Tag Archives: Urban Camping Ban

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 judge rules BEING HOMELESS IS IRRELEVANT to defendants charged with violating city’s urban camping ban

DHOL defendants with attorney Jason Flores-Williams
DENVER, COLORADO- A hearing was held today to review motions submitted before the criminal trial of three homeless activists arrested last November for violating Denver’s Urban Camping Ban. Terese Howard, Jerry Burton, and Randy Russel featured in the infamous 2016 video that showed Denver police officers confiscating their sleeping bags and blankets on the snowy steps of city hall. Through attorney Jason Flores-Williams, fellow Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) activists have filed a civil lawsuit to halt the city’s homeless sweeps. In municipal court DHOL hopes to challenge the ordinance being used to harass, displace and imprison the downtown homeless. Already the city’s case appears to be derailing based on developments at the motions hearing. Denver municipal court judge Kerri Lombardi approved all the city’s motions and none for the defense. Lombardi approved the use of 404B evidence for the city, but simultaneously restricted Res Gestae evidence for the defense. In particular, she refused to qualify two experts on homelessness, precluding the accused from arguing a “necessity defense”. Judge Lombardi stated that being homeless was irrelevant to whether they were violating the urban camping ban. When asked to recuse herself, the judge declined, so attorney Flores-Williams declared his intent to file an interlocutory appeal to bump the case to district court. Meanwhile speedy trial was waived and a new court date was set for April 5th.

DHOL’s 2/17 press release:

Yesterday there was a dispositive motions hearing in the Camping Ban criminal cases where homeless and poor people are being charged with crimes for sleeping on the streets with blankets and shelter in Winter. The hearing was noteworthy for the bias and prejudice shown toward Defendants by the Court.

1) At the start of the hearing, prior to any argument, the Judge looked at Defense counsel and said: “The one thing I don’t want is any drama from you, Mr. Flores-Williams.” Defense counsel had never practiced in this court.

2) Without allowing any substantive legal argument, the Court ruled that it was permissible for theProsecution to file a 34-person witness list eight days after the court’s deadline and only two weeks prior to trial.

3) The Court then Excluded all of Defense’s expert witnesses without hearing or testimony, saying that “Homelessness has nothing to do with this case.”

4) The Court then ordered Defense counsel to limit all arguments so that no argument or line of questioning could be construed at trial as an attempt to persuade the jury that the Camping Ban ordinance is itself unjust.

5) At this juncture, defense counsel cited to Fed R. 37(c)and its CO equivalent concerning the prejudice resulting from late disclosure of witnesses. No court response. Defense counsel then quoted from sections from Chambers v. Mississippi, a landmark 1973 civil rights case concerned with due process in which the overall prejudice to defendants becomes so cumulative and egregious that defendants fair trial rights are eviscerated. No response.

6) The Court then took up a Motion from the prosecution that does not exist. A “Res Gestae/404(b) Motion” that wrongfully conflates two different types of evidentiary concepts and underlying analyses. Res Gestae is concerned with the natural narrative of a case. Example: someone robs a liquor store, the fact that they stopped at two bars and to pick up their weapon on the way to the robbery. 404(b)has to do with a very specific set of factors that a defendant leaves at various crime scenes as identifiers. Not to be rude, but the classic example is when serial killer leaves identifiers at numerous crime scenes showing his m.o. The court conflated these two very different legal concepts and construed the “Res Gestae/404b” motion as allowing the prosecution to offer proof of Defendants’ mental states, but not the fact that defendants were homeless. (If this seems like 2+2=5, Wintston, they are….)(The court also disregarded that the motion was filed late and that it was amended without leave of court.)

7) Defense counsel then objected to the fact that the court had asked the prosecution for their jury instructions without asking defense for their jury instructions, and now was reverse injuring the court’s ruling from the prosecutions jury instructions. Objection overruled.

8) Defense counsel made oral motion for the judge to recuse, i.e. that he Judge take herself off the case for bias against defendants. Denied.

9) Defense counsel cited to several cases concerning due process rights, wrongful exclusion of defense witnesses, and the right to fairly address criminal accusations. No response.

10) Defense requested findings of law and fact – none given.

11) Defense counsel asked for a stay of the proceeding to file an interlocutory appeal regarding the court’s rulings.

12) Court stated that interlocutory orders cannot be appealed from municipal court so that none of the court’s decisions are reviewable.

13) Court ruled that the prosecution’s disclosure of 95 police body cameras three days prior to the hearing was permissible, then scolded defense for not reviewing the 95 videos prior to hearing. Defense counsel, concerned that the court would issue sanctions if he responded, had no comment.

