Shortly after the Denver City Council authorized a $360,000 settlement in an alleged 2009 police brutality incident at the Denver Diner, a judge's ruling led to the firing of officers Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine. However, they reportedly plan to appeal the decision -- and clues to their possible arguments can be found in a lawsuit filed by Nixon, who was also accused of brutality in the 2009 beating of Alex Landau. In it, he charges Denver with violating his civil rights by bowing to political and media pressure. Photos, video, original documents and details below.
Denver District Court Judge Elizabeth Starrs' termination ruling related to Nixon and Devine, shared here, makes no mention of the Landau matter. But it plays a big role in Nixon's lawsuit, filed in late August.
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 -- Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton -- to ask if they could search his trunk. According to Landau's own lawsuit, which resulted in a $795,000 settlement, he 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 he maintains that 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?"
None of this material is in Nixon's suit. Instead, his document states that Landau, not Hunold, "was found to be in possession of over 106 grams of marijuana, then a controlled substance," adding, "Denver, in spite of the evidence and in response to a torrent of publicity, wrongfully supported the claims of Alex Landau."
Later, the suit stresses that multiple individuals and agencies, including then-Denver Police Chief Gerald Whitman, the DPD Internal Affairs Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice, either determined that the evidence "did not support a conclusion that Officer Nixon and his colleagues engaged in any misconduct" in the incident, or there was "insufficient evidence to file criminal accusations."
In the beginning, the Denver Diner case investigation went pretty much the same way -- but then, things changed.
Our previous reporting notes that in July 2009, Kelly Boren, Sharelle Thomas, Ana Ortega and Kristal Carrillo were at the restaurant when they say Denver police officers Nixon and 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 caught on video by a nearby HALO camera.
Initially, DPD investigations determined that "discipline against [Nixon]...was not supported by the evidence" and "the use of force was justified" in the Denver Diner incident, the lawsuit says. But in January 2011, as the controversy continued, Nixon was put on desk duty -- a reassignment described as "humiliating." Then, that April, ex-Manager of Safety Charles Garcia "overrode all other recommendations, from every level of review," to terminate Nixon's employment.
Afterward, the lawsuit quotes one member of the Internal Affairs Bureau as telling Nixon, "Rick, we all know this is bullshit, this is political. You need to fight this." The anecdote adds that Nixon "was in tears and emotionally distraught."
The lawsuit details what's characterized as the city's attempts to block Nixon from receiving unemployment benefits prior to January 2012, when he was reinstated by the Civil Service Commission. Moreover, Denver, which fought the CSC's decision, is also criticized for what the document implies were retaliatory actions once he was back on the force.
Examples: In May 2012, Nixon was "humiliatingly not issued his Police officer's badge, and [was] informed that he cannot wear his uniform, or carry his duty weapon." In addition, the suit goes on, Nixon was "assigned to the Photo Radar Unit...without justification or excuse, and in violation of his rights as a US citizen, and in contravention of the Constitution of the United States of America." This move is described as "a hostile action used to humiliate and embarrass" Nixon.
The suit states that the massive publicity surrounding the Landau and Denver Diner incidents, coupled with media coverage that "by innuendo, at least, suggests that the allegations and claims" against him were true, grew worse and more harmful due to the city's overreactions to it. As such, the text argues that "the unconstitutional actions of the City have allowed for a public rebuke, outcry and threatening attitude to be developed to the harm of physical violence to Officer Nixon and his family," including threatening messages on websites and Facebook.
The suit's main assertion: "Defendants unconstitutional actions set forth herein are abuse of their power and position, designed to destroy and deprive [Nixon] of his constitutional rights, privileges and immunities, since their misuse of power is posed by virtue of State law, municipal law and made possible because they have exercised their unconstitutional wrongdoing, clothed with the authority of State law."
Given the passion behind the lawsuit, Nixon cannot be expected to go quietly. Yet attorneys Siddhartha Rathod and Qusair Mohamedbhai, who represented the women in the Denver Diner case, believe he and Devine were allowed to linger on the job for far too long.
After the officers' firing, the attorneys released a statement that reads in part, "justice delayed is justice denied. The Denver Diner assaults occurred nearly four-and-a-half years ago, and the disciplinary appeal process is still ongoing. Denver's inability to discipline police officers in a timely manner contributes to its culture of police brutality."
Look below to see Nixon's lawsuit, followed by Judge Starrs' ruling in regard to Nixon and Devine, plus a video featuring CBS4 coverage of the Denver Diner case.
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More from our Follow That Story archive circa February: "Alex Landau responds to feds' decision not to charge Denver cops who brutally beat him."