The city of Denver has been ordered to pay more than $2.5 million in damages to a man shot in the back by a police officer in 2013. The officer has also been found personally liable and ordered to pay damages.
A jury concluded last month that the officer involved, Sgt. Robert Motyka Jr., used excessive force, and that the department failed to appropriately train officers on how to handle such situations. The ruling ends more than six years of litigation surrounding the case.
“Officer training is taken seriously in Denver,” a spokeswoman for the Denver city attorney’s office said. “The city is still reviewing the case to determine its next legal steps.”
Attorneys for the plaintiff, Michael Valdez, say he was riding in a truck with a man wanted for domestic violence, which Valdez did not know. Someone else in the vehicle started shooting at police once they began to pursue the group, hitting an officer in the shoulder.
The truck crashed and Valdez climbed out, lying on the ground with his arms spread, his attorneys said. Motyka then fired at least a dozen rounds toward the truck, hitting Valdez in the back and finger.
Valdez was arrested and charged with five counts of attempted first-degree murder and five counts of first-degree assault, The Denver Post reported at the time.
He filed a lawsuit against the city and five police officers in 2015 after having his left hand partially amputated and suffering multiple fractures in his back. In its September 23 verdict, a jury found Motkya’s excessive force “violated Valdez’s constitutional rights and that the city failed to properly train Motkya.”
In a statement following the decision, the law firm representing Valdez said the case was a “rare victory” and “one certain to establish a precedent.”
“The Denver Police Department needs to take seriously its obligation to properly prepare its officers to use deadly force only in appropriate circumstances,” said the statement from Haddon, Morgan & Foreman. “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.”
Denver’s city attorney is considering whether to appeal the ruling.
CPR’s Allison Sherry contributed to this story.