Alex Landau beating: Attorney says decision not to charge officers ignores key evidence
Last week, 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. Afterward, Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell said Landau's claim that an Internal Affairs officer tried to dissuade him from filing a complaint still needs to be investigated. An attorney agrees -- and adds that conflicting stories about a bloody handprint on a gun undermine Martinez's conclusion.
As we've reported, Landau and passenger Addison Hunold were pulled over in January 2009, allegedly over an illegal left turn.
Officers Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton subsequently 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 Middleton's gun. Afterward, he remembers one officer asking, "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?"
A photo of Landau after the 2009 incident.
Landau, assisted by lawyer John Holland, 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."
Beyond the beating itself, however, the lawsuit also features Landau's account of his reception when he complained to the Internal Affairs Bureau about what had happened to him. Here's his account from the original January 2011 lawsuit, on view below:
Sergeant Virginia Quinones, the IAB [Internal Affairs Bureau] intake worker taking Plaintiff's initial complaint of racism and brutality, actually discouraged Plaintiff from making his complaint several times. This intake worker accused Plaintiff of lying, telling him that he should "grow up," take responsibility for his actions, and that his intimidated friend was on "our side, not your side."
IAB consciously decided not to even speak to Addison Hunold about what he witnessed before making their determination.
IAB suggested to the badly injured Plaintiff during his initial complaint that he was bringing false charges, making it clear that the matter would not be neutrally investigated, but rather had been pre-decided.
After Plaintiff complained about his being called a "nigger" by one of the male police officers, the IAB interviewer outrageously accused him of "playing the race card" when Plaintiff suggested that there was a racial motivation behind his beating.
These issues are absent from various documents released in support of the Manager of Safety's decision against prosecuting the officers, and that troubled Independent Monitor Mitchell. In a statement, he concurred with the choice not to pursue charges, but added, "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."
Attorney Holland agrees. "We told them we wanted the investigation reopened specifically about the race charge," he says. "How could you blow off a kid coming in by telling him he played the race card? But they didn't investigate it, they didn't talk about it, they didn't mention it. That's a breech of the agreement."
Equally suspect in Holland's view is the lack of attention paid to conflicting reports about the aforementioned bloody handprint. Two officers either specifically mentioned it or alluded to it, while another denied its existence -- and rejected suggestions that she'd wiped it off.
Continue for more about the Alex Landau case and the bloody handprint. As we mentioned earlier, the cops said Landau had tried to grab Middleton's gun, prompting them to increase the amount of force used against him. Landau, meanwhile, has consistently denied doing anything of the sort. But two different officer accounts suggest that he actually made contact with the weapon, leaving his blood on it as a result.
First up is Officer Daniel Politica, who arrived at the scene in response to Murr's radio call for help. Here's an excerpt from a document entitled "Determination in the Case of Alexander Landau," shared below:
Officer Daniel Politica stated that when he arrived, he saw the officers struggling with Mr. Landau and heard someone state that Mr. Landau was going for Officer Middleton's gun. He indicated that he saw Mr. Landau's hand on Officer Middleton's gun or holster. He indicated that "it looked like his arm was pretty stretched like to the limit and his fingertips were right at where the -- the back strap of the -- the pistol grip would have been, so he couldn't quite grab around it. I don't even know if that was his intent or anything like that. I just saw his fingers on the gun and his two other fingers on the holster like spread out.
Afterward, the account continues, "Officer Politica indicated that when Officer Middleton stood up, there were 'two bloody lines on her holster and gun.' He indicated that he believed this would have been Mr. Landau's fingerprints. He stated that he talked to another officer about photographing this, but Officer Middleton had already wiped off the blood."
Officer Nixon made a similar statement. This quote was included in the lawsuit: "I spaced putting this in my statement, but prior to Officer Middleton cleaning the blood off of her weapon, I observed what appeared to be the imprint of the webbing of the hand in blood on the backstrap of her gun, I'm not too sure if this helps out or not."
And Middleton? The "Determination" document contains the following passage: "Officer Middleton indicated that he had not seen any blood on either her holster or her gun. She stated that she did not clean her gun or her holster after the incident. She did, however, acknowledge that she removed her belt and cleaned the blood off one side of her belt."
Doesn't this contradiction suggest that someone was lying? Not in Martinez's view. A section of the "Determination" document labeled "Deceptive Conduct" argues that "there is insufficient evidence to establish that this departmental rule was violated by any of the officers involved in this incident." While some inconsistencies were noted, the majority are described as being "more likely than not the variances and inaccuracies due more to differing perceptions, opportunities to observe, and abilities to recall and recount."
Landau's jacket after the beating.
Such reasoning not only leaves Holland cold, but it also suggests to him that the word of police officers is routinely treated as being more equal than what's said by anyone else. He asks: "Why do we have two systems of justice -- one for those who break the law, and another one for those who are supposed to enforce the law but also break it?"
Holland calls the conflicting stories about the handprint a "critical issue" that was specifically mentioned to Manager of Safety Martinez by Landau. "That this evidence was ignored forever taints the credibility" of the just-announced investigation results, he maintains, adding, "The incredible contradiction between Officer Middleton denying and Officer Nixon charging that Officer Middleton destroyed case-critical evidence of an alleged assault on her is likely why the City settled."
Now that Martinez has decided against charging the officers, Holland believes it's up to the public "to demand that they complete the investigation and answer the central questions that they didn't look at. It's a question of whether we let history be written falsely. Alexander Landau didn't put his hand on the gun and there wasn't a bloody handprint on the gun -- and why Denver doesn't care about that is unbelievable to me."
Look below to see the original 2011 lawsuit, plus a video of Martinez talking about the case and other documents released by the Manager of Safety's Office to explain why no charges will be filed.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Alex Landau beating: Advocate backs police monitor's call for more investigation."
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