We are now seeking an interlocutory appeal of the Court’s rulings.

The trial is scheduled for April 5th, 2017. Mark your calendar.

Denver cops using urban camping ban to harass protest on free speech plaza


DENVER, COLORADO- During their nightly raids of the protest encampment at the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse, technically Tully Plaza, Denver police are citing the city’s “Urban Camping Ban” to rouse the activist and force them to collect their belongings in semblance of “moving along”. Plaza arrests have reached fourteen but have been for obstructing passageways with “encumbrances” because Denver has been avoiding bringing the camping ban charge down on anyone with the legal means to contest it. Denver is circumventing a federal injunction which protects the Occupy Denver activists from arrest for distributing “Jury Nullification” fliers in front of the courthouse, by finding the protest activities to violate other ordinances. Activists have relied on the injunction to protect all speech, thinking that the original injunction would be unconstitutional if it presumed to dictate the content allowed. The city’s latest ploy was not unexpected and shines a light on the selective enforcement of laws designed to oppress those inhabitants stuck on the streets, who don’t have an activist’s prerogative to move along.

On its 4th anniversary, Occupy Denver is beating up the Urban Camping Ban. #OWS #S17


DENVER, COLORADO- At 1am last night, the Lindsey Flanigan Plaza Occupiers defended against their twelfth police raid in 30 days, this one a sweep of violations of the city’s “Urban Camping Ban”. After forcing individual sleepers to stand and feign gathering their things, the police officers left without confiscations, citations, or arrests. The supervising officer admitted that DPD orders are to disrupt the protest camp every night.

During the day, police enforce a statute 49-246 allowing the director of public works to designate “encumbrances” on the public right-of-way. Occupy is of course, by definition, an encumbrance. Officers make protesters fold up chairs and umbrellas and threaten to arrest anyone who puts them back up.

At night the DPD enforce an ordinance against sleeping in public. The officers make their presence felt, then take off. Meant to make the camping spot less hospitable, homeless participants see through the ruse and swiftly resume their slumber. With who-knows how many HALO cameras focused on us, the plaza is the safest bed in town.

The unintended consequence of the nightly raids is that campers oversleep. When the courthouse opens, the public streaming in gets a shocking view of what otherwise goes unseen: homeless sleepers on the concrete.

Clarence Darrow and Jury Nullification

Clarence Darrow’s closing arguments in Leopold & Loeb resonates today in the Denver Urban Camping Ban and Jury Nullification Trials.
 
“You can trace it all down through the history of man. You can trace the burnings, the boilings, the drawings and quarterings, the hangings of people in England at the crossroads, carving them up and hanging them, as examples for all to see.”

Darrow continued:

“We can come down to the last century when nearly two hundred crimes were punishable by death, and by death in every form; not only hanging that was too humane, but burning, boiling, cutting into pieces, torturing in all conceivable forms.

I know that every step in the progress of humanity has been met and opposed by prosecutors, and many times by courts. I know that when poaching and petty larceny was punishable by death in England, juries refused to convict. They were too humane to obey the law; and judges refused to sentence. I know that when the delusion of witchcraft was spreading over Europe, claiming its victims by the millions, many a judge so shaped his cases that no crime of witchcraft could be punished in his court. I know that these trials were stopped in America because juries would no longer convict.

Gradually the laws have been changed and modified, and men look back with horror at the hangings and the killings of the past. What did they find in England? That as they got rid of these barbarous statutes, crimes decreased instead of increased; as the criminal law was modified and humanized, there was less crime instead of more. I will undertake to say, Your Honor, that you can scarcely find a single book written by a student, and I will include all the works on criminology of the past, that has not made the statement over and over again that as the penal code was made less terrible, crimes grew less frequent”.

Now in the year 2015, in Denver, Colorado we arrest a man for doing nothing more than informing the citizen of their rights, committing the crime of passing out a pamphlet explaining their rights as a juror. Mark Lanicelli was arrested and jailed for this crime.

The police arrest a man, woman or child, that have already suffered the humiliation of being homeless for the crime of falling asleep in public, something that every human must do. They call this law the “Camping Ban”. Along with being homeless, they are thrown into jail and given a criminal record.

The above two examples are crimes committed by the city of Denver against the citizens.

These crimes will end only when the people of Denver find their voice and say no to the prosecutors with Jury Nullification.

