Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Alex Landau still waiting for DPD decision, but his Westword story wins a major award

In January 2009, Alex Landau landed in the hospital after Denver cops pulled over the black teen for making an illegal left turn. He's still waiting for the Denver Police Department to determine the fate of the officers involved -- but another verdict came in this weekend, when Joel Warner's cover story on Landau won top honors from the National Association of Black Journalists.

As Warner detailed in "Black and Blue," published January 20, 2011, Landau and a friend were headed to Wendy's on Colfax to get some food when Landau made a wrong turn -- a very wrong turn. DPD officer Randy Nixon pulled Landau over, and reinforcements soon showed up.

When he asked if they had a warrant to search his trunk, cops Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton grabbed Landau by the arms. "You don't have your license," Nixon told him, and then reportedly punched Landau in the face. After that, all four lost their balance and fell to the curb, where the cops began pummeling Landau first with their fists, then with a police radio and a metal flashlight. That's all according to the civil rights complaint that Landau filed the week before Warner's story was published -- and which the city resolved by giving Landau a $795,000 settlement three months later.

While the initial internal DPD investigation was finished in February 2009, no actions have yet been taken against the officers involved in the case. In the meantime, both Murr and Nixon have been fired (and unfired, and then re-fired) for their roles in the Denver Diner incident (Nixon) and Michael DeHerrera assault (Murr), although both have appealed recent decisions.

Although Denver Police Chief Robert White had initially promised Landau a determination in April, last month he said he would re-enact the incident before deciding what discipline to recommend to Manager of Safety Alex Martinez. Landau declined to participate.

White went forward with the re-enactment -- but with the revelation earlier this month that the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into Landau's case, he and Martinez announced that even though their investigation "is now complete," they were postponing any further action until the feds finish their work.

The National Association of Black Journalists did not wait. Warner's story on Landau's case was named the first-place winner in the News -- Single Story category for newspapers under 150,000 circulation at the 2012 Salute to Excellence Awards, which were announced at the NABJ's 37th annual convention on Saturday, in New Orleans.

Find the complete list of winners here.

Joel Warner is a repeat winner at the NABJ. "Trial by Fire," his July 22, 2010 profile of Holly Square, won the Best Single Story award last year, while "Taken for a Ride," his December 2, 2010, exposé on the shady doings of some of Denver's cab companies, took first place in investigative reporting.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun