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

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"I pretty much did everything they said," Hunold says now. "I was scared shitless."

At their prompting, Hunold wrote down exactly the statement the cops wanted. "They were leaning over my head, choosing the questions to ask, suggesting answers," he says. Yes, he conceded, maybe he had noticed Landau's arms tense up when the cops first grabbed him. Yes, maybe the officers were trying to calm the situation down, to prevent Landau from doing something.

But there was one point Hunold refused to concede, despite the cops' alleged encouragement: He wouldn't say that he'd witnessed Landau reaching for an officer's gun.

When it was all over, the cops wrote Hunold a $160 ticket for the marijuana and told him he could go home.

"It was so shady that I, a white person, walked out of the police station that night unscathed and Alex almost died because he was beat up so bad," Hunold says. "They let me go because that night I was cooperating with them and they were manipulating me."

One moment at the station particularly stood out, a moment described in the federal lawsuit. At one point, the officer interviewing Hunold asked how he knew Landau. After listening to Hunold describe their friendship, the cop allegedly looked him in the eye and said, "That nigger's not your friend."

First day of class

Face bruised and full of stitches

Good riddance is what they're hoping for

But I'm a motherfuckin' lion

It wasn't easy for Alex Landau to return to school after winter break with a stitched-up, black-and-blue face and a right eye swollen shut. To add insult to injury, the cops had left his Lincoln a wreck. They'd used a knife to slice up an Air Jordan backpack he had in the car, and had torn a notebook of his lyrics to shreds.

But such inconveniences paled in comparison to the fact that five days after the traffic stop, the Denver District Attorney's Office charged Landau with attempting to disarm a peace officer, a class 6 felony that could lead to eighteen months in prison. Landau's case wasn't helped by the police department's Internal Affairs Bureau, which two months later declined to launch a full investigation into the incident after concluding that the actions of the officers involved "were within the policies of the Denver Police Department." Still, when the DA offered a plea deal that would have reduced the felony to a misdemeanor and reduced the maximum time he could serve, Landau refused to take it, deciding instead to fight the charge.

That turned out to be a good move: Despite the bureau's finding, despite the fact that the eight officers on the scene presumably could have served as witnesses, seven months after charging Landau, the DA dropped the case.

By then, Hunold had retracted everything he'd written at the police station, claiming he'd been manipulated by the police into making the statement. And Landau's defense attorney had won a motion to obtain the police documents collected during the Internal Affairs investigation. Those documents included the officers' accounts of what transpired the night of the traffic stop — accounts that seemed to shift in the days following the incident.

According to the federal lawsuit, in their initial reports, officers Nixon, Middleton and Murr said that because Landau flailed and fought against them and appeared to be reaching for Middleton's gun, they were forced to punch him in the face. This did not affect Landau, Murr recounted, so "I reached over and pulled Middleton's flashlight from her gun belt and struck Landau an unknown number of times in the head."

The day after the traffic stop, a detective working on the case wrote an e-mail to Nixon, Middleton and Murr, noting that he'd relayed the facts to Deputy District Attorney Alma Staub and that she had "stated she would reject this case of attempt to disarm a peace officer based on the facts presented and I would need further details on the incident."

Nixon soon responded via e-mail that he'd forgotten something in his earlier report: "I spaced putting this in my statement, but prior to Officer Middleton cleaning the blood off of her weapon, I observed what appeared to be the imprint of the webbing of the hand in blood on the backstrap of her gun, I'm not too sure if this helps out or not."

For her part, Middleton never claimed that Landau touched her gun — but her story of the traffic stop changed in other ways. She initially reported that Landau was "fighting us" and had "pushed all three of us with such force that we all advanced toward the curb" and subsequently fell over — an account that clashed with the descriptions of the other officers, who reported that the group had tumbled over in the give-and-take of the commotion. Later, Middleton e-mailed a "clarification" of her report, stating, "I was never assaulted by Mr. Landau."

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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