PHOTOS: Denver cops serve complaint against a six year old playing a bucket drum at Friday Tattered Cover protest.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
DENVER, COLORADO- The weekly protest and homeless feeding in front of the LoDo Tattered Cover bookstore was interrupted on Friday night by the police, this time to serve a noise complaint against a six year-old who’d been beating on the bucket drums with his friends. The operation required two backup cruisers while six more laid in wait.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
The feeding began as it does every week. (Photos by David Anderson and Eric Verlo.)

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
There was a kid’s picnic.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
Late arrivals noticed a buildup of police cruisers to the South.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
We stopped for a photo op with an array of cruisers waiting to the East as well.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
We hadn’t intended on drumming or chanting this week but by special request we brought three drums from the car for the amusement of the children.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
They played merrily until Officer Friendly rolled up.

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
To quote David Anderson:

Denver police get tough with children; During a protest of the Denver Camping Ban, at the Tatter Cover Bookstore a police officer admonished a five year old boy. The officer explained to the little boy, that it was OK to protest but that he was not allowed to have any fun while doing it

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore
Not only three cruisers but an undercover officer (in the grey t-shirt).

Weekly boycott of Tattered Cover Bookstore

The Denver Homeless Problem

The Denver City Council believes that if you criminalize, arrest and jail this man we have solved the homeless problem. If you agree with the City Council go back to your TV and watch the latest episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians”. But if you truly want to understand, and you want more information, then join activists with OCCUPY DENVER on Fridays. In doing that small act, you will meet the face of the homeless, you will be on the path of becoming a true compassionate human being. The photos below show feeding the homeless feeding at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in LoDo, every Friday at 5:30 pm.

Okay DPD, Occupy Denver sees your verdict and raises you one drummer


DENVER, COLORADO- As Occupy Denver learned with the recent verdict, even one drummer performing an unwanted refrain can be considered loud and unusual enough to earn a complaint. With the Tattered Cover Five temporarily shell-shocked, reinforcements have arrived to bridge the gap, last weekend in the fearless personage of Colt Justice, who reports contrary to expectation, he was not arrested. Game on heartless Denver, lest Tattered Cover patrons and other Denverites ignoring the plight of the homeless fail to yield to the disturbing protestations of the Occupy homeless advocates.

Mother Teresa was the Janet Matzen of Calcutta

(The above photo is of Janet on May Day 20015 feeding a group of 50 people in front of the state capital, still wearing that warm smile for all the homeless and hungry.)
 
Janet Matezen was a 54 year old working mom. She had recently lost her job at a local market where she worked as a meat cutter. Like many of the middle class, Janet was also struggling to make ends meet. It was October 2011, Occupy of Denver made camp in Denver’s Civic Center Park. Their number began to grow daily as word of the movement spread via the media. Janet had never been a protester or even been to a rally such as Occupy, but she was curious. She decided one day that she would drive to the park to see what it was all about.

When I first saw Janet in the park, she looked like any other mother from any city in America. She was average with one difference, she always had a warm smile. She began to talk with the others there in the park, and the more she heard their stories the more shocked she became at the conditions many there were living under. She never spoke of her own problems. Janet’s struggles seemed to fade as she listen to their stories. After all, she had a home and food for her table.

I believe the old adage “I use to feel sorry for myself because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet” best describes Janet’s experience there with Occupy in Denver’s Civic Center Park.

In the past four years, Janet has transformed herself into an advocate and champion of the homeless and hungry of Denver. Whenever the city council is considering new legislation such as the Anti Camping Ban, Janet is always there to lend her voice in defense of the poor and homeless.

When the Colorado House of Representatives were recently considering a bill of rights for the homeless, Janet was present at every stage of the hearings.

When the homeless are arrested for falling asleep in the park, she is always there to help, even if it’s only to be with them in court.

One spring day in 2012, I interviewed Janet in the city park; one of the questions I ask her was; “Did she have any fears of the people there in the park” her reply surprised me, she said “Oh no! I know they would protect me, it’s the police that I’m afraid of.” I did not miss the irony of her answer; to think that a 54 year old mother in the park would be more afraid of the police than the homeless.

I could only conclude, that Janet, after witnessing so much of the violence by the police against the homeless knew who in truth would serve and protect her.

Janet has also had her small victories, besides feeding the homeless, as reported in the “Popular Resistance”

**STAFF NOTE: Planned protests at Palm Restaurants are cancelled today.**

DENVER, CO. (October 18, 2013) – The Boycott the Urban Camping Ban Coalition is pleased to announce that The Palm Restaurant has officially withdrawn support for Denver’s Urban Camping Ban Ordinance passed in May 2012.

