Tag Archives: Denver Homeless Out Loud

As homeless defendants face camping charges, Denver courts lie to jurors.


DENVER, COLORADO- Trial began yesterday for three homeless activists charged with violating Denver’s Unauthorized Camping Law. An ordinance enacted in 2012 partly as a coordinated response to Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country, partly to smooth the city’s gentrification plans. Though six years old, the ordinance has escaped judicial scrutiny by DPD’s careful avoidance of citing only homeless victims in no position to fight the charges in court. Deliberate civil disobedience attempts have been thwarted by the city bringing other charges in lieu of the “Urban Camping Ban” for which police threatened arrests. Thus Denver Homeless Out Loud’s coup of at last dragging this sham into the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse has generated plenty of interest. I counted four print reporters and three municipal court judges in the audience! From a jury pool of forty, city prosecutors were able to reject the many who stated outright they could not condemn the homeless defendants for the mere act of trying to survive. At one point the jury selection process was stymied for an hour trying to fill one remaining alternate seat because each successive candidate would not “check their social values at the door.” One potential juror, a hairdresser, became alarmed that all the sympathetic candidates would be purged and so she refused to say how she felt about the homeless. She was removed and they were. As usual jurors were told it was not their place to decide against enforcing bad law. Only those who agreed were allowed to stay. And of course that’s a lie. The only way bad laws are struck down, besides an act of congress, a please reflect how that near impossibility has spawned its own idiom, is when good jurors search their conscience and stand up for defendants.

For those who might have wanted to get out of jury duty, it was an easy day. Show some humanity, provoke authentic laughter of agreement by declaring “Ain’t no way I’m convicting people for camping.” The jury pool heard that Denver’s definition of camping is “to dwell in place with ANY FORM OF SHELTER” which could be a tent, sleeping bag, blanket, even newspaper.

Several jury candidates stated they had relatives who were homeless. Another suggested it would be an injustice to press charges such as these.

“So this isn’t a case for you” the city lawyer asked.

“This isn’t a case for anyone” the prospective juror exclaimed, to a wave of enthusiam from the jury pool and audience.

Another prospect said she didn’t think this case should be prosecuted. The city attorney then asked, “so you couldn’t be fair?”

“I am being fair” she answered. All of these juror prospects were eliminated.

What remained of the jury pool were citizens who swear to uphold whatever law, however vile. One juror that remained even said she gives the benefit of the doubt to police officers. Not removed.

But there is hope because they couldn’t remove everyone. Of the six that remain, one juror agreed to follow the law, even if it was a law which he knew was wrong. That juror works in the legal cannabis industry. He admits he breaks federal law every day. That law is worng he says, but if he has to, he’ll abide by this one.

He admitted, “I can find them guilty. But I’ll have to live with that guilt for the rest of my life.” Ha. Technically the city had to live with that answer.

Another juror recognized that this case was about more than the three homeless defendants. “This case affects not just these three, but the countless homeless outside” gesturing to the whole of downtown Denver.

4/5 UPDATE:
In closing arguments the city lawyers reminded the jury that they swore to uphold the law. No they didn’t, but we’ll see what verdict emerges. After only a couple minutes from beginning deliberations, a juror emerged with this question: if the defendants are found guilty, can the juror pay their fine?

EPILOG:
Well the City of Denver breathes a sign of relief tonight. By which I mean, Denver’s injustice system, Denver’s cops, Denver’s gentrifiers and ordinary residents who are uncomfortable with sharing their streets with the city’s homeless. Today’s offenders were CONVICTED of violating the ordinance that criminalizes the poor for merely trying to shelter from the elements. Today the police and prosecutors and judge and jury acted as one to deliver a message to Denver homeless: no matter the hour, no matter how cold, pick up your things and move along.

This time it wasn’t a jury of yuppy realtors and business consultants that wiped their feet on homeless defendants. It was a cross section of a jury pool that yesterday looked promising.

Today when the jury entered with their verdict the courtroom audience was able to see which juror had been appointed the jury foreman. The revelation wasn’t comforting. Though not the typically dominating white male, this foreman was a female Air Force officer who had declared during voir dire that she had no greater loyalty than law and order. As the jury pool overflowed that first day with professions of sympathy for the homeless, it was the Air Force office, Juror Number Two, who grabbed the microphone to assert that rule of law must always prevail.

