A Denver jury on Friday awarded $1.8 million to a family after a wrongful prosecution case in which police officers executed a warrantless raid on a home previously occupied by drug dealers and prostitutes.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 against the city and county of Denver and four police officers. Claims against the city later were dropped in a summary judgment.
A jury of 10 awarded various amounts to the four family members based on different amounts of damages attributed to the four officers. The jury awarded a total of $1.25 million of punitive damages collectively to the family.
"I was very thankful to the jury that the Constitution was upheld. Hopefully we're turning a corner in Denver," said Kathryn Stimson, who represented Daniel Martinez Jr. and three of his four sons along with attorney David Lane.
"We're just happy justice was served," said Martinez Jr., who has four sons and four daughters. He and his sons play together in a Mariachi band called Los Latineerz.
Defense attorney Michael Lowe said the officers will decide later whether to appeal certain jury findings and the amount of the award. He declined to comment further.
At 11:10 p.m. Jan. 27, 2009, four Denver policemen pounded on the front door of 1263 Stuart St., where Daniel Martinez Jr. and three sons were living.
The lawsuit accused the officers of trumping up false charges against the Martinez family by "fabrication of inculpatory evidence" and "perjurious testimony" to prosecutors, the lawsuit filed in federal court in 2011 says.
"Defendant officers were motivated by an improper purpose to punish plaintiffs in an effort to divert attention from their own misconduct and to insulate themselves from civil liability," the lawsuit originally filed by Lane and Qusair Mohamedbhai said.
Mohamedbhai said the jury award — if upheld through any appeals — eventually could total about $3 million in pre-judgment interest and attorney's fees.
A special unit called the Special Crime Attack Team-2 performed so-called "knock and talks" at homes where drugs were sold. Two prostitutes had told police two wanted felons known as the "Solario brothers" had been running a brothel and selling narcotics at the home. But they had been evicted a month earlier.
In planning for the raid, officers had failed to check calls for service to the home, and if they had, they would have learned that officers had twice gone to the home on calls, including the same morning of the raid, and reported the Martinez family was then occupying the home, the lawsuit said.
The officers never discussed getting a warrant or even whether they should. At 11:10 p.m., a sergeant and four police officers approached the home through a gate with a large sign that said "Martinez family."
Sgt. Robert Motyka "was able to see inside the home, yet failed to alert any of his fellow officers that the home contained not prostitutes and drug dealers, but a family watching television."
Denver police Officer Jason Valdez, who later acknowledged seeing but disregarding the sign, pounded on the front door and yelled "Open the damn door right now!" the lawsuit says. When Daniel Martinez opened the door a crack, three Denver police officers rushed into the home without invitation.
Two feet inside the home, Valdez grabbed 16-year-old Jonathon Martinez and shoved his head through a window next to the front door, the lawsuit says.
"Valdez then dragged the diminutive teenager outside, heaved him onto the sidewalk, shoved his knee into Jonathan's back, handcuffed him and, finally, flipped him over and punched him in the stomach," according to the lawsuit, which says none of the family resisted arrest.
Officer Robert Martinez pushed Daniel Martinez Jr. into a sofa and put him in handcuffs. Police Sgt. Robert Motyka was the third to enter the home. He punched Nathan Martinez in the face, lifting him off his feet, the lawsuit said. He staggered back and fell on the same sofa.
Officer Bryce Jackson put Daniel Martinez III in a choke hold, dragged him outside and "violently body slammed" him into the snow-covered concrete and put him in handcuffs.
All four were ordered to show their Social Security cards to prove they were not illegal immigrants.
The officers arrested the four, charging Daniel Martinez Jr. with interference with a police officer and his three sons with misdemeanor assault.
At trial, in January 2010, a jury found Nathan Martinez and Daniel Martinez III not guilty of the charge against them.
The Denver district attorney later dropped charges against Daniel Martinez Jr. and Jonathan Martinez.