Alex Landau beating: Denver cops puts case on pause as FBI investigates
Update below: Alex Landau talks about the news. Three years-plus since Alex Landau was beaten bloody after being pulled over for what officers cited as an illegal left turn, and a year since he was paid $795,000 by Denver City Council, the case against the officers involved faces another delay. This morning, Manager of Safety Alex Martinez and Denver Police Chief Robert White released a joint statement announcing that their continuing investigation will pause until the FBI completes its own.
"The FBI and Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice are moving forward with an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Alexander Landau...by Denver Police Department officers to determine if the officers violated federal law," confirms Dave Joly, media coordinator for the FBI's Denver division.
At this point, the Denver Police Department has yet to recommend action regarding the officers involved in the case: Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton. In the meantime, both Murr and Nixon have been fired (and unfired, and then re-fired) for their roles in the Denver Diner incident (Nixon) and Michael DeHerrera assault (Murr), although both are appealing that most recent decision.
In the early months of his new position, White promised closure in the Landau case through a disciplinary recommendation, but his self-imposed deadlines in April and May have not resulted in a decision. As of last month, the department began conducting re-enactments of the January 2009 incident to gather additional information. Landau declined to participate.
"Last month, we decided to conduct additional investigation in the Alex Landau case before making a final administrative decision," White and Martinez say in this morning's statement. "Our purpose was to be certain we understand the descriptions of the incident given by witnesses, and to reach the right resolution. The investigation is now complete."
But if you've been keeping track, that doesn't mean there's a decision. In fact, there (still) isn't. "We have been informed by the FBI of an investigation to determine if any civil rights violations occurred," the statement continues.
Manager of Safety Alex Martinez.
For months, the Colorado Progressive Coalition and the ACLU of Colorado, among others, have lobbied the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Denver Police Department's standard of practices, but according to the DPD, this recently announced review is more specific. "It is our understanding this Department of Justice investigation is not a pattern and practices civil investigation into the Denver Police Department; rather, it is a criminal investigation into the actions of the individual officers involved in the Landau case," the statement reads. "We will wait until the DOJ's investigation is complete to make a final decision."
After the DOJ concludes its own investigation, White will give a disciplinary recommendation to Martinez, who makes the final decision.
Update, 1:15 p.m. June 4:Although the investigation was made public only this morning, the Department of Justice contacted Landau at the end of April and began trading e-mails with his attorney, John Holland. Representatives asked Landau to stay quiet about the investigation in the interim as they began interviews with him and others involved in the case. And while the investigation is not the department-wide practices review that Landau hoped for, it is a step in the right direction, he says.
"One thing that really irks me is that the state feels the need to wait for the federal level to take over," Landau says. "They're two completely separate investigations that should not depend on each other. For me, it feels like the city just passed on its disciplinary responsibilities and gave them to the DOJ."
In the three-and-a-half years he has awaited a disciplinary recommendation, Landau has learned to temper his reactions, but the last few months have been a roller coaster. Although he knew about the FBI's investigation, few others did, and when White asked him to take part in the DPD's reenactments of the night that launched this battle, he felt insulted. "I've been really put through the ringer by everyone at the state level," Landau says. "That was disrespectful. Why would you even ask me a question like that?"
In the meantime, the Department of Justice is interested only in the facts related to the original incident, not the years of oversight and legal battles that have ensued, Landau says -- or the incidents Murr and Nixon have been involved with since.
As he moves forward and continues his role in the FBI's ongoing investigation, Landau hopes that the discovery of a civil rights violation might prompt a larger investigation of the department. But when asked what his ideal result is, he hesitates: "That would have been three-and-a-half years ago, when they could have taken them off the force and prevented other incidents," he says of the officers involved. "But we can't really go back, can we? At the very least, now there's national recognition that Denver police are beating their citizens. That's a victory, if you look at it like that. It's a day-to-day struggle."
Landau believes that the investigation is the result of community interaction, the kind he has been working with the Colorado Progressive Coalition to promote since January 2009. "The energy in the community, the outrage and the sheer list of brutality cases in the city all bubbled up to create this force," Landau says. "It was only a matter of time before the FBI got involved. I'm willing to hold out as long as it takes."
Read the ACLU of Colorado's letter to the Department of Justice in full: ACLU Colo Letter to DOJ
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Alex Landau refuses to re-enact Denver cop beating."
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