Update, January 20: Westword published today a much longer cover story on Landau, his lawsuit and life. Read it here: "Black and Blue: Alex Landau was pulled over for making an illegal left turn and ended up beaten bloody." ___________
On the night of January 15, 2009, nineteen-year-old Community College of Denver student Alexander Landau was stopped by Denver police for allegedly making an illegal left turn. But according to a federal complaint filed yesterday, within minutes of the stop Landau was being beaten by three Denver cops, two of whom were wielding a radio and a flashlight as bludgeons. When it was all over, he was taken to Denver Health to be treated for a broken nose, lacerations and closed head injuries -- but not before he demanded somebody take photos of him.
The lengthy and detailed complaint is the latest in a string of high-profile cases of alleged police brutality incidents that have captured local headlines and led to the resignation of Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea. The issue was even discussed during the swearing-in ceremony of interim mayor Bill Vidal earlier today.
Landau's story may add fuel to the fire -- especially since one of the officers named in his complaint, Randy Murr, also played a role in the controversial police beating of Michael deHerrera. The complaint filed on Landau's behalf notes that in the process of the traffic stop, police found marijuana on Landau's passenger, a fellow student named Addison Hunold, and proceeded to search Landau's car. Apparently the situation spun out of control when the cops asked Landau if they could search his trunk and Landau stepped towards them, asking if they had a warrant. Allegedly the three officers then on the scene - Murr, Ricky Nixon and Tiffany Middleton -- then proceeded to punch him in the face and then, once he fell over, beat him for several minutes, with one officer yelling, "He's going for the gun." According to the complaint, when it was all over, Landau heard one officer say to him, "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?" Things would only get worse for Landau, who spent several days in jail after being treated at the hospital. In the meantime, according to the complaint, the officers involved in the incident "conspired and/or acted in concert to have [Landau] falsely charged and prosecuted for criminal attempt to disarm a police officer." That included attempts to "intimidate and coerce Mr. Hunold into initially giving inaccurate, distorted and incomplete statements" when he was brought to the police station after the incident, with one officer allegedly telling Hunold, "That nigger's not your friend."
A police jacket at the scene of the incident.
And a few days later, according to an e-mail quoted in the complaint, Detective James Medina, an officer looking into the case, wrote to the officers involved that District Attorney Alma Staub "stated she would reject this case of attempt to disarm a peace officer based on the facts presented and I would need further details on the incident." In response, Nixon reportedly wrote in an e-mail that he had "spaced" mentioning something in his original report of the traffic stop:
"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."
The complaint notes that Middleton herself never mentions Landau touching her gun in any of her reports, and even noted in one e-mail, "I was never assaulted by Mr. Landau." However, Nixon's report was apparently enough for the District Attorney's Office to charge Landau with attempting to disarm a police officer -- charges that were dropped several months later, not long after Landau's defense lawyer was granted internal affairs files for the detectives involved. In addition, a police Internal Affairs Bureau investigation into the incident found that the "actions of the officer were within the policies of the Denver Police Department."
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But now Murr, Nixon and Middleton are facing a lawsuit filed by John Holland, Anna C. Holland-Edwards and Erica T. Grossman alleging the three violated Landau's civil rights thanks to "race-based police brutality." Police chief Gerald Whitman and the City and County of Denver are also named as defendants for having "ongoingly encouraged, tolerated, ratified, and acquiesced to a dangerous environment of police brutality."
A request for comment from Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson has not yet been returned. Check out the entire complaint, with photos, below.
More from our News archive: "Police brutality: Were Michael DeHerrera and Shawn Johnson targeted because they're gay?" Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner