It took a jury only two hours to acquit Denver Police officer Cpl. Michael Cordova of excessive force, even though a videotape (below) of his actions breaking the teeth of John Heaney caused public outrage. Cordova faced a charge of third-degree assault after he slammed Heaney’s face into the pavement while Cordova served as a member on an undercover anti-scalping Vice unit.
Cordova charged Heaney with assault on a police officer and criminal mischief until a video showed that the charges were false.
Heaney was on his way on his bike to visit his terminally-ill mother at a nursing home when he ran a red-light. Not knowing that the men were undercover detectives, he got into a verbal exchange with the detectives and says that he knocked the Colorado Rockies hat off the head of Cordova. It went from the mundane to the medieval at that point.
Three officers proceeded to pummel Heaney, causing facial, neck, and shoulder injuries. The video shows them throwing him to the ground and Cordova pulling his head back by his hair and slamming it into the cement — breaking his teeth.
TV producer Greg Prinkey witnessed the whole attack . “He was not resisting. It was totally uncalled for.”
When Prinkey saw men beating Heaney, he ran in to stop the fight. The officers then yelled, “Hey, we’re cops! Get the (expletive) out of here!”
Prinkey correctly notes that “Had I not been rolling the camera, and no one else was rolling the camera, it might have just been swept under the rug.” Indeed, like many such police abuse cases, the officers charged the man with assaulting them — in this case producing a pair of broken sunglasses from one officer as evidence.
Officers Cordova and James Costigan both denied under oath knowing anything about the broken teeth and denied slamming his head into the cement. Cordova testified, “I have not a clue.” That is an understatement.
For the video, click here or here The television crew was adamant that the assault on Cordova was excessive and uncalled for. Moreover, they contradicted the argument of the defense that the sound on the tape was not that of Heaney’s teeth breaking but that of a bat hitting a ball in the stadium.
Cordova did not take the stand in his own defense during the trial.
Notably, the prosecution did not charge Cordova with the false statements and false charge against Heaney at the time of his arrest and some questioned the vigor of the efforts by both prosecutors and police in prosecuting the case. Heaney’s lawyer Lonn Heymann said “The police department and the DA have not given up on the belief that Heaney was somehow responsible. That’s why they were half-hearted in their prosecution of this case. The other officers were never investigated, nor was the police officer’s dishonesty during Heaney’s criminal case. The prosecution simply did not use powerful evidence against Cordova that was available, including proof that the police story was fabricated.”
Heaney may get his own chance to prove the case in his civil lawsuit against Cordova and the police department, here.