City of Denver wins court battle to ignore the homeless, one arrest made

DENVER, COLORADO- The trial of the Tattered Cover Five concluded this week. For three days a municipal court considered whether a complaint made against protesters drumming in front of the downtown Tattered Cover Bookstore should or should not curb the protesters’ freedom of speech. And the jury really didn’t get it. Not only did their verdict uphold the police’s discretion to decide whose speech can be considered to be disturbing the peace, but the jury introduced their own arbitrary enforcement, judging some drummers guilty and some not, even though the complaint which prompted the charges was based on the “loud and unusual noise” generated by the ensemble.

The jury had even heard testimony that defendants were threatened with arrest if we “so much as touched a drum.” How then could this case be about disturbing the peace via loud noise? Defense attorney David Lane knew our acts of defiance were more accurately “disturbing the police.”

More obtuse than the Denver jury was the presiding judge, who resisted every rational objection and motion to insure that blunt authoritarianism always received the benefit of the doubt. I’ll admit our supporters in the audience were glib throughout the trial as our lawyer David Lane could hardly sidestep using the dumb and dumber city attorneys for mops. But the judge always ruled in dumb’s favor. It was as if courtroom 3H was an Affirmative Action program for logical fallacies, and the judge was a rubber-stamp for the rule of bad law.

This was never more clear than in the trial’s final moments, when extra deputies ringed the courtroom and then arrested an audience member.

Just before the jury was to emerge with its verdict, the judge reminded everyone that filming or recording the jury was prohibited. David Lane voiced his objection at the buildup of officers in the courtroom without cause. As usual the judge was dismissive.

Lane emphasized that in all his years this was an uncharacteristic show of force. The judge didn’t care: “Objection noted.” It was her usual refrain.

As the officers moved closer to the audience to make their oppressive presence felt, the activism instinct to raise cell phones at the ready gave the officers their cause. This escalated into a standoff, with the deputies ordering an activist to leave the courtroom. His protestations of innocence were interpreted as resisting so he was led off in handcuffs, prompting of course more impulses to film the arrest.

When more officers began targeting more cellphones, a voice of authority rang out. It wasn’t the judge calling for order in the court. No, she was satisfied to let the deputes maraud through the audience and extract people with physical force without even looking up from her monitor. It was the sonorous voice of David Lane that brought the officers to heel. He said “Nobody can take anyone’s phone.” Lane’s gravitas had never given the judge pause but it stopped the deputes in their tracks.

“The most an officer can ask you to do is to put your phone in your pocket” Lane continued. One activist was holding his phone aloft in a game of keep-away with two deputes. Hesitantly he and the other audience members pocketed their phones.

When the jury members made their entrance they were greeted by a militarized courtroom and an audience numb with shock over the justice system’s indifference to abuse of power. We were in for a worse surprise.

It could be the jury did step up to David Lane’s challenge. He’d told them they would never in their lives wield as much power as they did on this jury, their chance to fashion how First Amendment protections are upheld. Except they didn’t share Lane’s or our concern for holding off a police state. Instead they sided with the prosecution, who urged they preserve “the right to ignore someone else’s opinion.”

Honest to God, our weekly protest at the Tattered Cover was presented to have been about the Urban Camping Ban. The jury understood we were urging people not to ignore the plight of the homeless. The city prosecutor’s words could not have been more ill chosen if one is embarassed by irony.

I was one of the defendants in the Trial of the Tattered Cover Five. One of us escaped charges due to a clerical error, two others were found not guilty for lack of self-incrimination. Tim Calahan and I were convicted of Disturbing the Peace, specifically for having created a loud and unusual noise in violation of a City of Denver ordinance. I got two convictions, community service, court fees, one year’s unsupervised probation, and supervision fees (yes that is a non sequitur), but all of it stayed pending appeal.

David Hughes arrested
So what happened to the courtroom arrestee? I’m free now to say that his name is David Hughes, Denver Occupier and IWW organizer. David wasn’t released until the next day, mostly because neither the city nor county was sure with what to charge him. David was kept in an underground cell between the courthouse and the county jail while the trial went on.

Stunned by our defeat in court, our now un-merry band’s attention was diverted to our imprisoned comrade. David had refused to be excluded from the courtroom and next we learned that, like any good Wobbly, David was refusing to reveal his identity. By chance his wife held his wallet and phone so David was free to complicate his abduction as anyone innocent of charges might. We continued to shout “Free John Doe” outside the courthouse in solidarity late into the night.

Was David guilty of using his phone camera? It’s generally understood that recording devices are not to be used in courtrooms, to respect the privacy of witnesses, the jury, and the accused. In this case the judge had specified not recording the jury which had not yet entered. What had interested David was the disproportionate buildup of sheriffs deputees. How many law enforcement officers can you have in a courtroom before the public feels threatened enough that they need to film the officers for the public’s own protection? What doesn’t get filmed, the cops get away with. The judge certainly wasn’t concerned for our protection.

I really can’t understate the disappointment we all felt about the verdict. It was predictable yes, but unsettling to see it happen. We had the best lawyer that money can’t even buy, undone by the steady creep of Fascism. I associate it with our society’s declining education and public engagement, abetted by oppressive law.

For three days, attendees who were not readily recognized as being with the defendants could circulate the halls of the Linsey-Flanigan courthouse and overhear deputees talk about the case. All the deputees were greatly chagrined that The David Lane was representing us. Apparently they all know his reputation. There was no press interest except by KGNU, but lawyers who saw David Lane walk through the hall made a point to stop by our courtroom when they had the chance to watch him work.

