Police Abuse

Warrantless Raid on the Wrong People Costs Denver Cops $1.8 Million


Daniel Martinez
News 9

On January 27, 2009, Denver cops pounded on the door of a home that used to be a drug den and brothel. Not having kept their information current, the cops didn't know the house was now occupied by Daniel Martinez Jr. (pictured) and his family. They also "had no warrant, no application for a warrant, nothing," as the family's attorney later described the scene. The officers rushed inside and roughed up the residents, including shoving a 16-year-old boy's head through a window and and dealing out a generous dollop of beatings and bodyslamming.

Then they realized they'd fucked up. So they trumped up charges against the family.

Fortunately, a jury saw through the cops' bullshit and found Nathan Martinez and Daniel Martinez III not guilty of misdemeanor assault charges. Subsequently, the district attorney saw the light and abandoned the case against Daniel Martinez Jr. and Jonathan Martinez.

Now the Martinez family is getting some payback after suing the cops and their employers.

From Kirk Mitchell at The Denver Post:

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.

The family also alleged excessive force, but the jury in the lawsuit couldn't come to a decision on that allegation. The ultimate payout, if it survives the officers' promised appeals, could add up to $3 million including interest and attorney's fee.

NEXT: Protests Erupt After St. Louis Cop Fatally Shoots Black Teen

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Does it actually cost the cops or the Denver taxpayers?

    1. ^This. And it is important to hammer this point home to the voters and taxpayers.

      1. So much this. *swings hammer*
        The cops don’t give a shit as long as they get to break through doors, shoot dogs, and rough people up.

    2. They should have to work off the debt as indentured servants to the Martinez family for, say, ten years.

      1. So let me get this straight. You think the family should be subjected to beatings and pet shootings for the next decade on top of what they already suffered?

        1. ProL D’ib – he is a harsh master.

        2. No, you’re missing my point. Prior to the indenture period, they’ll be stripped of all cop powers by being exposed to kleptomite. Then they’ll be little people like the rest of us and can be abused like any low-to-no paid help. Think interns at a newspaper.

      2. Isn’t that the plot of the Seinfeld series within the actual Seinfeld series?

    3. No, a proper headline would read “Warrantless Raid on the Wrong People Costs Other Wrong People $1.8 Million.”

      1. It’s interesting how not holding people personally accountable leads to offenses reoccurring. I wonder why that is?

        1. Yes, immunity is indeed a moral hazard.

          More importantly it is a hazard to all forms of liberty.

          1. Maybe we all should suffer a financial hit in the form of reduced governmental revenues when these abuses occur. Maybe we’d be a little less tolerant of them then.

      2. It’s the government’s money, since they already stole it fair and square. It’s not like you get it back if they don’t pay out settlement verdicts.

    4. It costs the taxpayers.

      When will the cops face charges for breaking and entering and assault and battery?

  2. 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.

    Take it out of their pension fund. They might start to give a shit, then.

    1. It’d be right back in at the next collective bargaining talks.

    2. J.D. I know this is masochistic, but can’t your article include the paragraph about how all of the criminal police are still gainfully employeed and then follow that with the official statement about training, procedures, and officer safety?

      1. *employed

  3. That’s what Martinez gets for

    1) being a brownnish person (at least having a brownish person name) and
    2) buying a former crack house “drug den and brothel”

    He’s lucky it didn’t end worse. And he got PAID??? ONLY IN AMERICA.

    I blame Bush.


  5. Meanwhile the officers remain on the force, and no doubt continue to commit raids like this every day.

    1. Exactly. The DA should be run out on a rail for not prosecuting them for multiple crimes.

  6. Not having kept their information current, the cops didn’t know the house was now occupied by Daniel Martinez

    “Computer glitch!”

    1. Read the linked story. It’s rage inducing.

      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.

      1. We should amend the Constitution to require that a judge–wearing a wig and robes–has to personally deliver the warrant, with a video of the hearing presented to you and your counsel, prior to you having to open your door. He also has to give the password:

        Tigers are mean
        Tigers are fierce,
        Tigers have teeth
        And claws that pierce.

        Tigers are great,
        They can’t be beat.
        If I was a tiger
        That would be neat!

        Tigers are nimble
        And light on their toes.
        My REspect for tigers
        Continually grows.

        Tigers are perfect,
        The e-pit-o-me
        Of good looks and grace
        And quiet dignity!

        Tigers are great,
        They’re the toast of town
        Life’s always better
        When a tiger’s around!

