DENVER Ė A case involving a 19-year-old college student who was beaten after he questioned officersí authority to search the trunk of his car is now the subject of an FBI investigation, authorities said Monday.
The Jan. 15, 2009, case involving Alex Landau is one of several high-profile cases that have raised questions about the Denver police departmentís policies and procedures and prompted calls for a federal civil-rights investigation. The officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing by the police department and no state criminal charges were filed against the officers.
Prosecutors eventually dropped charges against Landau and the city settled the case for $795,000 after Landau filed a lawsuit alleging the beating left him brain damaged.
Denver Police Chief Robert White and Manager of Safety Alex Martinez in a joint statement said the FBI investigation centers on whether Landauís civil rights were violated by the officers involved. The departmentís policies and procedures are not the target, White and Martinez said.
Denver FBI spokesman Dave Joly confirmed the investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justiceís Civil Rights Division.
ďIt seems that itís set up to discourage people to make these kinds of efforts,Ē Landau said of complaint process. ďNow with the FBI involved, hopefully this would span into a wider investigation, to look into practice and patterns.Ē
A lawsuit filed by Landau months after the stop alleges the traffic stop escalated into violence when one of the officers began to open the trunk of Landauís car and he objected, asking if the officer had a search warrant.
Officers used their fists, a radio and a flashlight when they beat him unconscious and taunted him, according to the lawsuit.
ďWhereís that warrant now,Ē the lawsuit quotes a male officer as saying as he called Landau, who is African American, a racial epithet. One officer allegedly put a gun to Landauís head and allegedly told him: ďYou have no idea how close you were to getting your (expletive) head blown off,Ē according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that officers conspired to frame him on charges that he reached for an officerís gun in order to justify the beating. Those charges were later dropped.
Landau, now 22, said he is studying business management.
An internal police investigation completed in February of 2009 that found no wrongdoing has since been reopened. Police recently re-staged the scene with witnesses walking investigators through the events.
ďOur purpose was to be certain we understand the descriptions of the incident given by witnesses, and to reach the right resolution,Ē a statement said. ďWe will wait until the DOJís investigation is complete to make a final decision.Ē
Two of the officers involved, Ricky Nixon and Randy Murr, were later fired for separate high-profile videotaped excessive force cases. Nixon was reinstated by a civil-service panel and is working in the police departmentís photo radar division, while Murr is off the force while he appeals his termination.