A warrantless raid by Denver police went awry even before officers kicked open the door of a house that a tipster told them was occupied by men running a brothel and selling drugs.
Inside, on that night eight years ago, they found no prostitutes or drug dealers but a father and three sons who played together in a Mariachi band. The Martinez family was watching television in their new home, about a month after the wanted felons sought by police had been evicted.
Now the city has agreed to pay $1.6 million for the trouble that ensued when officers pounded on the door, rushed in after it was cracked open, and then roughed up Daniel Martinez Jr. and three sons. The officers arrested all four on interference or misdemeanor assault charges that later collapsed in court after jury acquittals or dismissals by prosecutors.
It’s one of the largest payouts in city history for a case that didn’t involve a wrongful death — even after a reduction from an original $1.8 million in damages awarded by a jury in September 2014 after a civil trial in U.S. District Court. The new settlement includes damages and unspecified attorneys fees for the Killmer, Lane & Newman law firm.
“As long as there is a (district attorney) that refuses to prosecute civil rights-violating cops, as long as the mayor and the City Council do absolutely nothing about civil rights-violating cops, Denver taxpayers will continue to pay millions and millions and millions of dollars for civil rights-violating cops,” said David Lane, an attorney for the family.
He added: “These innocent people had to go to trial for assaulting police officers — charges that everyone knew were false.”
Attorneys representing the officers had appealed the jury’s large award, including $1.25 million in punitive damages that city lawyers saw as excessive. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments recently but had not yet ruled — and the settlement will end the case.
The raid unfolded at 11:10 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2009, at 1263 Stuart St. in Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood. Daniel Martinez Jr. and three of his sons, Daniel III, Nathan and Jonathan, were living there.
The four officers involved in what was planned as a “knock and talk” by the Special Crime Attack Team-2 were investigated after the incident. Sonny Jackson, a Denver police spokesman, said the four — Sgt. Robert Motyka and officers Jason Valdez, Robert Martinez and Bryce Jackson — were cleared of wrongdoing.
But the family’s attorneys said the officers ignored a sign out front reading “Martinez family” and didn’t check for records that would have indicated the drug dealers no longer lived there.
The lawsuit described treatment of the Martinezes that included a choke hold, body-slamming into snow-covered concrete, and punches to the face and stomach, along with trumped-up evidence to support their arrests.
Lane said Monday the family’s attorneys had offered to settle the case for just $70,000 before the case went to trial, but the city and the officers declined.