Back in January 2011, we told you about a lawsuit filed against the Denver police by the Martinez family, members of a Mexican band who say cops broke into their home and beat them by mistake. More than three years later, a jury has awarded them $1.8 million -- but not for excessive force. Details below.
When our original article was published, the Martinezes were represented by attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai, who was working with David Lane's law firm. Since then, Mohamedbhai has become a principal in a new enterprise, Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, with Lane and associate Kathryn Stimson seeing the case to its conclusion. However, Mohamedbhai's 2011 account of what happened remains on point.
Back then, he described the Martinezes as "a family Mexican band. They've even done fundraising for other law enforcement, like in Adams County. They're good people. Nobody's got criminal records."
According to Mohamedbhai, "the Martinez family moved into a house at 1263 Stuart Street in December of '08, about a month before the incident went down. The police were, I suppose, working on stale information about the former tenants presumably being into drugs and prostitution and some bad stuff. But those guys had been gone for a while. According to the landlord, the house had stayed empty for five or six weeks prior to the Martinez family moving in.
Cut to January 27, 2009, just past 11 p.m., when members of the District 1 Special Crime Attack Team, better known as SCAT, arrived at the Martinez home. "They had no warrant, no application for a warrant, nothing," Mohamedbhai told us. "They come in hard, kind of expecting to come into a drug den. The father [Daniel Martinez Jr.] opens the door a crack and cops rush in and engage three of the Martinez family -- the father and three of the kids [Jonathan, age sixteen at the time, Nathan, nineteen, and Daniel III, 21]. They punched first, asked questions later. One of the kids [Jonathan] got his head put through a window, and another one [Nathan] got punched so hard that he was launched into the air and staggered back. Then two of them got body slammed outside."
Once everyone was cuffed, Mohamedbhai said the officers assembled everyone on a couch inside the house -- "and they look around and realize they're in a little family house, not a drug den. Then they ask everyone for their socials, and they've all got them; they're all citizens. So they trump up this story that the kids attacked them once the police came in the house upon consent. That's their version -- that the dad let them in and the kids started swinging on these huge cops."
Mohamedbhai insisted that this last descriptor wasn't hyperbole. "One of the cops is six-five, another one is six-four. And Jonathan Martinez, he's something like 120 pounds."
Continue for more about the $1.8 million jury award to the Martinez family. Nonetheless, Nathan and Daniel III were charged with third-degree assault on a police officer, "which has huge criminal implications," Mohamedbhai pointed out. "Even if you have no prior history, it's a mandatory sentence of two years and a day in the Department of Corrections." But things worked out differently. In a jury trial in January 2010, "they were acquitted of all charges by the jury," he continued, "because the police story, once you dissect it, made no sense at all. There were inconsistencies of what happened, who was there, the sequence of events. It just wasn't clear."
Hence, the lawsuit, which claimed the officers violated the Martinez family's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights "when they recklessly, knowingly, intentionally, willfully, and wantonly sought Plaintiffs' arrests and instituted legal process against them by acting with knowledge that Plaintiffs had committed no violation of law."
As Mohamedbhai noted, "there are serious constitutional protections in your home. And intruding into someone's home at night without a warrant and beating up everyone inside -- and then covering up your own bad acts -- is egregious. And, of course, Denver's internal-affairs bureau just whitewashed everything, which is no surprise."
Denver Police Department spokesman Matt Murray -- now a lieutenant and the DPD's chief of staff -- disagreed vigorously with these characterizations. In his own 2011 interview with Westword, he stressed that the internal-affairs investigation was conducted under the supervision of the Office of the Independent Monitor, which exists to make certain that inquiries are handled fairly and objectively -- and both agencies came to the same conclusion.
"The complaint was ruled to be 'unfounded,' which is the highest level of outcome an officer can have in an internal affairs case," Murray said. "There were conflicting statements from the family making the charges, as outlined in the letter by the Independent Monitor. And just because they made the allegation in court, and just because someone is found not guilty in court, doesn't mean something didn't happen."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In the end, the jury was split on the issue. Attorney Stimson told 9News that the jury didn't agree that the officers had engaged in excessive force. However, they awarded the Martinezes $1.8 million for wrongful prosecution.
That may not be the final word. The defense attorney for the officers involved in the case tells the station he's planning an appeal -- meaning a dispute that began in 2009 could take even longer to reach its final resolution.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.