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

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But I'm definitely blessed to take steps on this mother earth

They tried to be covert,

They tried to coerce my witness, making sure his story worked

But y'all can't hide the truth

As I ride the beat I sleuth

To find the clues like detectives do

Lying in a jail cell, Landau was nearly overwhelmed by the smell of the blood-drenched hoodie he'd taken off and was using as a makeshift pillow.

None of it felt real yet. Not the trip in the ambulance, during which he'd gone into shock, shaking violently. Not the cop riding along in the ambulance, who allegedly called him a pussy for refusing to let the paramedics insert an IV into his arm until somebody got pictures of the damage. Not the scene at the hospital where, after a cop finally consented to take photos of his face, Landau let the doctors set his broken nose, see to the concussion he'd suffered and close his head wounds with 45 stitches.

He still hadn't had a chance to survey the damage for himself. Later, when he finally looked in a mirror, the sight would bring him to tears.

But for the moment, here he was, just a couple hours after the January 15, 2009, traffic stop, passing a sleepless night in the Denver jail. This wasn't anywhere the gregarious Landau expected to be. The adopted son of a social worker turned teacher and an environmental engineer, both white, he'd gone to schools for gifted children in the metro area and was now pursuing a degree in business management. When he wasn't busy scribbling lines of poetry and rap lyrics into one of his many notebooks, he was always the first of his friends to lend a hand when somebody needed help, volunteering to drive his classmates to and from the airport in his old, beat-up Lincoln.

But now that he was the one who needed help, who was going to come to his aid?

The next day, Patsy, Landau's mom, got a call from a sheriff's deputy while she was teaching her second-grade class. When she got to the jail and saw her son, "I was horrified," she remembers. Steve, Landau's dad, wasn't much better when he heard the news.

Steve's father and grandfather had both been Denver patrolmen. He'd grown up hearing stories of how his dad had saved lives, watched as he broke up a street fight using nothing other than his commanding presence. One evening in the tense late '60s, Steve's father took him aside. There was talk of a race riot breaking out that night, and the department was putting every cop on the street. Before he left, Steve's dad wanted to shake his son's hand and tell him to take care of his mother if anything were to happen.

Nothing happened that night, but the story was handed down in the Landau household. For a while, Alex had even wanted to be a policeman, and he'd acted like one the day his mom suffered a seizure while the two were home alone. The then-six-year-old Alex had the wherewithal to call 911 and direct the authorities to their mountain home in Conifer, even though he didn't know the exact address.

What had happened to their son at the hands of the cops didn't make sense. "I have to say, this incident strongly affects my impression of what the police were like in the past and what we see today," Steve Landau says. "I had two relatives who were Denver police officers, and I am disappointed that the officers involved couldn't have used the same sort of techniques they used to use to keep the situation under control."

When Alex was finally released from jail two days after the incident, Steve Landau took him directly to the DPD's Internal Affairs Bureau. But the sergeant who took down his story there seemed unmoved by the incident. According to the federal complaint, when Alex Landau told her about being called "nigger," she asked if he really wanted to play the race card.

But as it turned out, the cops apparently weren't above playing the race card themselves.

Alex Landau discovered this several days later when he saw Hunold. It was the first time the two had talked since the traffic stop, and Hunold was wracked with guilt. While Landau was in the gutter, the cops had taken Hunold to the nearby police station — where, Hunold told his friend, everything had gotten weird.

Instead of being escorted to a holding cell, Hunold had been taken into a back office where a bunch of officers were hanging out, acting casual. One guy was shopping for boats on Craigslist. Another cop unlocked Hunold's handcuffs and sat him down in front of a desk. Sitting across from him, a third officer reportedly said, "Your buddy is going to jail for a long time, and if you don't cooperate, you could be pinned with the same charges."

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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