Yes, in the interest of optimism I had glossed over those lesser interesting juror statements, in hope that they were only playing to what prosecutors wanted to hear. Left on the jury was a domineering older woman who had said she gives police officers the benefit of the doubt.

An older man, an organist, whose father had been the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company, actually thought that homeless people should be arrested.

I’ll admit now that everyone’s hopes had been pinned on the pot guy who swore he’d have to live with his guilt forever. And so now it’s come to pass.

When those very small people of the jury go home tonight, and eventually read what they’ve done, upheld Denver’s odious, UN-condemned anti-homeless law, they’re going to figure out that they were made to administer the system’s final blow. And Denver couldn’t have done it without them.

The prosecutor had told the jury in her closing statement, that despite the tragic circumstances, everyone was doing their job, the police, the city attorneys, and the judge, and now the jury was expected to do its job. Except that was another lie. It wasn’t the jury’s “job”. They didn’t enlist and they weren’t paid to be executors of the city’s inhuman injustice machine. Whether by ignorance, poor education, or the courtroom team’s duplicity, this jury chose to do it.

But the ignorance runs deep. Judge Lombardi, in her closing remarks to the defendants, reiterated that all the elements had been proved and that justice was served. She praised the jury’s verdict and explained that the only way they could have found otherwise was through “jury nullification”. She said those words after the jury had been dismissed, but she said them on the record, two words that lawyers and defendants are forbidden to utter. In full Judge Lombardi added “and juries are not allowed to do jury nullification.” As if we all can be misled by that lie.

Denver Homeless Out Loudest Ray Lyall


Here’s a better picture of Denver Homeless Out Loud activist Ray Lyall and colleague, with the usual Denver protest entourage. Ray Lyall was found guilty of trespass last week, like his cohort DJ Razee before him. The two were among nine DHOL members arrested defending Tiny Houses on October 25, ten if you include a follow-up action, but Ray and DJ are the only cases to come to trial. Four more are scheduled soon: April 20, May 9 & 10, and June 1.

You might well ask, what of the remaining four? They PLED GUILTY.

It is customary not to condemn another’s self-preservation needs, but let’s be honest, taking the plea deal does hurt everybody. Pleading guilty implicates your co-defendants, validates the police probable cause, and sacrifices the opportunity for which arrest and detainment were the ante.

Ray Lyall took his case to trial, compelled five police officers and a Denver Housing Authority to take the stand, opportuned an eloquent lawyer to speak about homelessness and the bigger picture, tied up a municipal courtroom profit center for two days, and was sentenced to peanuts: one year probation plus community service. Probation is essentially what’s been on offer for plea deals, so Ray risked only being found not guilty.

DJ’s sentence admittedly was not peanuts, it included jail time. The judge declared she would rather have imposed probation, but DJ knew probation would hinder his options as a street activist. DJ stipulated jail so that afterward he’d be free to protest without the spector of a deferred sentence weighing upon him.

Plea deals have shaped a lamentable pattern for Denver activists. Owing to inadequate legal representation or financial hardship, many political arrestees have been tempted by offers of deferred prosecution or deferred sentencing which have necessitated their abstention from further protest. Some who have continued to participate in demonstrations have been in the awkward position of encouraging others to do what they could no longer risk, perpetuating the cycle of arrests and plea deal emasculation.

The Denver activist community has some serial plea dealers, who always take pleas and ensnare newbies with them every cycle. As a result, fresh activists become burned out and regular police oppression is emboldened.

The irony of course is that the vast majority of Denver protest arrests have been violations of civil liberties. It will only stop when the police are challenged and sued. Obstruction, interference, failure to obey, resisting, trespass, disturbing the peace etc, are the habitual pretexts which Denver police have been using to curb street protest. Even the felony charge of assault of a police officer has been succesfully used to scare activists into taking pleas. Usually such “assaults” were simply collisions or confrontations where police officers were the actual assailants.

Not everyone is in a position to fight their charges to the bitter end, but asserting the illegitimacy of political arrests is critical to bringing Denver police to heel.

