ACLU Files Suit Over Illegal DNC Arrests

Just days before the anniversary of a mass arrest that shut down a
downtown protest march during the Democratic National Convention (DNC)
last year, eight Plaintiffs represented by lawyers for the ACLU of
Colorado filed suit last evening in Denver District Court against Denver
and high-ranking police officials. The Plaintiffs, who include a legal
observer for the People’s Law Project (PLP), a journalist, students
documenting the march , and peaceful onlookers who observed the march
legally from the sidewalks, assert that they were falsely arrested
without probable cause and groundlessly prosecuted for crimes they did
not commit, in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.

In an additional claim filed as a class action on behalf of nearly one
hundred persons, the ACLU charges that Denver illegally prohibited the
Plaintiffs and others held at the City’s special DNC detention center
from meeting with attorneys who came to provide legal advice and
consultation after the mass arrest.

“With regard to policing protest during the DNC, Denver police sometimes
got it very right, for which they deserve credit,” said Mark
Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “On this evening, however, Denver
police got it wrong, very wrong. Although Denver often allows street
marches to proceed without the required permit, the police chose to
crack down on this one. But police failed to distinguish between street
marchers and others who were participating or merely observing from the
sidewalks, where they had a legal right to be. If there is a case where
a large and potentially raucous public gathering threatens to get out of
hand, police can issue orders to disperse and clear the area, but no
such order was issued that night.”

The march started from Civic Center Park in the early evening of August
25, 2008. Participants marched on 15^th Street and the adjoining
sidewalks but were quickly stopped by a solid line of police at Court
Street. A second line of police– clad in full body riot armor and
carrying an array of less-lethal weapons–quickly closed in from behind,
confining hundreds of persons in a one-block stretch of 15^th Street
between Court and Cleveland. The encircled group included not only the
street marchers, but also participants who had been marching legally on
the public sidewalks, as well as legal observers, curious onlookers,
members of the press, and other nonparticipants. This large group was
detained a substantial time between police lines while Denver’s top
officials decided what to do.

According to the lawsuit, Denver carried out an arbitrary and groundless
mass arrest of an entire group of 96 individuals, knowing that the
roundup included numerous innocent persons such as the ACLU’s clients.
Indeed, of the 54 persons who did not accept an immediate plea bargain,
at least 38 were exonerated after jury trials or after prosecutors
finally dismissed charges. Although officers at the scene completed
statements under oath recounting “facts” that supposedly justified each
of the Plaintiff’s arrests, the lawsuit charges that these sworn
statements were “universally and materially false.”

“The arresting officers consistently swore that Plaintiffs were marching
in the street and that they ignored audible orders to disperse issued by
a police supervisor,” said John Culver, of Culver & Benezra, LLC, who is
litigating the case as an ACLU cooperating attorney, along with his
partner Seth Benezra. “As Denver later acknowledged, however, no order
to disperse was ever issued. Our clients did not participate in the
march in the street, and police never provided them with any opportunity
to leave the area.”

The ACLU asserts that its clients were falsely arrested and forced to
defend themselves in court proceedings from groundless accusations of
criminal conduct. All * *were charged with failing to obey a police
order to disperse. After Denver finally acknowledged that no such order
had ever been issued, City attorneys nevertheless persisted in
prosecuting the Plaintiffs for allegedly “obstructing” a public right of
way by marching in the street without a permit. With legal
representation from the PLP, all the criminal cases have now been
resolved in the Plaintiffs’ favor, either through dismissals or
acquittals after jury trials.

After their arrest, the Plaintiffs and most of the arrestees were locked
into holding cells at a vacant warehouse that Denver converted into a
detention facility for DNC-related arrests . At the warehouse, which
protesters dubbed “Gitmo on the Platte,” Denver refused to allow
attorneys to meet with or speak with any of the arrestees.

The lawsuit relies on a longstanding Colorado statute that requires
custodians of detention facilities to allow attorneys to meet with
detainees in a confidential setting. The law provides for penalties of
up to one thousand dollars for each violation. This claim is filed as a
class action, and the ACLU lawyers ask that the statutory penalty be
imposed on behalf of /all/ the persons swept up in the August 25 mass
arrest who were held at the City’s detention facility.

“Prior to the DNC, the ACLU advised Denver on multiple occasions that
Colorado law required them to accommodate attorney visits at the
detention facility, but Denver officials insisted that no attorney
visits would be permitted,” said Taylor Pendergrass, ACLU Staff
Attorney. “This lawsuit challenges Denver’s willful decision to deny an
entire class of persons a basic right long protected by Colorado law–to
consult with an attorney at any place of custody. Denver officials had
no legitimate basis for treating the detention facility as a legal black
hole where this fundamental Colorado law did not apply.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Nathan Acks, Tiffany Bray, Chase Goll, Eli
Hardy, Aminah Masud, Ian Morrison, Blake Pendergrass, and Kim Sidwell.
Defendants include Denver as well as police Commander Deborah Dilley and
Sgts. Anthony Foster and Anthony Martinez.

In addition to Culver, Benezra, Silverstein and Pendergrass, the
Plaintiffs’ legal team includes ACLU Cooperating Attorney Lonn Heymann,
of Rosenthal and Heymann LLC, who also represented arrestees in their
criminal cases on behalf of the PLP.

The Complaint, pre-DNC correspondence between the ACLU and Denver
regarding the issues raised in the lawsuit, and other materials are
available on the ACLU’s website at

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