After six years of legal appeals, the Civil Service Commission reversed itself Friday and agreed to fire Denver police officer Ricky Nixon for brutalizing several women outside the Denver Diner — and then lying about it.
Ultimately, the five-member commission ruled that surveillance camera video of the 2009 diner disturbance told the truth — and Nixon did not. [You can play the raw surveillance video by clicking above]
The video captured a chaotic scene on the night of July 12, 2009 as Nixon, who was providing off-duty security in uniform at the diner and on-duty officer Kevin Devine, manhandled several women dressed in miniskirts and high heels during a disturbance.
A federal lawsuit filed by four women said the officers punched, shoved, dragged, pepper-sprayed and threw the women to the ground outside the diner. The City Council agreed to pay the women a $360,000 settlement.
The video shows Devine, who had a cigar in his mouth, push a baton with both hands at a petite woman in an orange miniskirt. The woman holds up her hands as if to gesture for him to stop. Devine grabs her arm and pulls the woman to her knees.
The video also shows Nixon step up and pepper spray the kneeling woman in the face as Devine holds her left arm behind her. Then Nixon aims the pepper spray at someone in the diner doorway.
Then-Manager of Safety Charles Garcia fired Nixon and Devine for using excessive force and then lying about their misconduct.
Nixon appealed his termination to a panel of independent hearing officers, employed by the Civil Service Commission. The panel ordered Nixon reinstated, saying it believed the officer’s inaccurate reporting on what happened that night was “clearly a function of the chaotic scene and not an attempt to intentionally deceive.”
The safety manager appealed to the full commission, which upheld the hearing panel’s reinstatement of Nixon. Commissioners believed they were legally “bound to accept” to accept the hearing panel’s “findings of evidentiary facts,” according to the decision.
The city again appealed to Denver District Court, where a judge upheld the firing of both officers. Nixon also appealed, this time to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court on a legal technicality.
However, the appeals court also ruled that the commission should not have deferred to the hearing panel’s decision on whether or not the officers had lied.
The appeals court said the commissioner should decide on the “ultimate issue of whether the discrepancies in the officers’ statements were innocent or intentional,” the commissioner wrote in its Friday ruling.
In that decision, the commissioners finally and flatly said when they compared the surveillance video against what Nixon said happened, “there is no dispute that certain statements of the events offered by Officer Nixon were objectively false.”
The commission found:
–Nixon wrote in his police report that “he sprayed people with pepper spray because they were part of a crowd which was advancing on him and he feared he would be attacked by the crowd.” Yet the video “revealed there was no advancing crowd and that the few people who were near Officer Nixon were actually retreating from him. Officer Nixon approached them and engaged them by spraying them with his pepper spray.”
–Nixon reported that Officer Devine instructed him to arrest a woman, but she walked away from him. “The video, however, showed that this never happened.” Officer Devine denied telling Nixon to arrest the woman.
“While the video demonstrates that Officer Nixon employed unreasonable and excessive force on Denver Diner patrons, several significant uses of inappropriate force is conspicuously absent from Officer Nixon’s use of force report, the commission decision states.
“For example, the video shows a [woman], suffering from the effects of Nixon’s pepper spray, walking towards a police car, at which time Officer Nixon can be seen grabbing her by the throat and throwing her to the ground,” the ruling states.
When a friend of the of the woman objects to Nixon how treated her, “Officer Nixon offered up more of the same, grabbing the complaining patron by the throat and throwing her to the ground as well,” the ruling stated. The video also shows Nixon shoving a handcuffed woman “hard to the ground.”
During the police internal affairs investigation, Nixon denied grabbing and throwing anyone to the ground. “The video proved this denial to be false,” the ruling states.
“Officer Nixon also falsely reported that he had been attacked by one of these patrons when, in fact, she did not attack him and the video revealed that he was the attacker,” the ruling states.
“[Nixon’s] false statements were not minor or trivial. They were glaring. The chasm between the reality as reflected on the video, and the ‘reality’ as reported by Officer Nixon is too great to allow us to believe that his inaccurate reporting was the result of mistaken recollection, a ‘chaotic scene’ or any other ostensibly innocent excuse,” the commission wrote.
In deciding that Nixon will never get his Denver police job back, the commission wrote he committed “acts of gross misconduct” along with “numerous materially deceptive acts” to cover up his actions.
Officer Devine initially appealed his firing, but later resigned from the department.
The Denver Diner clash was not the first time Nixon was accused of police brutality.
Six months before the diner incident, Nixon and two other officers were accused of beating an African-American college student until he was unconscious following a traffic stop.
The federal lawsuit filed by the student, Alexander Landau, accused Nixon and the other officers of stopping the then-19-year-old student after midnight on Jan. 15, 2009, for making an illegal turn, then calling him the N-word and beating his face and head with their fists, a radio and a flashlight until he was unconscious.
The lawsuit contained photographs of Landau at the hospital with a blood-covered face and a swollen eye, wearing a neck brace. Landau suffered brain injuries.
The City Council paid Landau a $795,000 lawsuit settlement in 2011.
In total, Nixon was involved in two brutality cases that cost Denver taxpayers $1.15 million.