        1. Don’t slander tigers like that.

          They only kill for a purpose.

          1. The tiger refers to the homeowner.

            1. And the judge better not forget the dance, or he’ll have to recite the password all over again.

        2. +1 Calvin and Hobbes

        3. +1 (The other guy who knew the reference after the first line)

      2. So even if it was still a drug den, don’t they still need a warrant to bust in and rough everyone up?

        The FYTW must be strong in these young policeawans that they felt that they don’t need a warrant to assist their forced entry.

        1. It’s for the kids you asshole

          1. It’s for shoving the kids through the window, you asshole.


    2. “A. Tuttle”

      1. Hopefully they filled out a 27B/6 form.

  7. So a jury couldn’t be convinced excessive force was used when the police raided a home with no warrant and shoved a kids head thru a window? The cops aren’t the main problem. Juries and judges that allows this to go unpunished is the problem.

    1. Wouldn’t surprise me if the jurors were quietly told that if they found the officers guilty, that their home would be next.

      1. I’m sure plenty of their fellow officers were in court every day in uniform glaring at the jurors. Actual words not needed.

      2. Nothing would give me a better incentive to declare “guilty”.

        Molon Labe!

    2. They at least for once saw the “assaulting an officer’s fist with your face” charges for what they were and got these assholes for it. That is a hell of an improvement over what normally happens.

    3. This.

      “The family also alleged excessive force, but the jury in the lawsuit couldn’t come to a decision on that allegation.”

      OK, so… the police didn’t have a warrant, and were at the wrong place. Isn’t any force at that point “excessive”?

      1. Notice they couldn’t come to a verdict. That means they couldn’t agree one way or another. My guess is there was one or two Dunphy type cop lovers who just couldn’t bring themselves to think the thin blue line was wrong. So the compromise was to slam them for the prosecution, which was the evil lawyers’ fault no the noble cops.

      2. I agree, perl. Without a valid warrant, anything done during a raid has no legal authority and is just as much of a crime as if it had been done by tatted up MS-13 members.

        1. I dunno. Maybe “Excessive Force” has some specific legal meaning that doesn’t directly comport with the plain English definitions of the words. But… goddamn.

    4. That was my first thought too. Isn’t it excessive by definition?

  8. My callused and scarred scrotum cares not for these feeble caresses. I must have something I can feel! More nutpunches!

  9. I could be remembering my qualified immunity law wrong but I am pretty sure that cities don’t pay punitive damages. Punitive damages are given for misconduct, which is something the sovereign by definition can’t do. If one of the sovereign’s employees engages in misconduct, they are no longer acting under the authority of the sovereign and are personally liable for the results.

    So the taxpayers are on the hook for the damage award. I think however the individual cops and DAs are jointly and severally liable for the $1.8 million in punitive damages. Someone correct me if I am wrong here but I don’t think I am. If I am right, I hope these people dedicate the next few decades to bankrupting these bastards.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. It’s interesting, because while the logic is we shouldn’t hit innocent taxpayers with the bill for punitive measures, it also means that if government gets caught doing something wrong, it’s only on the hook for compensatory damages.

      I’m all for finding these bad actors personally liable, but I think some form of punitive punishment should be possible in egregious cases. Maybe by requiring the chain of people involved to be removed from office? Something extraordinary to prevent bad things from happening.

      1. Maybe I am just mean spirited but I think being fired isn’t good enough. A punitive damage award like this is nasty. You can’t get rid of it in bankruptcy. Worse still, some under handed speculator will probably buy the claim from these people in return for some quick cash and then spend years earning back their investment by placing liens on their homes and garnishing their wages and such. Basically these people are going to be poor and have bad credit for the rest of their lives.

        That strikes me as fair and just considering what they did. I would hate to see them merely be fired for this.

        1. Well, the punitives should hit those directly responsible. They should be dismissed from office, too, but I meant firing their bosses.

        2. For a cop, being fired and barred from working in law enforcement is about the worst punishment they can get. Being a cop isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle. On or off the clock, you strut around expecting everyone to do what you say. If they don’t, then you get an opportunity to intimidate and generally be an asshole. If that doesn’t work then you get to use violence. All day, every day, without consequence. You do what you want, and everyone else does what you want.

          Take that away and they are nothing. They may as well kill themselves.

          1. If you aren’t cop, you’re little people.

            1. And that is the hardest part. Today everything is different. There is no action. I have to wait around like everyone else… I am an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

              Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas. Cops, gangsters, not seeing a lot of difference there.

