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Denver Diner case's $360K settlement exposes culture of police brutality, attorney says

Last night, the Denver City Council approved a $360,000 settlement over a 2009 incident at the Denver Diner, during which four women were billy-clubbed and maced by Officers Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine, both of whom are still members of the department. Attorney Siddhartha Rathod, who has represented the victims throughout the case, doesn't trumpet this payment as a victory. Rather, he uses it as an opportunity to decry police brutality in the city and wonders whether anything will be done to end it once and for all.

According to Rathod, corresponding by e-mail, "The Denver Diner case has exposed Denver's culture of police brutality and willingness to cover it up."

As we've reported (see our previous coverage below), Kelly Boren, Sharelle Thomas, Ana Ortega and Kristal Carrillo were at the restaurant in 2009 when they say Denver police officers Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine menaced them with nightsticks, pulled or shoved a number of them to the ground and sprayed them with mace despite no compelling evidence of actual wrongdoing. This contention is illustrated later in this post by a video and a series of photos showing Nixon and Devine in action.

Devine and Nixon were fired in 2011 for their actions at the Diner, only to be reinstated and given permission to hit the streets again by the Denver Civil Service Commission.

The victims' lawsuit had been wending its way through the system for several years when, in February, a judge ruled that the City of Denver could be put on trial for police brutality. This prospect significantly enhanced the odds of a settlement, which came down last night. Both Ortega and Boren will reportedly receive just over $44,000, with approximately $43,000 going to Carrillo, $34,000 to Thomas and $193,000 for legal fees.

When quizzed about the agreement, Rathod focuses not on the cash, but on the continued employment of Nixon and Devine. "Denver has repeatedly demonstrated that it cannot get rid of officers who are determined to be 'bullies and liars,'" he notes. This last phrase is in single quotes for a reason: It's shared in a document submitted to the Civil Service Commission by the Denver City Attorney's Office, which argued against the officers' reinstatement. We've included the filing below, but here's a biting excerpt, featuring a section highlighted by Rathod:
Of paramount concern to the Respondent is the risk to public safety that these officers pose if they are returned to duty. The safety of Denver's citizens rests squarely in the hands of Denver's police officers. Every officer in the Denver Police Department has been entrusted with the tremendous power and authority to make arrests and to physical or even deadly force to enforce the law and protect citizens from those who would do them harm. The responsibility that comes with wearing a police uniform and carrying a badge and gun cannot be underestimated, nor should it be taken lightly. Public safety is intrinsically tied to honest and responsible law enforcement. The video of this incident alone shows that Petitioners are bullies and liars who will not hesitate to punch a restrained female in the face (a violation affirmed by the Hearing Officer Panel); shove innocent female bystanders to the ground; indiscriminately push through a group of bystanders with a baton, mouth too occupied with a large cigar to give verbal orders; directly apply pepper spray to the face of a restrained female; pepper spray a group of retreating bystanders, unjustifiably place an injured and innocent bystander under arrest, and forcibly shove handcuffed females to the ground, yet report only a fraction of those actions. To force the City to put a badge and gun back in those officers' hands before this appeal process is complete would significantly compromise public safety and undermine the public's faith in the Denver Police Department and its many excellent police officers.
As you'll recall, Officer Nixon was also involved in the bloody beating of college student Alex Landau, which resulted in a $795,000 settlement to which Rathod alludes.

"Between the Alexander Landau and the Denver Diner incidents, the City and County of Denver has paid nearly $1.2 million to settle acts of brutality committed by Denver Police Officer Ricky Nixon," he points out. "Yet both Officer Nixon and Officer Devine remain on the force."

"The Denver Diner case has exposed Denver's culture of police brutality and willingness to cover it up," he adds. "Hopefully as the cost of keeping bad officers on the force rises, Denver will begin to take steps to fix its problems rather than continuing to throw money at a problem and keeping business as usual."

Here's the aforementioned City of Denver document, followed by our previous coverage.

Denver Diner Case Exhibit 7

Continue to see our previous coverage of the Denver Diner case, including photos, a video and original documents.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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