And so it was really a blow to the ego to meet with failure. I’ve written before about how police intervention at our Tattered Cover protests ceased entirely after the first arraignment date when David Lane showed up in our stead. We’d been surveilled by a half dozen cruisers every Friday for a half year. After David Lane officially filed our papers that number went to zero. No more visits from officers, no more drivebys with videocameras, for almost a solid year now. It should be interesting to see what happens this Friday. Will the cruisers be back? They still have no cause. No disruptions, no conflicts, no threat of lawbreaking whatsoever.

Before Lane the officers regularly interrupted our assemblies to recite their warnings in spite of our objections. When Tim and I were arrested, we had to sit in a holding cell, shackled to a bench, while Sergeant Stiggler berated us for looking like fools. We were wrong about the camping ban, we were wrong about our rights, bla bla bla bla. We kept our mouths shut to shorten his lecture. After enduring our bullhorn for three months, he’d composed quite a rebuttal. His diatribe contradicted the suggestion that our arrests were about the noise and not our message.

For now unfortunately the sergeant turns out to have been correct about our rights. And looking like fools I guess.

For now Denver’s Disturbing the Peace ordinance does dismantle the First Amendment. For now it does allow what’s called a “heckler’s veto.” That’s a marker of unconstitutionality where one person’s complaint could be used to silence political speech to which they object. It does allow police officers to decide what “time place and manner” limits to place on free speech. Nevermind “Congress shall make no law to abridge” –that’s up to the police. It’s their call!

At our earlier motions hearing David Lane spent two days arguing that Denver’s ordinance was unconstitutional, to deaf ears obviously. At that hearing, DPD officer after officer testified that what qualified as a disturbance was entirely theirs to decide. Lane laid the groundwork to show that Denver police officers aren’t given a clue how to respect free speech. This judge was already satisfied I guess to pass the buck to a higher court.

In the meantime activists can no longer brey with confidence about free speech rights in Denver. We’ll have to engage with police submiting their proposed abridgements. We’ll have to bite our tongues, as they do I’m sure, feeling our hands tied more than we’d like, they longing to beat us. It’s going to be more difficult to recruit newcomers, uneasy with what confidence we can responsibly instill in them. “Am I going to get in trouble” is the first question they ask. Now the more probable answer is not maybe.

5 thoughts on “City of Denver wins court battle to ignore the homeless, one arrest made

  1. Very sorry I wasn’t there to support you. It is all so pathetic. Thank you Eric and the rest of the folks who take the time to stand up for our most basic rights. I am disgusted with our “leaders” (big joke) sense of justice and decency.

  2. I’ve been shocked at how right-wing narrow and dull minded Denver is. This takes the cake!

  3. If the jury didn’t get it, the attorney didn’t tell the story well enough. I find that happens when attorneys are too attached to their version of the story rather than being open to telling the same story, only in the collective moment. Sigh. #nexttime #keeptrying they will.

  4. The story is being told day after day in the news. Stories about excessive force by police officers and injustice against our constitutional rights. If the jury didn’t get it, it’s because they are not listening. They are too busy watching reality shows instead of seeing reality all around them. The story should be obvious to those who care enough to see. their rights being taken away and our country becoming a police state. David Lane cares enough to stand up and represent the rights of the people. What are you doing, except complain!!!

  5. Does Judge Faragher have a valid official bond filed with her Oath of Office? Isn’t she an active member of the BAR (British Accreditation Registry) ~ FARAGHER BETH ANN ACTV 23178? Is this a conflict of interest? Is she practicing law from the bench? Was she sworn into office by an authorized/valid official also having a valid official bond filed with their Oath of Office? Were their official bonds/oaths of office filed with the appropriate office as provided in the General Laws of the State of Colorado on time? If not, she is occupying a vacant office and all her decisions and court cases are null & void, purport to settle as if they never existed, unconstitutionality dates from enactment, there is no power to enforce, no obligation to obey. Colorado General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 6: County Commissioners (Names and Address) the persons who also undertook an obligation of guarantee by virtue of General Laws of the State of Colorado, Chapter LXXI, OFFICIAL BONDS, Sec. 6, ratified 1877 that states;
    “It shall be the duty of the board of county commissioners of each county, at each regular term, on the first day of each term, to examine and inquire into the sufficiency of the official bond of the county judge, justices of the peace, constables, county treasurer, sheriff, corner, county assessor, county clerk and county surveyor, and all other official bonds given or to be given by any county officer, as required by law; and if it shall appear that one or more of the securities on the official bond of any such county officer has or have removed from the county, died , or become insolvent, or of doubtful solvency, the said board of county commissioners shall cause such county judge, justices of the peace, constables, county treasurer, sheriff, coroner, county assessor, county clerk and county surveyor, and all other official bonds given or to be given by any county officer, to be summoned to appear before said board, on a day to be named in said summons, to show cause why he should not be required to give a new bond, with sufficient security; and if, at the appointed time, he should fail to satisfy said board, requiring such county judge, justices of the peace, constables, county treasurer, sheriff, corner, county assessor, county clerk and county surveyor, and all other official bonds given or to be given by any county officer, to file in the office of the county clerk, within twenty days, a new bond, to be approved as required by law, unless the number and pecuniary ability of other securities on the bond is sufficient, notwithstanding one or more of the securities on said bond may have removed, be dead, insolvent or of doubtful solvency, in which case the bond in question may in the discretion of said board, be held to be sufficient.” Are the City Council Persons complicit?

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