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Bicyclist sues Denver Police over beating caught on tape

10:06 AM, Apr 8, 2009   |    comments
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The civil rights lawsuit claims police assaulted John Heaney during a false arrest and the police department failed to properly train and supervise its officers.

"The claims are against the officers who actually beat up Mr. Heaney, but the claims are also against officers for not intervening when they saw something wrong happening," Heaney's attorney, Lonn Heymann, said. "Mr. Heaney has a right to be protected by the police officers even against other police officers."

The arrest was caught on videotape by a professional photojournalist on April 4, 2008 on the opening day of the Rockies season.

The video shows officers repeatedly hitting and kicking Heaney near Coors Field. Once Heaney was lying on his stomach with his hands held behind his back, the video shows an officer, later identified as Michael Cordova, lift Heaney's head and smash his face into the ground. Heaney claims the act broke his two front teeth. The cracking teeth can be heard on the tape.

The officers claim Heaney swore at them and punched one of them in the nose as he was riding his bike past the stadium. That allegedly took place off-camera.

Heaney claims the officers, who were working on an undercover scalping sting, attacked him first.

Heaney was charged with second-degree assault against a police officer until the videotape surfaced and was shown on 9NEWS.

The Denver District Attorney's office immediately dropped the charges against Heaney and charged Cordova with second-degree assault.

Cordova has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is out of jail on bond and has been suspended from the police department without pay during his court case.

"Officer Cordova and some of these other officers who were involved were clearly willing, we're alleging, to have Mr. Heaney go to jail and become a felon to cover-up their wrongful actions," Heymann said.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers made false statements about what happened during the arrest because they did not know it was caught on video. The suit also alleges the police made false statements in court about the arrest and did not properly investigate the case.

While the lawsuit doesn't specify damages, Heymann said Heaney should be compensated for the false arrest and alleged beating because he suffered severe bruising all over his body, two broken front teeth and other physical injuries requiring surgery.

"It was a very, very scary experience and continues to be for a law-abiding man who was taking his bike to go see his mother who was dying in a hospice. For something like this to just intervene in your life really has a long-term affect," Heymann said. "So, he's looking for monetary compensation and Mr. Heaney is also interested in having an impact on the police department to make some changes and to keep this from happening to anyone else."

The police department referred calls about the lawsuit to the city attorney.

Sue Cobb, Communications Director for the City and County of Denver said they had not received notice of the lawsuit Monday afternoon, and therefore, could not comment on it.

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