On May 6, 2012, Occupy Denver held their first Boycott in protest of the Urban Camping Ban at Snooze A.M. Eatery.1 It was attended by not just members of Occupy Denver, but activists from Denver and surrounding areas who were concerned about the treatment of their fellow human beings, the homeless. The “Urban Camping” Ban Ordinance was passed by the Denver City Council on May 14, 2012, at which time an ongoing weekly protest lead by Janet Matzen and Occupy Denver began at Snooze A.M. Eatery and later attracted coalition partners. On April 5, 2013, Snooze issued a statement reversing their position in support of the Ban.

On April 26, 2013, the Boycott was moved to The Palm Restaurant Denver and a weekly Friday night boycott began. Despite concerted efforts by the Denver City Council through the Denver Police Department to quash Boycotters’ Constitutional rights to free speech and protest, the protest continued strongly and garnered International support.

Today, we are pleased to announce that The Palm Restaurant, who we truly believe cares for the plight of the homeless, announced they no longer support the “Urban Camping” Ban Ordinance. We thank The Palm Restaurant for standing with the homeless and calling for the repeal of the “Urban Camping” Ban in Denver.
Once again, we urge all businesses and organizations in Denver to review the Denver Homeless Out Loud Report on the implementation and impacts the Ban has had and call for its repeal.

I’ve often been amazed that Janet can be in so many places doing so many different things and all for the benefit of the homeless and poor. Most recently you will find Janet, every Friday in front of the Tattered Cover book store where she continues to protest the anti camping while at the same time feeding the hungry and homeless of Denver.

We often hear the word “Grassroots” but I never saw in action as I’ve seen it with Janet. She gives real meaning to the phrase “Grassroots Activist” with her compassion for others.

Suzanna Arundhati Roy spoke so eloquently when she said: “And so it is, in the quiet breathing of Janet, I see that possible world.”

The Tattered Cover doubles down on its privilege to ignore Denver homeless

Tattered CoverDENVER, COLORADO- Representatives of Occupy Denver met with both owner and manager of The Tattered Cover Bookstore last week hoping to avert taking public action against the popularly lionized bookseller for its passive support of the city’s Urban Camping Ban. There was hope that owner Joyce Meskis could reconsider her “neutrality” on the policy of oppression which has proved disastrous for Denver’s beleaguered street dwellers, at the very least, rescind her membership in the Downtown Business Partnership, the lobbying entity which conjured the ordinance.

INSTEAD Meskis told the Occupiers to redirect their efforts toward citizens instead of pressuring businesses to take sides. Meskis admitted she had not followed the city council hearings and so did not know that individuals have had no more clout there than have the homeless. The camping ban was proposed by a cabal of businesses, OD explained. Its repeal will no doubt require an outcry from the same. Meskis remained adamant that her business take no side. OD suggested that a bookstore of all places might want to hold itself to the higher ideals it propagates. What good is literacy if it does not elevate? Meskis held firm: the Tattered Cover must entertain both sides and allow customers to arrive at their own conclusions.

Imagine a dealer of books so pedantic. Really, are there two sides to human rights? Archbishop Desmond Tutu once wrote that neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed. They haven’t read him, or maybe they disagree? More obnoxious than ignorance is arrogant ignorance. Even the illiterate do not argue against Edmond Burke’s “when good men do nothing.” What’s the point of enriching yourself with a business if it’s not to have more impact on your community?

Looking at the callous indifference of business leaders, who reserve their personal sympathies in the interest of dispassionate objectivity, you might as well be staring at an American general, a politician, or other such sociopath, the embodiment of Capitalism, void of humanity.

Fortunately people governed strictly by the bottom line are much easier to reorient than others whose values are ideological or moral. Attenuating their flow of customers brings businesses to heel. Money talks, and yes, it’s too bad the Tattered Cover has turned out to be the unlikely posterchild.

BUMMER? HARDLY. What we have is a opportunity to blow open the conservative liberal pretense that privileged first worlders need not soil themselves with taking sides. Wars happen, torture happens, neglect of the poor happens when community members, particularly the power centers of business, say nothing to oppose them. The Tattered Cover maintains its ambivalence is a principled stand. I think its acquiescence on the urban camping ban allowed the more preditory downtown businesses to rationalize their inhumanity, thinking “see, it’s not just us assholes.”

OD’s reluctant boycott continues undaunted this Friday at 5:30pm at the Tattered Cover’s LoDo store.

Tattered Cover boycott