If you are going to plead guilty because you don’t think you have the right to march in the street or to ignore unconstitutional orders or to defy unjust laws, DON’T DO IT. Spare the rest of us the bad example of capitulating to wrongful authority.

Denver jury convicts homeless man of trespassing on their yuppy lifestyle. DJ Razee’s tiny house idea was too big.

Delbert J. Razee
DENVER, COLORADO- In the witness stand Delbert “DJ” Razee spoke eloquently about the Tiny House movement and Resurrection Village, a local experiment sponsored by advocates Denver Homeless Out Loud to suggest one remedy for the house-less of Colorado. Razee’s lawyer Frank Ingham made fools of the Denver Housing Authority stooge and four police officers who testified against the chronically homeless English Lit grad. Razee was charged with trespass on public land, on an empty city block which was supposed to have been used for affordable housing. Razee was among ten homeless activists arrested one night in November for refusing to vacate several very small structures they’d erected on property which the DHA was converting from a community garden to gentrified condos. After two days of trial, a jury of well-housed peers found Razee guilty, lest others of his untouchable caste darken their doorsteps or the vacant lots near them. On Thursday March 3rd at 8:30am DJ Razee reports to Judge Beth Faragher for sentencing.

It was an amazing trial. While his compatriots sought continuances or plea deals, DJ held his ground and never waived speedy trial. DJ was impatient to put the Denver Housing Authority on the stand. Their representative Ryan Tobin blew off a February 3rd subpoena, but when DJ’s lawyer Frank Ingham cross-examined Tobin on the 22nd, Tobin incriminated himself more than Razee. Ryan Tobin was the DHA goon who pressed charges against the activists for trespassing on the public lot opposite his $650K home. Tobin also sought a protection order against one of the activists, which restrained that person from approaching not just Tobin but the entire public lot. Can one do that? The protection order didn’t come up at DJ’s trial.

DHA
The DHA is a quasi-municipal entity which handles city property meant to accomodate lower income residents. The DHA is Denver’s second largest property owner. The city blocks at 26th and Lawrence used to be low income housing but have been razed for years. More recently a portion was used for a community garden but the DHA was evicting the urban farmers to sell the block to a high rise developer.

The logic offered was that DHA could use the proceeds of land speculation to build more affordable housing elsewhere. That strategy might impress business people but it’s clearly absurd. Instead of being a counterbalance to gentrification, this housing authority thinks its role is to be a tool for displacement.

Tobin’s testimony will benefit all the Tiny House defendants, depending on their juries. DJ is only the first of the arrestees to be brought to trial. Tobin admitted he had never clearly expressed who had the authority to issue a trespass order. Tobin also couldn’t say who precisely was present when he made his initial announcement to the group, although he claimed it was “everyone”. This was a chief contention of the city attorneys.

How about an sidebar for activists, as a sort of debrief:

On Tobin’s first visit, someone among the activists called EVERYONE together to listen to his announcement, austensibly to have a dialog. As a matter of practice this was regretable. First, because the action was already underway and there was no expectation that dialog could or should redirect the action. Second, it presented exactly what an authority issuing a formal notice needed: everyone in one place to BE GIVEN NOTICE.

Two, the city prosecutors used a video recording of the event, made by the activists themselves, to prove that the trespassers had received notice. While the taped discussion was not so clear, and the many subsequent announcements over police bullhorns were garbled, it didn’t help that the videographer offered narration to make what was being said explicit to viewers and bystanders. Offering, for example: “so basically we’ve been given notice that if we don’t leave the cops will come to arrest us.” Which alas is the confirmation prosecutors need that lawful orders were understood.

Although the city sought to incriminate Razee with the video, the footage provided wonderful context for the larger issue, the paradox faced by the homeless, had the jury been receptive. It also captured Ryan Tobin’s cavalier attitude about housing inequities. When he was asked by the group “Move along to where?” Tobin made this thoughtless suggestion: “Where did you come from?” Boos from his audience at the scene were echoed by the viewers in the courtroom.

