The Denver Police Department is no stranger to accusations of excessive force. Witness the long-running sagas of Alex Landau, Michael DeHerrera and the four women at the center of the Denver Diner case.
The latest story in this category involves Bill Dau, the owner of a local gas station. An official document accuses him of assaulting officers who tried to take him into custody, but attorney David Lane sees Dau as a victim, and believes video on view below proves it.
A police report about the May 9 incident (initially covered by 9News) maintains that officers arrived at the business after a man claimed Dau had retaliated against him for cashing a bogus $983 money order. According to the man, Dau seized and cashed his $855 paycheck and confiscated his ID, which the owner said he'd return only if he received another $150.
After the officers arrived, the report contends that Dau, faced with a bust on suspicion of theft, extortion and criminal impersonation, tried to escape and then barricade himself in an adjacent office -- and when they grabbed him, he physically resisted arrest. Hence, a charge of second-degree assault on a police officer.
This encounter was captured on a surveillance camera, and Joe Sandoval, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University consulted by 9News, does indeed see indications of resistance from Dau. But he also thinks some blows struck by an officer were unnecessary.
As for attorney Lane, he depicts Dau as an innocent victim of officers out of control. Here's his account.
"Bill Dau is an immigrant from Vietnam," Lane notes. "He's been here for 35 years, and he's a real American success story. He worked and scrimped and saved, and he's been a law-abiding citizen who's never had a lick of trouble, ever."
In advance of the May 9 police encounter, Lane says, "this guy tried to cash a bad money order at Bill Dau's gas station. He was a longtime customer, so they cashed it, and after they cashed it, they realized, 'This is no good' -- but the guy was gone.
"He came back a few days later and said, 'Gee, I'll make it up to you.' So he was paying cash to make it up, but he was still short. Then he turns the tables on Bill: He calls the cops and says, 'Bill Dau's ripping me off.' And the cops come out to question Bill.
"The cops say, 'We want to talk to you about this incident where this guy's claiming you ripped him off,' and Bill's explaining what happened to the police. But even though he's been here for 35 years, he doesn't speak English that well -- and he wants to talk to his lawyer. So he starts to walk into the back office, and as he's walking, this one cop shoves his wife into a magazine rack, which shows their state of mind. They think they can treat people like dirt for no reason."
Next, Lane continues, "they grab Bill, take him down and pummel and Tase him. And any resistance was to protect himself. You're allowed to try to stop an unjustified police beating. And then he gets charged with second-degree assault, which carries a mandatory minimum five-year Department of Corrections hit."
In Lane's view, any attempt to justify police behavior in the case is belied by visual evidence.
"It's sort of like the Rodney King case, where the police said, 'Don't believe the videotape,'" he allows. "And my point is, yes, believe the videotape. The video is the video."
Dau contacted Lane after charges were filed against him -- and after the owner had already filed a complaint with the DPD's Internal Affairs bureau, much to his attorney's chagrin.
"I would have advised them not to go to Internal Affairs -- the great police whitewash machine," he maintains. "It's the police investigating the police, and you get the expected result. And when I try to play a role in an Internal Affairs investigation, they generally drop the investigation. They'll say, 'If we can't get full statements from your clients, we can't investigate,' and I'll say things like, 'There's a videotape. You don't need full statements.' And they'll say, 'Oh, without full statements, we're dropping the investigation.'"
With that in mind, Lane will be focusing on "going to court to fight the charges against him." And while he's not talking about a possible lawsuit yet -- "Bill's got to get off defense before he can go on offense," he says -- he considers what happened to be the kind of case that will strike a chord.
In his words, "I would hope the public is so tired of this kind of misconduct by police officers that somebody would actually do something about it."
Here's the 9News report, featuring video of the aforementioned incident.
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