Law Enforcement

Ex-Denver Cop Who Broke Teen's Face for Dancing on LSD to Cost City $1.2 Million

A screen capture from body-worn camera footage of Denver Police officers surrounding Malow Mayek, seventeen, on August 22, 2018.
A screen capture from body-worn camera footage of Denver Police officers surrounding Malow Mayek, seventeen, on August 22, 2018. Denver Police Department via YouTube
The City of Denver has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a 2020 lawsuit filed by Malow Mayek, who was just seventeen during the summer of 2018 when he suffered what his suit describes as "a critical head injury, a fractured nose, and fractures of his right tibia and right fibula" after a now-former Denver Police Department sergeant, Joseph Rodarte, struck him six times with a metal baton.

According to attorney David Lane of Denver-based Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP, who represents Mayek, the attack was unleashed because the teen had been dancing under the influence of LSD. And the whole thing was caught on video.

As Lane told us in July 2020, after the suit was filed, "Mr. Mayek was doing nothing wrong. There was no crime he was accused of committing. There was no anything, and unless the police have a reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime, you're allowed to ignore them and just walk away. So when he refused to obey them, the officers had no legal justification to lay a finger on him."

On August 22, 2018, "Mr. Mayek was on LSD — not a good thing — and he was out of his mind," Lane continued. "He was sort of dancing down the street, tripping and thinking he was the Lord God almighty, yelling things. And the cops got involved. They were ordering him, 'Stop, stop,' but he was on LSD, and he continued to dance and carry on. So they decided, 'When you're not doing what we told you to do, we're going to break your bones and electrocute you' — and that's what happened. Officer Rodarte broke Mr. Mayek's leg, broke his orbital bone and broke his nose, all because Mayek wouldn't do what he told him to do."

Here's body-worn-camera video of what went down.
The lack of evidence that Mayek had broken the law was key to Lane's argument. "People don't have to obey the police if there's no reasonable suspicion that they've committed a crime," he noted. "If a cop comes up and says, 'Let me see your ID,' you can say 'Go fuck yourself' unless the cop has a reasonable suspicion you've committed a crime. Then you have to give it over — but otherwise, you don't."

Prosecutors routinely deem police actions justified no matter how shocking they might seem to the general public, but not this time around. In late 2018, the suit notes, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann criminally charged Rodarte with "second-degree assault for unlawfully, feloniously, and recklessly causing serious bodily injury to Plaintiff by means of a deadly weapon."

On October 2, 2019, Rodarte was acquitted after a jury trial — but he'd resigned from the Denver Police Department in May of that year, before he could be fired. Two other officers involved in the matter — James Martinez and Douglass Watson, who are also named as plaintiffs — received ten-day suspensions for tasing Mayek after he'd ceased to be a threat.

The $1.2 million settlement isn't a done deal yet, but it should be soon. The Denver City Council still must sign off; a "bill for an ordinance authorizing a rescission and appropriation in the General Fund to make a cash transfer to and appropriation in the Liability Claims Special Revenue Fund" is on the agenda for the October 25 council meeting.

Click to read Malow Mayek v. City and County of Denver, et al.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts