Top Latest Word posts of 2013, No. 4: Alex Landau reacts when beating cops aren't charged
Editor's note: We're counting down the most popular Latest Word posts of 2013. This one came in at No. 4. Read it as originally published.
April 11, 2013: 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.
Earlier this week, we spoke with Landau's lawyer, who was troubled by evidence he fears Martinez ignored.
Today, we hear directly from Landau, who was far from happy about the decision -- but he remains committed to his personal mission.
In January 2009, as we've reported, Landau, then nineteen, 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 Middleton's gun. Afterward, he remembers one officer asking, "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?"
Landau 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. Last 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."
"It raises a bunch of emotions," he concedes. "I feel like it's obvious that the Manager of Safety and people like [Denver mayor] Michael Hancock, who have continually said they want an honest police force and want to build solidarity between police and the community, have proven they don't really have the best interests of people in mind."
That it's taken more than four years to get to this point only adds to Landau's frustration. According to him, Denver Police Chief Robert White told him not long ago that "time was no longer a factor" in the investigation. "And when people tell me things like that, how am I supposed to feel as a victim?"
He had the same reaction to a suggestion last year that he take part in a reenactment of the incident -- an offer he declined. "I look at that and think, 'Don't you believe my word? Don't you believe the photos?' You look at an officer like Randy Murr, who was terminated for what he did to Michael DeHerrera. Shouldn't there be further investigation of him, just because he was involved in both of these things? Shouldn't they want him off the force?"
Perhaps some do. But while Murr was sacked two years ago for his role in the DeHerrera matter, which also took place in 2009, a few months after Landau was attacked, he was later reinstated.
Given such reversals, Landau admits that he "wasn't surprised" by the decision not to file charges in his case. "People were telling me to go back and forth between the Denver police and the FBI. And the police put their investigation on pause when the FBI started looking into it, even though not only myself but my attorneys saw them as two separate investigations -- one for civil-rights violations and the other for police discipline. I felt like that was another delay tactic, if you will."
Likewise, he wasn't caught off-guard by Martinez's disinterest in exploring Landau's claim that Sergeant Virginia Quinones, who processed his complaint to the Internal Affairs Bureau, tried to dissuade him from filing -- an oversight that also troubled Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell.
"When I was released from jail, I went immediately to Internal Affairs," Landau recalls. "At that point, I had 43 stitches in my face, a concussion, a broken nose. And when I talked to Virginia Quinones, she said, 'Sometimes you need to be a man and own up to your actions' and 'It's not a good idea to play the race card.' And as soon as she told me that, I knew it was going to be an uphill struggle, because Internal Affairs is where you're supposed to report that kind of thing.
"I feel when the Manager of Safety says things like, 'Four years later, we came to the same conclusion as when it was originally filed,' well, four years ago, the case was totally mishandled. My attorneys had to fight to get it reopened -- and when that happened, things should have been treated with more urgency, not less urgency. That definitely speaks to me, and speaks to my family -- it says they never had our best interests at heart."
Why not? Landau can only speculate.
"Maybe they were upset by the way the settlement played out. I've had a lot of people tell me, 'You got all this money -- that's what justice is supposed to look like.' But that's not what this was all about. What happens next time these officers pull somebody over? What's the dialogue going to sound like next time Randy Murr or Ricky Nixon are involved in another high-profile case?"
Hancock has also disappointed Landau.
"When he was elected, one of the big principles of his campaign was police reform," he says. "There was supposed to be no tolerance for deceptive acts, and the Manager of Safety told me the same thing. But I don't think the Manager of Safety has done a good job as far as reestablishing trust between officers and civilians. This would have been the perfect opportunity to show an example of solidarity-building, if you will, since these officers are known to be violent, known to engage in deceptive acts, known to lie and cover up their acts afterward. But they face no discipline for excessive force.
"They say they didn't have enough evidence, but the photos show that I almost lost my life."
Even so, Landau isn't about to give up on the ideal of police reform. The Colorado Progressive Coalition's Mu Son Chi told us on Monday that the organization will be convening a task force of community members who've been directly impacted by alleged police brutality, and Landau will be taking part.
More from our News archive: "Photos: Alex Landau faces Alex Martinez at Michael DeHerrera police brutality rally."