Trial begins in lawsuit accusing Denver of tolerating police brutality
DENVER — Four women who say cops roughed them up outside a restaurant over three years ago are the reason the city of Denver will be put on trial Friday, standing accused of tolerating police brutality.
The lawsuit names the city of Denver and the two officers accused in the original 2009 case. The highly-publicized trial in 2009 saw those two officers initially fired before being put back on the job.
This new trial will focus on whether the Denver Police Department tolerates abusive behavior.
At the heart of the new case is video from a city HALO camera that shows Denver police officers Kevin Devine and Ricky Nixon outside the Denver Diner in July of 2009. Four of the women seen in the video say they were hit with nightsticks, sprayed with mace and shoved to the ground when they were posing no physical threat.
Both officers involved in the beating were fired in 2011 for falsifying reports. The women were outraged to learn that the Denver Civil Service Commission reinstated them shortly after they were terminated.
Nixon appeared outraged the women would question the commission’s decision.
“There’s more to these cases than folks realize,” Nixon said, “more than a two-second video clip.”
Those comments were part of Nixon’s address at a hearing on proposed changes in the police discipline review process.
“I value my honesty, my integrity and my ethics,” Nixon said. “It is so very hurtful and hard-to-swallow when I’m told by the Manager of Safety that my actions and ethics are lacking and tarnishing the position of the badge.”
Friday will not mark the first time Nixon has been involved in a lawsuit. And if the court rules in the four women’s favor, it won’t be the first time he’s cost the city money, either.
Nixon was also sued in the 2009 beating case of Alex Landau. The 23-year-old received a $795,000 settlement from the city stemming from a traffic stop in which Nixon and fellow officers asked if they could search Landau’s vehicle for drugs after marijuana was found on one of his passengers.
The lawsuit claims Landau, who had been asked to step out of the vehicle, asked officers if they had a warrant for the search, at which point he was beaten with fists, a radio and a flashlight.
The officers said they were operating under the assumption that Landau was armed. He was not. No charges were filed against Nixon or the other officers in that case.
But now a U.S. District judge says the Landau case is part of a body of evidence that suggests the Denver Police Department is failing to properly train officers on the use of force, and is dropping the ball when it comes to punishing them.
That same judge cited eight years of brutality complaints against the department as a basis for those claims. And attorneys for the four women in this new lawsuit are expected to use the judge’s findings to bolster their case.
One of the first matters likely to be brought up Friday is the fact that the DPD does not have a policy in place requiring an officer who observes excessive force being used by a fellow officer to report it.
That DPD policy — and many others — could change when this lawsuit reaches its conclusion.