Denver Diner case: Judge rules City of Denver can be put on trial for police brutality
Original post, 11:09 a.m. September 20, 2011: In April, Denver cops Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine were fired in relation to a billy-clubbing and macing incident that took place in 2009.
Now, the four victims in that case have filed lawsuits against the City and County of Denver, charging that as much damage was done to them by bureaucracy as by the officers in question.
"The officers being fired is a start, but only a start," says attorney Siddhartha Rathod, who is representing victims Kelly Boren, Sharelle Thomas, Ana Ortega and Kristal Carrillo in conjunction with fellow lawyer Qusair Mohamedbhai. "These women were brutalized by Officer Nixon and Officer Devine, but the City of Denver then participated in the malicious prosecution of these women. And this isn't an isolated incident. The Denver Police Department has a culture of allowing its officers to brutalize people, of allowing its officers to lie and cover up."
The suits filed in the names of Boron, Thomas, Ortega and Carrillo include frame-by-frame breakdowns of a HALO video of the incident; they're included below, along with a copy of Boren's complaint. But here's how Rathod summarizes the incident.
"On July 12, 2009, Officer Nixon was working in an off-duty capacity at the Denver Diner -- and he was in uniform," he says. A short time earlier, "Kristal had been a victim of an assault in the restroom. She was attacked by an unknown party and was defending herself when Officer Nixon grabbed her, dragged her outside, arrested her and handcuffed her. In the video, Ana comes outside -- she'd been in the bathroom with Kristal, and she can be seen telling Officer Nixon, 'She didn't do anything wrong.' But he's basically not listening to her, so she walks a little bit away.
"Just at that time, Sharelle and Kelly arrive. Sharelle had just graduated from Colorado Christian Academy, and they arrived via pedicab. They're walking straight to the door when Officer Devine, who's smoking a big cigar, can be seen coming in from the right side of the video and pushes Sharelle. She stumbles forward, and when she stands back up, she says something to the effect of 'You can't treat me that way,' which any citizen should be able to say to an officer or anyone else in that situation."
At that point, Rathod goes on, "Officer Devine pulls out his nightstick and starts waving it in Sharelle's face. He then grabs her by the arm and starts pulling her toward where Kristal is on the ground in handcuffs. He's about to strike Sharelle with his nightstick, but stops inches away. Kelly then steps in between Sharelle and Officer Devine, to stop him from striking her in the face -- and Officer Devine grabs Kelly by the neck and throws her. And he's a big guy, She goes completely off the ground. And then he grabs Sharelle and yanks her onto the ground, and Officer Nixon pins her down.
"Ana sees all this, and she's saying, 'What are you doing?' when Officer Devine, still smoking the cigar, grabs her and throws her down to her knees. Then he takes her arm behind her back and puts his nightstick into her shoulder -- and right as he's about to assault her, Officer Nixon pulls out his mace and sprays it maybe two inches from her face before taking a couple steps to the left and macing Sharelle and Kelly."
Ortega was subsequently handcuffed, as was Thomas -- and Rathod points out that assorted officers on the scene offered no help to the maced women even as they treated their own eyes with saline solution. Amid this scene, "Anna, who had been on her knees, stands up and asks for help, and Officer Nixon grabs her by the throat with both of his hands and slams her to the ground. Kristal then tried to help her, and Officer Nixon slams his fist full-force into her face."
As Rathod points out, none of the women had done anything wrong -- and Carrillo was actually a victim of an attack before the officers took charge. Nonetheless, only Thomas was released, while the other three were charged with assorted infractions because "Officer Nixon and Officer Devine falsified police reports and fabricated charges," he maintains.
The HALO video of the incident was never produced during the criminal cases against Carrillo, Ortega and Boren. They didn't know of its existence until officers Nixon and Devine were fired earlier this year. After their sacking, Westword confirmed that Nixon had also been involved in the beating of Alexander Landau. The incident led to a settlement with Landau for $795,000.
Lacking this information, Carrillo, Ortega and Boren pleaded to a deferred judgment -- one that would eventually wipe the incident from their records. But Rathod says they would never have done so had the City of Denver provided the video and other exculpatory evidence, which would have given them the tools to prove that they'd done nothing wrong and the officers had lied.
Thomas suffered in a different way. She was hospitalized after the Denver Diner incident, and what Rathod calls "foreign debris" was removed from her eye. A year later, she had to undergo eye surgery.
The lawsuits against Denver and the officers were originally filed in state court this past July -- "but recently, the City of Denver and the police officers removed the case to federal court," Rathod allows. "We think it's ironic that the City of Denver doesn't want a Denver jury to decide what happens to the Denver Police Department." The four cases remain separate, but he expects them to be consolidated in the future.
In addition, Carrillo, Ortega and Boren "are trying to go back and withdraw their original guilty plea," he says. "That's not going to affect their civil case, but it's a matter of principle, a matter of right and wrong. What happened to these women, from the assault to the prosecution, was wrong -- anybody who takes the time to listen to the story of these women can see that. And I think, clearly, the citizens of Denver have seen that.
"These four women were brutally assaulted and maced by officers Nixon and Devine. They were then wrongfully prosecuted by the City and County of Denver. And absent people with the courage of these four women to step forward and say, 'This conduct is wrong,' this kind of thing is going to keep happening."
Look below to see a CBS4 report featuring excerpts from the HALO video, a frame-by-frame breakdown featuring text from one of the suits, and the Boren complaint.