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An African American college student accuses three Denver police officers of beating him bloody and using racial slurs during a January 2009 traffic stop, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.The lawsuit accuses the officers of stopping 19-year-old Alexander Landau after midnight on Jan. 15, 2009, for making an illegal turn, then calling him the N-word and beating his face and head with their fists, a radio and a flashlight until he was unconscious, according to the lawsuit first reported Wednesday on Westword.com.The lawsuit contains photographs of Landau just after the incident with a blood-covered face and a swollen eye, wearing a neck brace.Landau, a student at Community College of Denver, was treated at the hospital for a broken nose, brain bleeding, a concussion, a hemorrhage in his right eye and head lacerations that required several dozen stitches, the lawsuit said.Named as defendants are officers Randy Murr, Ricky Nixon and Tiffany Middleton, who the lawsuit accuses of violating Landau's civil rights and engaging in "race-based police brutality."The officers also are accused of manufacturing evidence, claiming Landau attempted to grab an officer's handgun, the lawsuit said.
Charges Against Student Dropped
The Denver District Attorney's Office eventually dropped all charges, including attempting to disarm a police officer, against the student.Police chief Gerald Whitman and the City and County of Denver are also named as defendants for having "ongoingly encouraged, tolerated, ratified, and acquiesced to a dangerous environment of police brutality," the lawsuit said.
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"There is an active internal affairs investigation into the allegations," Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said of Landau's lawsuit. Jackson said he could not comment further because he had not seen the lawsuit.The lawsuit is the latest in a series of controversial cases accusing Denver police officers of committing brutality and then falsifying reports to cover up their conduct.Murr also played a role in an ongoing excessive force case where a police security video camera appeared to show officers roughing up Michael DeHerrera and Shawn Johnson in Lodo in April 2009.Video of the incident, uncovered by the Call7 Investigators, fueled criticism because it showed DeHerrera talking on a cell phone while officers had Johnson on the ground after the pair was ejected from a nightclub. Suddenly, an officer grabbed DeHerrera and threw him to the ground as the security camera panned away.Former Manager of Safety Ron Perea declined to fire Murr and Officer Devin Sparks, as Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal had recommended. Perea later resigned under mounting criticism, and the police internal investigation of the officers' conduct in the Lodo case was reopened.In the latest case, Landau was driving with fellow student Addison Hunold as a passenger about 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2009, when Nixon pulled him over for an illegal left turn, the lawsuit said. Landau did not have his license with him, but he gave Nixon his identifying information so the officer could look up his license.Nixon patted down both men and found marijuana on Hunold. The officer then searched the interior of the car.Then Murr and Middleton arrived.The conflict erupted when Nixon moved to search the trunk, the lawsuit said.
Search Warrant Request Triggers Clash
Landau asked if police had a search warrant as he "stepped toward the officers with his hands deferentially raised in the air, showing that he was not a threat," the lawsuit said. Murr grabbed Landau's left arm and Middleton clasped his right arm, the lawsuit said. "Nixon then punched the restrained (man) in the face" and Landau fell to the ground, the lawsuit said. To provide cover for the "unprovoked attack," the lawsuit claimed, Murr falsely yelled: "Hes going for the gun." Landau shouted, "No, I'm not!" the lawsuit said. In police reports, the three officers said they were unable to subdue the 5-foot-8-inch, 155-pound teenager, the lawsuit said. As the officers fell to the ground, Nixon wrote, "I began to strike Landau several times in the face with a closed fist, but it had no affect on Landau." Murr wrote: "Landau continued to try and reach for Middletons gun and pull away from Nixon ... I stayed behind Landau and put my arm around his neck and attempted to apply the department approved carotid (chokehold). This did not affect Landau. "I reached over and pulled Middletons flashlight from her gun belt and struck Landau an unknown number of times in the head," Murr added in his report. The lawsuit said that an officer struck Landau with a radio and other officers arrived to join the "one-sided attack." Hunold yelled stop and what the hell are you doing? to no avail, the lawsuit said. At one point, the lawsuit said, Murr put his revolver to Landau's head and threatened to shoot him. Landau lost consciousness and awoke lying in a pool of his own blood, the lawsuit said. Wheres that warrant now, you f------- n-----? a male officer asked, according to the lawsuit. While the officers described Landau's uncontrollable flailing and fighting, all three officers named in the lawsuit reported they had "no injury in their Use of Force reports, the lawsuit said. Paramedics called about 20 minutes after the traffic stop reported finding a handcuffed Landau "lying prone on curbside," "bleeding from the head, hematoma" with lacerations and in "acute distress," the lawsuit said.
Victim Says 'He Did Not Do Anything'
"(Patient) STATES 'HE DID NOT DO ANYTHING,'" paramedics wrote in all capital letters in their report. After spending several days in jail, Landau filed an internal affairs complaint against the officers, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, the lawsuit said, the officers accused of beating the student "conspired and/or acted in concert to have (Landau) falsely charged and prosecuted for criminal attempt to disarm a police officer." Police are accused of intimidating Hunold into "initially giving inaccurate, distorted and incomplete statements" about the confrontation, the lawsuit said. That n-----s not your friend," an officer told the friend, according to the lawsuit. Yet, prosecutors asked for more evidence that Landau tried to disarm Middleton. Detective James Medina wrote in a Jan, 16, 2009, report that he presented the facts to District Attorney Alma Staub, and that she 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," the lawsuit said.Medina e-mailed officers Nixon, Middleton and Murr, asking if they could clarify certain issues on this contact.
Officer 'Spaced' On Bloody Handprint On Gun
Nixon e-mailed back that he had spaced on noting in his original account that Landau left a bloody handprint on Middleton's handgun: "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," Nixon wrote, according to the lawsuit said. The complaint emphasized that Middleton never claimed that Landau "made any contact with her gun and never reports wiping off any blood or handprint evidence on her gun at the scene." Middleton also backed off her initial report that Landau was fighting us and that he "pushed all three of us with such force that I fell back landing on my back as he and the other officers landed on my stomach," the lawsuit said. I was never assaulted by Mr. Landau," Middleton e-mailed in response to Detective Medinas Jan. 15, 2010, e-mail titled clarification on Landau," the lawsuit said.