DENVER, CO — A so-called ‘Attack Team’ negligently raided the wrong family and used violent tactics against a father and his three sons; choking and punching them, crashing a minor’s head through a glass window, and slamming them face first onto a sidewalk. The innocent family members were then maliciously prosecuted and threatened with the prospect of spending years in prison.
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On January 27, 2009, the Martinez family of Denver — comprised of Daniel Martinez, Jr., Daniel Martinez III (21), Nathan Martinez (19), and Jonathan Martinez (16) — had settled in for the evening when there was an unexpected banging on their door shortly after 11:00 p.m. A number of Denver police officers, representing the District 1 Special Crime Attack Team (SCAT), were outside demanding that the family open the door.
Responding to the shouting, family patriarch Daniel Martinez, Jr., opened the door slightly, but it was hooked using a bungee cord. As he struggled to unlatch the door, he responded with “I’m trying” to the repeated demands to open up. When the bungee cord was released, officers pushed the door open and rushed into the house, according to court documents. The officers had no warrant and were not given consent to enter.
The intrusion quickly turned to violence, as gun wielding brutes used force to detain the the father and his three sons.
During the foray, sixteen-year-old Jonathan was aggressively grabbed by Officer Jason Valdez, spun around and slammed into a wall. The officer then pulled him back and again slammed him face-first against a window, breaking the glass. The teen was then dragged outside and slammed face-first to the sidewalk and handcuffed. The officer spun the 120-pound boy over and took the opportunity to punch him in the stomach, while handcuffed.
Nearby, Officer Bryce Jackson used a choke hold to drag Daniel III outside, then slammed him on the sidewalk, and handcuffed him face-down in the snow.
While Nathan Martinez exclaimed, “You can’t touch my brother, he’s a minor,” Sergeant Robert Motyka punched him in the mouth. Nathan fell back on the couch, and the officer sprang on top of him to handcuff him. Nathan demanded to speak to a sergeant, at which point Sergeant Motyka announced that he was a sergeant.
Daniel, Jr., had been forced to his knees and was handcuffed while his children were being assaulted.
Police came to the realization that they had targeted the wrong family when their four victims were lined up, handcuffed, and no evidence of drugs or prostitutes was discovered.
As defense attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai noted in the Denver Westward, “[The officers] look around and realize they’re in a little family house, not a drug den. Then they ask everyone for their socials, and they’ve all got them; they’re all citizens. So they trump up this story that the kids attacked them once the police came in the house upon consent. That’s their version — that the dad let them in and the kids started swinging on these huge cops.”
The family members were all arrested and criminally charged with assaulting police officers. The charge of third-degree assault on a police officer carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years in prison.
Charges against Daniel III and Nathan — neither of whom had a criminal record — were taken all the way to trial. A jury wisely acquitted both men on all charges during the January 2010 trial.
Charges against Daniel Martinez, Jr., and Jonathan Martinez were eventually dropped.
“The police story, once you dissect it, made no sense at all,” explained defense attorney Mohamedbhai. “There were inconsistencies of what happened, who was there, the sequence of events. It just wasn’t clear.”
Chief District Judge Marcia S. Krieger described the investigative basis of the raid:
Prior to the events at issue, a neighbor of the Plaintiffs raised a concern to Denver police of heavy foot traffic around the Plaintiffs’ home; the neighbor considered such traffic to be possible indicia or a drug or prostitution business being conducted out of the home. Although the Plaintiffs contend that investigation into police and public records would have revealed that the Plaintiffs had only recently moved into the home (and, correspondingly, that a more troublesome set of prior tenants had recently moved out), the police did not undertake any significant investigation into the matter, other than deciding to go to the home and speak to the occupants.
According to Mohamedbhai, “the Martinez family moved into a house at 1263 Stuart Street in December of ’08, about a month before the incident went down. The police were, I suppose, working on stale information about the former tenants presumably being into drugs and prostitution and some bad stuff. But those guys had been gone for a while. According to the landlord, the house had stayed empty for five or six weeks prior to the Martinez family moving in.”
The Martinezes were “a family Mexican band,” according to their lawyer. “They’ve even done fundraising for other law enforcement, like in Adams County. They’re good people. Nobody’s got criminal records.”
The Martinez family later filed a lawsuit, alleging excessive force, malicious and vindictive prosecution, and violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights “when [police] recklessly, knowingly, intentionally, willfully, and wantonly sought Plaintiffs’ arrests and instituted legal process against them by acting with knowledge that Plaintiffs had committed no violation of law.”
Named in the lawsuit as defendants were the City and County of Denver, Denver Police Chief Gerald Whitman, Officer Jason Valdez, Officer Robert Martinez, Sergeant Robert Motyka, and Officer Bryce Jackson.
An internal investigation in the Denver Police Department determined that the complaint was “baseless” and the officers involved did no wrong.
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In September 2014, a jury awarded the Martinez family $1.8 million for wrongful prosecution of the family members.
The lawsuit claimed that officers had violated the Martinez family’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights “when they recklessly, knowingly, intentionally, willfully, and wantonly sought Plaintiffs’ arrests and instituted legal process against them by acting with knowledge that Plaintiffs had committed no violation of law.”
As attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai noted, “there are serious constitutional protections in your home. And intruding into someone’s home at night without a warrant and beating up everyone inside — and then covering up your own bad acts — is egregious. And, of course, Denver’s internal-affairs bureau just whitewashed everything, which is no surprise.”
The lawsuit had alleged that excessive force had been used during the raid, but the jury was split on that issue.
None of the officers involved were subject to any meaningful discipline, termination, or criminal charges.