Denver reaches $1.2 million settlement with unarmed teen beaten by police

The city of Denver agreed to a $1.2 million settlement in an excessive force lawsuit filed after three police officers beat an unarmed teen and shocked him with a Taser while he was lying on the ground.

The settlement ends three years of fallout that followed the 2018 incident, which prompted a criminal trial of one of the Denver police officers involved and the officer’s later resignation.

The teen, Malow Mayek, sued the city in 2020, alleging that the officers violated his civil rights and that poor training and oversight by the Denver Police Department allowed the incident to occur.

The Denver City Council still needs to approve the settlement in the federal lawsuit. The council could vote as soon as Monday on a resolution approving the payment.

“This was an absolutely egregious civil rights violation,” David Lane, Mayek’s attorney, said Thursday. “Mr. Mayek’s injuries have been life-altering. I’m glad to see Denver stepping up to the plate and compensating him.”

Mayek suffered a broken leg that required surgery, a broken nose and multiple lacerations from the incident. The injuries inflicted on Mayek by the officers have permanently limited his mobility, Lane said.

“There are many things that he used to do that he can no longer do,” Lane said.

Denver police officers contacted Mayek, then 17, on Aug. 22, 2018, after receiving several 911 calls about a man acting odd and screaming obscenities near Ruby Hill Park in southwest Denver. While police searched the park, they received another call about a man with a gun chasing someone.

Sgt. Joseph Rodarte and Officer James Martinez found Mayek, but the teen ran from the officers. The teen later told police that he had tried LSD for the first time that day and believed the pursuing officers were demons.

Mayek ran into the parking lot of a nearby auto shop, where he tried to escape pursuing officers by running past them, body camera footage shows. The teen fell as he neared the officers and Rodarte struck the teen in the head, back and legs with his baton six times in a 24-second span, body camera footage shows. Martinez and another officer, Douglas Watson, used a Taser while the teen was on the ground.

Denver prosecutors charged Rodarte with assault for his attack on Mayek, but a Denver jury in 2019 acquitted him. Rodarte, who had a long history of excessive force complaints during his 20-year career, resigned in June 2020 before Denver Department of Public Safety officials could fire him.

Watson and Martinez, the two officers who used the Taser on the teen, received 10 days of unpaid suspension in connection to the incident.

The lawsuit alleged that the Denver Police Department “fostered an environment and culture of law enforcement brutality and deliberate indifference to the constitutional and statutory rights of citizens and residents” by allowing Rodarte to stay on the force despite his history of excessive force complaints.

“Denver has cultivated an environment and culture of law enforcement brutality and deliberate indifference to the constitutional and statutory rights of citizens and residents,” the lawsuit states. “This context enabled the defendants’ attack on plaintiff. This assault was foreseeable and fully in keeping with a long-established pattern of behavior from DPD officers.”

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