Haddon, Morgan & Foreman is thrilled to announce on behalf of their client, Michael F. Valdez, that partners Laura A. Menninger and Jeffrey S. Pagliuca recently secured a $2.5 million victory against the City of Denver and Denver Police Sergeant Robert Motyka, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, the Hon. William J. Martinez presiding.
After 6 ½ years of litigation, and nine days of testimony and deliberation, the jury found in favor of Mr. Valdez on both of his Section 1983 claims — excessive force against Sgt. Motyka and failure by the Denver Police Department to adequately train its officers in the appropriate use of deadly force. The evidence conclusively established that in January 2013, Sgt. Motyka shot Mr. Valdez – in the back – while he was unarmed and presented no danger to the officers or community. Motyka shot at least 12 bullets at the unarmed Valdez after he emerged from the wreckage of a car crash with his hands in the air and lay prone on the ground. Bullet strikes on a nearby tree proved that the 6′ 6″ Motyka fired shots that hit approximately 1-2 feet downward towards the prone Valdez. The jury was unpersuaded by Sgt. Motyka’s shifting story; originally Motyka told his superiors that he never saw a gun, but over the years, his story morphed to claims that Valdez had a gun and was aiming it at a nearby park. Motyka has been the subject of a prior civil lawsuit and punitive damages award by a federal jury, but Denver has allowed him to continue on the force, even awarding him a medal for his “heroics” in shooting the unarmed Valdez.
Menninger and Pagliuca also resoundingly proved the Monell claim against the City of Denver, a rare victory and one certain to establish a precedent that the Denver Police Department needs to take seriously its obligation to properly prepare its officers to use deadly force only in appropriate circumstances. The jury awarded $2.4 million against Denver alone based on its deficient training to officers using lethal force in situations that cause them high stress, adrenaline, or anger. The evidence showed that DPD white-washed its investigation of Motyka’s shooting, failing to demand an explanation for why he would shoot an unarmed civilian and failing to link the 12 bullets fired at Valdez with any probable cause.
The firm battled Motyka and Denver over 6 ½ years of hard-fought litigation, including multiple trips to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the last time an appeal deemed “frivolous” by Judge Martinez. Menninger and Pagliuca were supported at trial by senior paralegal Ann Lundberg and paralegal Nicole Simmons. HMF is proud of our efforts on behalf of Mr. Valdez and others like him who have been mistreated by law enforcement and victimized by those who swore to “protect and serve” our citizens.