This was infuriating and saddening to watch.
If I am going to get emotionally invested in a story, I feel like I should get invested accurately, so I looked for some more information about what happened.
Most of the information available comes from the Denver Department of Safety, which probably has some interest in making the Denver authorities look good. At the same time, Alex Landau has some interest in making the authorities look bad: his understandable anger following the beating, and the $795,000 settlement paid by the city.
A two-page case narrative showed that some bad judgement and very bad luck contributed to the misfortune. These don't justify a beating leading to hospitalization, nor racial slurs, but those are the aspects of the incident most in dispute, and I can't find evidence of any recording from the event.
Both Landau and his passenger Addison Hunold agree that Landau was driving after drinking alcohol and using marijuana. Landau seems to have agreed to a search of the car, Hunold handed over a stash of pot and got handcuffed, and one of the officers began to open the trunk after searching the interior. Landau made some kind of approach toward this officer, and chaos erupted.
In Landau's telling,
"So I ask them, 'Can I please see a warrant before you continue the search?' " Landau says. "And they grab me and began to hit me in the face. I could hear Addison in the background yelling, 'Stop! Leave him alone.'"
There is more detail in a longer case description, in which Landau is said to have said "I put my hands up and I started walking towards [Officer Nixon]." Addison Hunold, in a written statement made at a police station shortly after the arrest, confirmed that Landau approached the officer, and gave inconsistent accounts of the violence. Hunold is said to have said that Landau resisted and struggled and that Hunold yelled "Chill, man!"
Three police officers say they surrounded Landau and aggressively tried to control him while he resisted. The group backed up into the curb, over which one officer tripped, and the four of them tumbled into the grass, with Middleton on her back on the bottom, Landau face down directly atop her, and the other two officers on each side.
That was some bad luck.
It's after midnight on a Wednesday night, you were just stopped for an illegal left turn, you don't have your driver's license, and there's evidence of drug use (Hunold allegedly said the car "reeked" of pot, and a paramedic allegedly smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Landau's breath). The last place you want to be is on top of a fallen, armed cop in the middle of a struggle.
One of the cops shouted that Landau was going for Middleton's gun, which Landau denies, but the unfortunate result is clear from the ER photo. One cop says another used a flashlight to strike Landau's head and then held a gun to his head and threatened to shoot.
Hunold, in his first statement, apparently did not describe any hitting before the group fell down. Later, he said one of the officers did punch Landau, and another time he said there was "a little bit of a struggle because they grabbed him and then [Landau] was hit, and I think that is when they all kind of fell to the ground." Later he said "I'm not sure if I saw him struck in the face, I just saw them take him to the ground."
Hunold's testimony is also apparently inconsistent about the use of racial slurs. He apparently did not mention any slurs in his first written statement, then later said he did hear a slur, then later said he said that because he "had a little bit of anger" and was "resentful" of the police.
Very little of this is portrayed in the video, but we shouldn't expect much detail in a three-minute animation.
I don't intend to blame the victim. I don't have enough reliable information to answer the important question of whether the police had reason to think that Landau meant them harm. When I hear that the police involved were not charged (two later got in trouble for other incidents), it sounds like a travesty. But if I were in the position of having to decide whether there is any chance that a jury would convict based on the available evidence, I might have made the same decision. The settlement, also, was described as a "business" decision, based on the expected expense and result of a trial.
I don't mean to suggest there isn't a problem with law enforcement. There is, and I think we should be able to discuss possible alternatives that may have different, and possibly less horrible, problems.
Mostly I would like to emphasize the danger of drawing conclusions based on one side of a story. Things often appear more complicated on close inspection.