Longform

Alex Landau was pulled over for making an illegal left turn and ended up beaten bloody

Trapped in shackles

Wonderin' why, feelin' baffled

I was handed to the system like a ticket in a raffle

My brothers and sisters are getting hassled

By a bunch of assholes with badges and needin' counsel

After being falsely accused and abused by these scoundrels

Alex Landau noticed the flashing lights in his rearview mirror right after he turned off Colfax onto Emerson. Landau and his passenger, Addison Hunold, were on their way to the Wendy's just down the street for some late-night burgers, but they never made it there that cold January night in 2009. Instead, Landau pulled his '84 white Lincoln Town Car to a stop near the corner of 16th Avenue and Emerson, and the cop car pulled in behind.

The officer who came to Landau's window said he'd made an illegal left turn and asked for his license and registration. The nineteen-year-old explained that he'd left his wallet at home, but offered his proof of insurance on the car and his Social Security number. The cop took the information back to his squad car while Landau sat in the Lincoln, feeling nervous. They'd just come from a house where folks had been smoking pot. Not only that, but 21-year-old Hunold had a pill container full of weed in his pocket, and there was more in the trunk. Landau had a feeling the telltale odor was in the air.

Sure enough, the cop returned a few minutes later and asked the two to get out of the car to be searched. Figuring it would be discovered anyway, Hunold handed over the marijuana before he was patted down. The cop took the weed and told Hunold to go stand by the front of his cruiser, then asked Landau if he could search his car.

Landau agreed. As the cop rummaged around the seats, two additional officers, a man and a woman, arrived in a second squad car. Once he was finished with the front and back seats, the first cop took Landau's keys and went to unlock the trunk.

Knowing about the weed there, Landau took several steps forward with his hands raised above his head, as if to show he meant no harm, and asked if the officer had a warrant to search the trunk.

According to a civil rights complaint filed in federal court last week, the two cops who'd just arrived — Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton — grabbed Landau by the arms. The first cop, an officer named Ricky Nixon, looked at Landau and said, "You don't have your license." Then he allegedly punched Landau in the face. The force of the action caused all four to lose their balance, tumbling to the curb, and the cops began pummeling Landau first with their fists, then with a police radio and a metal flashlight.

None of the officers involved in the incident can comment because it's the subject of a recently reopened Internal Affairs investigation, says Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson.

Landau's version of events is recounted in the affidavit. He heard one of the officers yell, "He's going for the gun!" That he shouted "No, I'm not!" didn't seem to matter, he says now: The beating continued.

Landau, with his face in the gutter and spitting blood, began losing track of everything going on around him. Hunold, by the squad car, screaming at the officers to stop. Additional cruisers arriving from the police station a few blocks away and surrounding the scene. Some of the reinforcements joining in the fracas, others standing and watching. Landau, who was fading in and out of consciousness, remembers one detail vividly: At one point, he felt the cold metal of a service revolver pressed to his head.

Eventually, Landau blacked out. When he came to, he was being dragged out of the bloody gutter. One of the first things he remembers hearing is one of the cops telling him, "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?"

As someone cuffed Landau's hands behind his back, he says, one of the cops told him, "You don't know how close you were to getting your fucking head blown off." By now Hunold was gone, taken away. Landau remembers seven or eight officers around him, chatting and laughing as if nothing out of the ordinary had just transpired.

An ambulance arrived. According to the paramedics' report, they found Landau lying by the curb, bleeding from the head and in "acute distress." The EMTs noted something else in their report: In all capital letters, they wrote that the patient stated "HE DID NOT DO ANYTHING."

Landau wouldn't let the paramedics help him — at least not right away. He didn't want anybody to see to his wounds or clean up the blood before photos were taken.

*****

I'm not the first and I'm not saying they did me the worst

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner