Internal Affairs."
As for the claim that contradictory statements make prosecuting the case impossible, he's confused about why the accounts of the officers in question were treated as credible. "Alex came forward with his story, and he's never been shown to have lied. So why the Manager of Safety is taking the word of these officers is a real head-scratcher.
"We've seen a consistent trend by the city to put and keep violent, lying officers back on the streets. That puts them in a position of being able to interact with community members, and when our community sees this, they have less trust in the police. They will then not call the police when they see crime happening and not cooperate with police when they're trying to get information on crimes. And that makes our community less safe."
With that in mind, the Colorado Progressive Coalition will be convening its racial justice task force later this week to determine how to respond to these assorted developments. According to Mu Son Chi, "it's made up of people who are survivors of police violence, people who have experienced racial profiling and family members whose loved ones have been hurt, or who've been lost, to police violence." The goal, he says, is "long-term planning."
Clearly, this story isn't going away, no matter how much assorted Denver officials might wish it would.
Update below: In February, the Justice Department decided not to charge the officers who beat Alex Landau to a pulp with federal civil rights violations. Then, days later, a cop who pummeled him was reinstated at the conclusion of a separate excessive-force investigation.
Although Landau was frustrated by this turn of events, he hoped for better news from Denver's own inquiry. But no: The Manager of Safety has decided not to prosecute the officers in question.
As we've reported, Landau was a nineteen-year-old Community College of Denver student when he was pulled over by police on January 15, 2009, allegedly for making an illegal left turn.
Marijuana was subsequently found on Landau's passenger, a fellow student named Addison Hunold, prompting the officers -- identified in the lawsuit as Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton -- to ask if they could search his trunk. Landau is said to have responded by stepping toward the officers and quizzing them about whether or not they had a warrant -- at which point they began punching him in the face. The attack caused Landau to fall, but the beating continued for several minutes, with one officer yelling, "He's going for the gun." (Landau was unarmed.) Once they finally stopped the assault, one officer reportedly put the following question to him: "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?"
A lawsuit over the incident was filed in January 2011 (see it below), and Landau eventually received a $795,000 settlement from the City of Denver for the damage done to him. But officers Nixon, Murr and Middleton still have not been punished for their actions in the incident. Nixon was canned in connection with his role in an alleged assault on four women at the Denver Diner, also in 2009. However, he was later reinstated and remains on the Denver police force, as does Middleton.
And Murr? He was fired for taking part in another high-profile excessive-force case involving Michael DeHerrera -- but the Civil Service Commission recently recommended that Murr be reinstated, complete with back pay.
Now, all three are off the hook in the Landau case. Here's a statement just released by Denver Manager of Safety Alex Martinez's office:
Consistent with the conclusion of the former chief of police, the recommendation of the previous independent monitor, the recommendation of the former acting independent monitor, the recommendation of the current independent monitor, and the conclusion of the current chief of police, as well as the separate decisions of the Denver District Attorney and the United States Department of Justice that there is insufficient evidence to make any criminal accusations against any officers, the Manager of Safety determines there is insufficient evidence to sustain any allegations of inappropriate force, racial slurs or deceptive conduct by Officers Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton for the incident with Mr. Alexander Landau. Other than reprimands by the Chief of Police for failure to make complete reports, no disciplinary action is taken against any of the involved officers.
How does Landau feel about this decision?
Landau's reaction is contained in a Colorado Progressive Coalition release that arrived after our original post was published. Read the entire statement below, followed by a response from attorney Anna Holland Edwards of Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman, P.C., representing the legal team that assisted Landau with the lawsuit that resulted in the aforementioned $795,000 settlement.
Colorado Progressive Coalition statement:
Today, in an effort to bury the news, the Denver Safety Manager and city announced that they would not bring further disciplinary measures against the three officers involved in beating Alex Landau, nearly to death. Colorado Progressive Coalition condemns the decision for both failing to provide justice and setting a precedent for further police abuse. CPC felt that the city had been making progress in its police disciplinary measures, however, this decision only bolsters the culture of silence that pervades Denver's law enforcement system.
Landau will be available for media at the Colorado Progressive Coalition offices at 1029 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO, 80204 tonight. Colorado Progressive Coalition has been working with Alex as he and his family have been calling for justice in his case.
"Today's decision to not fire the officers that brutally assaulted me over four years ago is a clear indication that the Manger of Safety and the city of Denver are not committed to cleaning up Denver Police Department's culture of violence and deception," said Landau. "This comes just two months after a federal judge said that the city of Denver fails to punish officers for excessive force and tolerates a code of silence. This is dangerous for our community and its residents. We are renewing our call for an investigation by the United States Department of Justice on a pattern and practice of abuse by Denver law enforcement. I also call on our community to join me and my family in the call for justice."
"I'm heartbroken," said Patsy Hathaway, Alex's mother. "They nearly killed my son and he didn't do anything to deserve that. They need to be punished." The Law firm of Anna Holland Edward, John Holland & Erica Grossman who argued in Alex's case with the city released this statement:
"It appears that nothing has been learned from this terrible story. The City has unfortunately taken several steps backwards and police brutality remains all too acceptable in Denver. Alex's complaints were brushed off when he initially presented to IAB, still bloody from his beating, and he was accused then of "playing the race card." This determination of insufficient evidence to proceed is simply a failure of nerve to do what is needed to address this unconscionable beating and the subsequent problems this force has had with brutality by officers.
"In litigation and settlement, Denver understood what really happened here and the sufficiency of the evidence. These reviews continue to attempt to paper over that reality.
"Those affected by police brutality have no recourse through petition of government or internal complaint procedures, it appears, and will instead have to continue to take their matters to the Courts."
Anna Holland Edwards statement:
It appears that nothing has been learned from this terrible story. The City has unfortunately taken several steps backwards and police brutality remains all too acceptable in Denver. Alex's complaints were brushed off when he initially presented to IAB, still bloody from his beating, and he was accused then of "playing the race card." This determination of insufficient evidence to proceed is simply a failure of nerve to do what is needed to address this unconscionable beating and the subsequent problems this force has had with brutality by officers.
In litigation and settlement, Denver understood what really happened here and the sufficiency of the evidence. These reviews continue to attempt to paper over that reality.
Those affected by police brutality have no recourse through petition of government or internal complaint procedures, it appears, and will instead have to continue to take their matters to the Courts.
Bottom line, IAB's decision amounts to acceptance of brutality and racism. What is insufficient is not the evidence but the lack of response by government and the continued toleration of these kinds of incidents.
Manager of Safety Martinez provides his rationale in the video below. After that, find three documents provided by Martinez's office -- a narrative, a discipline-determination account and a timeline.
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Alex Landau responds to feds' decision not to charge Denver cops who brutally beat him."