Attorney David Lane says he's got about a half-dozen active lawsuits against the Denver Police Department, including an excessive-force complaint against DPD officer and ex-American Gladiator contestant Vicki Fernandez that's scheduled for trial beginning today. His latest? A suit on behalf of the Martinez family, whose members are part of a Mexican band. They claim Denver cops mistakenly beat them, then accused the family of assault -- charges that were later dismissed.
In response, DPD spokesman Lieutenant Matt Murray points out that an internal affairs investigation and the Office of the Independent Monitor determined that the accusations against the officers in question were found to be baseless.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney who defended the family against the assault accusations and is handling the suit in conjunction with Lane, describes the Martinezes as "a family Mexican band. They've even done fundraising for other law enforcement, like in Adams County. They're good people. Nobody's got criminal records."
Here's how Mohamedbhai lays out the facts of the case.
"The Martinez family moved into a house at 1263 Stuart Street in December of '08, about a month before the incident went down," Mohamedbhai says. "The police were, I suppose, working on stale information about the former tenants presumably being into drugs and prostitution and some bad stuff. But those guys had been gone for a while. According to the landlord, the house had stayed empty for five or six weeks prior to the Martinez family moving in.
Cut to January 27, 2009, just past 11 p.m., when members of the District 1 Special Crime Attack Team, better known as SCAT, arrived at the Martinez home. "They had no warrant, no application for a warrant, nothing," Mohamedbhai allows. "They come in hard, kind of expecting to come into a drug den. The father [Daniel Martinez Jr.] opens the door a crack and cops rush in and engage three of the Martinez family -- the father and three of the kids [Jonathan, age sixteen at the time, Nathan, nineteen, and Daniel III, 21]. They punched first, asked questions later. One of the kids [Jonathan] got his head put through a window, and another one [Nathan] got punched so hard that he was launched into the air and staggered back. Then two of them got body slammed outside."
Once everyone was cuffed, Mohamedbhai says the officers assembled everyone on a couch inside the house -- "and they look around and realize they're in a little family house, not a drug den. Then they ask everyone for their socials, and they've all got them; they're all citizens. So they trump up this story that the kids attacked them once the police came in the house upon consent. That's their version -- that the dad let them in and the kids started swinging on these huge cops."
Mohamedbhai insists that this last descriptor isn't hyperbole. "One of the cops is six-five, another one is six-four. And Jonathan Martinez, he's something like 120 pounds."
Nonetheless, Nathan and Daniel III were charged with third-degree assault on a police officer, "which has huge criminal implications," Mohamedbhai points out. "Even if you have no prior history, it's a mandatory sentence of two years and a day in the Department of Corrections." But things worked out differently. In a jury trial in January 2010, "they were acquitted of all charges by the jury," he continues, "because the police story, once you dissect it, made no sense at all. There were inconsistencies of what happened, who was there, the sequence of events. It just wasn't clear."
Hence, the lawsuit, filed earlier this month, which claims the officers violated the Martinez family's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights "when they recklessly, knowingly, intentionally, willfully, and wantonly sought Plaintiffs' arrests and instituted legal process against them by acting with knowledge that Plaintiffs had committed no violation of law."
As Mohamedbhai notes, "there are serious constitutional protections in your home -- and intruding into someone's home at night without a warrant and beating up everyone inside -- and then covering up your own bad acts -- is egregious. And, of course, Denver's internal-affairs bureau just whitewashed everything, which is no surprise."
DPD spokesman Murray couldn't disagree more. He stresses that the internal-affairs investigation was conducted under the supervision of the Office of the Independent Monitor, which exists to make certain that inquiries are handled fairly and objectively -- and both agencies came to the same conclusion.
"The complaint was ruled to be 'unfounded,' which is the highest level of outcome an officer can have in an internal affairs case," Murray says. "There were conflicting statements from the family making the charges, as outlined in the letter by the Independent Monitor. And just because they made the allegation in court, and just because someone is found not guilty in court, doesn't mean something didn't happen."
As for Lane, he maintains that he's filed so many lawsuits against the Denver Police Department of late because, "as my grandmother used to say, a fish stinks from the head. There's a culture of brutality that's tolerated in the DPD, from the Chief of Police and the Manager of Safety on down."
Page below to read the lawsuit, as well as letters to the Martinez family from Denver Police investigators and the Office of the Independent Monitor. Also on view: a Fox31 report about the case.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Vicki Ferrari, Denver cop/American Gladiator contestant: Attorney attacks suit against her."