Ryan Tobin couldn’t identify DJ at all, neither that he’d given DJ notice to leave, nor that he’d ever seen DJ before in his life. DJ described Tobin’s failure to recognize him in a FB post:

For six weeks, from October 23rd until December 9th, I shoveled the walks, carted away the trash, and resided at Resurrection Village at the same location as Sustainability Park, and Ryan Tobin who lives directly across the street from the property, testified that he has never seen my face. Of course, he hadn’t- I am one of the invisible people who is a criminal in the eyes of the housed, and the law.

DPD
The testimony of four DPD officers was also self-damning. Neither commander, nor lieutenants, nor arresting officer could fully justify why they deployed in combat gear. Even the jurors were set back by the militarized atmosphere, the helicopter overhead, and the overabundance of cops for a TRESPASS INFRACTION. About the helicopter, a lieutenant claimed she called in a mere “fly-by” but police video proved it hovered for nearly an hour.

One amusing aspect for many of us in the audience, was how the DPD witnesses would always refer to the offending activists as “Occupiers”. Denver Homeless Out Loud, in its need to gain cooperation with civic and law enforcement entities, takes great pains to distance itself from its roots in Occupy Denver. At any demonstration in Denver, an “Occupy” presence, usually merely the familiar OD faces, always means an escalated police escort and unseen armored-up reserves. While it may have been inaccurate to label the Tiny House trespassers as occupiers, it’s true that when protesters are holding their ground in Denver, refusing police orders, they are occupying. Like the Black Bloc, it’s not a who, it’s a tactic.

Attending the trials of activists is worth it if only to hear the testimony of the police. You learn what they’re trained to do, what their objectives are, and what they think you’re doing. Most officers, even commanders, think we need a permit to demonstrate. HA!

The first four witnesses could not place DJ at the scene, but the arresting officer finally fingered the accused. Asked if he could identify DJ, he pointed to the defendant’s table and described DJ’s courtroom attire for the record. You have to wonder if police witnesses look to the defendant’s chair by default, without regard to what they remember. How could they remember so many arrestees, months after the incident? I’m guessing that anyone sitting in DJ’s seat would have been ID’d as DJ.

I pose this question because of how DJ’s arresting officer was allowed to identify DJ on the crime scene video. Instead of letting the video play through and asking the officer if DJ appeared on the video and where, DJ’s prosecutors froze the video when the camera lingered on DJ and then asked the officer to ID him. The defense counsel objected vehemently and when overruled he motioned for a mistrial. So the judge reconsidered and granted Ingham’s motion. She then asked the jury to disregard the officer’s response and she made the prosecutor play the video again without prompting the officer, even though of course now he knew at which frame DJ appeared.

The jury
The entire trial was so farcical and so mercenary considering the inconsequence of the charge, that audience members were certain the jury was empathic to DJ and the victimization of Denver’s homeless. Nope. We knew from Voir Dire that the jury included an entrepreneur, a trader, and an inheritance consultant. All but one of the NPR listeners had been eliminated but we hoped she’d be a holdout. It was not to be. When the jury emerged with its verdict, the foreman carrying the written decision was the fratboy day trader.

Fratboy had been the juror submitting written questions to supplement what neither attorney had asked. We knew from the bent of his inquiries that he was playing a role that defense attorneys fear, a self-deputized investigator for the prosecutor, filling in the gaps of the testimony, seeking, if even unconsciously, to eliminate the “reasonable doubt” which is supposed to remain as a reason to aquit. That’s why defense attorneys generally object to Colorado’s rule allowing jurors to interject with their own questions to witnesses. On the plus side, such questions do offer both sides a hint of where those jurors are leaning.

As Denver gentrifies, it should be no surprise that juries will represent the affluent more than the demographics being displaced. DJ’s jury had absolutely zero concern for punishing a homeless man for his elegant protest gesture or for his unresolved circumstance. They laughed and made no eye contact with the audience as they turned their backs to return to their homes and leave a homeless man in greater jeopardy with the penal system.

DJ was not tried by a jury of his peers. Can the homeless get justice in the US court system? American juries are racist and classist, but you’re unlikely to find someone more untouchable to jurors than someone who is dispossessed.

As activists, we’ve got to do something about these Denver juries. Advocating for jury nullification is not enough. Denver’s urban social climbers need a welcome-to-the-community brochure, or swift kicks in the ass until they acknowledge there’s a brotherhood of man.