          2. For sure sarcasmic. I am just saying lets not forget the money judgement as well.

            1. I’d be happy with them killing themselves.

    2. It’s pretty common for cities to indemnify cops for punitives. So while it technically comes from the cops, they get reimbursed.

      1. I don’t see how that is a legal use of the funds.

        1. I’ve litigated and won cases against cops in my city. This is how it’s done. The indemnification is technically discretionary, but I’ve never seen it denied. Here’s a law review article on it:

          1. Thanks. The feds are much stricter about that. If DOJ comes back with a “not in line of duty” finding on a fed employee, they are screwed. They also never indemnify for punitive damages. There is no appropriated funds and Congress is unlikely to make any.

          2. Wow, that’s weird, because its generally illegal for a private corporation to indemnify anyone against punitives. Its “against public policy”, but not if the public gets stuck with the bill, I guess.

            1. As the article notes, it’s illegal in many jurisdictions, but it’s done as a matter of course anyway.

  10. I don’t know why this family is so upset about this. They pay taxes so that the cops can guarantee the mere existence of their right to property and civilization itself.

    Tony the Proggie told me so many times, so it must be true.

    1. If you look at the social contract you signed, there’s a FYTW clause in the fine print.

    2. You own nothing until you are obliged to give it to someone else upon request.

    3. You didn’t build that.

  11. RE: Trumped Up Charges

    Heh. They’re doing that to me after a ‘welfare check’ that was more of an attempted home invasion by a dozen police with the SWAT team champing at their collective bit in the background.

    The didn’t get in the door, because when the banging started, my wife and I jumped up out of the sofa where we’d been watching a movie in the second floor library, armed ourselves and went down to ‘greet’ whomever it was that sounded like they were trying to break the door down.

    My wife disarmed herself and went outside to tell the police nothing wrong was happening. They took her hostage and demanded I come out. Me, being a retired Airborne-Ranger and trained NOT to step out in front of people pointing weapons at me, refused.

    After a three hour stand-off, the police withdrew and let my wife go.

    NOW, I’m charged with menacing a police officer. A felony.

    $1.8 million for a malicious prosecution? Hmmmm?..

    Maybe my attorney should point this out to the local DA and city council?.. 😉

    1. P.S. I live in Colorado too.

      1. Denver Cops, you gotta love the little bastards. Had 4 cop cars on my front lawn and about 10 cops rifling through every cranny in the house after an anonymous tip that I had some giant marijuana farm going in my basement. Of course, they find nothing of the sort. Apology? nope. Weird attitudes from the neighbors? yep. At least I learned at a relatively young age to NEVER trust the police.

  12. I’m happy to know that the Martinez family *might* receive some recompense for this travesty.

    However, if those cops are still on the force and in good standing, society still loses.

  13. I love how there are so many cases of perps who pretend to be peaceful citizens for years, and only unleash their lawless tendencies when cops break into their homes (often on wrong-door raids), when they suddenly commit assaults and murders, as if they were simply waiting for this excuse to change magically from law-abiding member of the community to hardened criminal.

    Or so we must think from the cops’ and prosecutors’ tales in these cases.

  14. The implication seems to be this wouldn’t really be an issue if the cops had merely violated the rights of poor people engaging in victimless crimes, and that the real outrage is treating a decent, god-fearing family as if they were degenerate whores and junkies.

    There’s a fundamental problem if the cops didn’t consider whether they’d need a warrant to search the drug users and prostitutes they anticipated. And a further problem that so many commentators would implicitly expect that drug use and prostitution created a zone in which in the Bill of Rights was suspended.

  15. Ummmmmm, what about criminal prosecutions against the terrorist cops?

  16. This qualified immunity shit has got to go. This is what it means to be in the “public sector” – you are never held personally accountable for your actions. It’s always “mistakes were made” or “the gun discharged”.

  17. And, the Mayor of Denver at the time of this atrocity was none other than Colorado’s beloved Governor, running for reelection this year:
    John Hickenlooper!
    Remember this when you cast your vote this year for Governor, Colorado.

  18. I have concluded that tax sheep are totally liable for the midadventures of their costumed employees. If you don’t like to pay for these lawsuits do something about it. Personal liability would be a great start. It would get all the bad cops out of the sreet overnight.

  19. So cops can do their job poorly, lie, and break the law while on the job AND get away with it. Sounds like every other government employee! Thankfully the media is holding them accountable, because we all know their supervisors and the politicians aren’t doing it!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.