Category Archives: Civil Rights

Banning Homelessness in Colorado

It appears a sad new trend in Colorado is to create policies or laws, treating homelessness as a criminal condition.

A new report, “No Right to Rest: Criminalizing Homelessness in Colorado” which details the efforts cities and municipalities have gone to in an apparent attempt to discourage homeless people from coming to the area.  “No Right to Rest” (the full report can be seen below) is a collaboration between Tony Robinson, PHD and Allison Sickels of the University of Colorado at Denver and the local advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud.

The timing of the report coincides with the recent development the City of Denver uses potentially unconstitutional area bans against people it deems as nuisances.1 Joe Thomas, Denver Attempts to Ban People Deemed Nuisances, available at: http://cocommonlaw.com/2015/04/denver-attempts-ban-people-deemed-nuisances/.

Denver City and County Building -- Photo Taken by CoCommonLaw
Denver City and County Building — Photo Taken by CoCommonLaw

Continue reading Banning Homelessness in Colorado

References   [ + ]

1. Joe Thomas, Denver Attempts to Ban People Deemed Nuisances, available at: http://cocommonlaw.com/2015/04/denver-attempts-ban-people-deemed-nuisances/.

Denver Attempts to Ban People Deemed Nuisances

The City of Denver is working on banning people it considers nuisances from high traffic areas.  And does not appear there is much concern in the community about the practice.

Well, I have a big problem with the practice and I will argue the practice is facially unconstitutional.

The policy — little-known outside law enforcement and the courthouse — raises questions about the balance between public safety and civil rights, and the effectiveness of banning drug addicts, shoplifters and general troublemakers from one area of the city.” Reported the Denver Post.1 Jennifer Brown, Banned From 16th Street Mall: Dozens Ordered By Court To Stay Away, Denver Post, available at: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_27575680/banned-from-16th-street-dozens-ordered-by-court. Removing undesirables from public “right-of-ways ” is a practice by used Denver Law Enforcement, sanctioned by the courts, and given the stamp of approval by the Denver Post Editorial Board.2 See Denver Post Editorial Board, 16th Street Mall Ban is a Legitimate Tool, Denver Post, available at: http://www.denverpost.com/editorials/ci_27598284/16th-street-mall-ban-is-legitimate-tool.

no nuisance

— Photo Credit – m.a.r.c., Flickr.

Continue reading Denver Attempts to Ban People Deemed Nuisances

References   [ + ]

1. Jennifer Brown, Banned From 16th Street Mall: Dozens Ordered By Court To Stay Away, Denver Post, available at: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_27575680/banned-from-16th-street-dozens-ordered-by-court.
2. See Denver Post Editorial Board, 16th Street Mall Ban is a Legitimate Tool, Denver Post, available at: http://www.denverpost.com/editorials/ci_27598284/16th-street-mall-ban-is-legitimate-tool.

Snow, the ADA, and Handicap Parking

Every year Colorado receives a couple of large snow storms.  Sometimes there is so much snow problems are caused trying to clear it.  This year, at least in Boulder, Colorado it created at least one potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For example, recently a local Denver news station televised a story about fire hydrants covered by the snow and the public safety implications.  Because in order to fight fires, firefighters must: 1. find the fire hydrants (which are buried by the snow) and 2. dig them out, all before they are able to be used.  Both steps take valuable time in fighting fires.

However, the snow does not only create problems for firefighters.  It can create problems for the disabled, too.  Specifically, it appears handicap parking spaces, are at least at times, used as a dumping grounds for snow, leaving the disabled without designated parking spots.  All the while, potentially violating the ADA.

Snow Plowed into Handicap Parking Space - Photo Taken by CoCommonLaw
Snow Plowed into Handicap Parking Space – Photo Taken by CoCommonLaw

Continue reading Snow, the ADA, and Handicap Parking

Denver Sheriff Case Study – Taser Use Against the Mentally Ill

Should the Denver Sheriff use a Taser on an individual who is inflicting harm to him/herself?

It increasingly appears the Denver Sheriff at least tolerates the practice if there is a physical violation jeopardizing the lawful order.1 See e.g. St. Germain v. Denver Department of Safety, Car. Serv. Bd. Appeal No. 24-14, available at: www.denvergov.org/portals/671/documents/hearings/st._germain_ned_24-14_decision.pdf (last accessed Dec. 4, 2014); or see the document in its entirety below.   The Denver Post is doing great research into this subject, and is finding more and more evidence that Sheriff Deputies are using Tasers more as weapon to attack, rather than defend.2 Noelle Phillips, Denver Sheriff Sargent Suspended for Stunning Mentally Ill Inmate, Denver Post, Dec. 10, 2014, available at: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_27108405/denver-sheriffs-sergeant-suspended-stunning-mentally-ill-inmate.

Judging from the Taser reports, made available through a public records request, the Denver Sheriff does not discern when an inmate is only a threat to himself, versus an inmate who is a threat to others.  Furthermore, there does not seem to be a Taser best practices policy by the agency.

Digging a little bit deeper, I am going to look at the Denver Sheriff’s policy of Taser use against individuals who are an unarmed, and are only a threat to the individual himself, when the Deputies engage with the inmate.  In other words, inmates who appear to be mentally ill from the facts presented.  This will be the first part in a series of articles written on the subject here.

North Dakota National Guard

— Photo taken by North Dakota National Guard, Flickr.

Continue reading Denver Sheriff Case Study – Taser Use Against the Mentally Ill

References   [ + ]

1. See e.g. St. Germain v. Denver Department of Safety, Car. Serv. Bd. Appeal No. 24-14, available at: www.denvergov.org/portals/671/documents/hearings/st._germain_ned_24-14_decision.pdf (last accessed Dec. 4, 2014); or see the document in its entirety below.
2. Noelle Phillips, Denver Sheriff Sargent Suspended for Stunning Mentally Ill Inmate, Denver Post, Dec. 10, 2014, available at: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_27108405/denver-sheriffs-sergeant-suspended-stunning-mentally-ill-inmate.

Denver Sheriff and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Denver Sheriff Department is not completely blind to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as it appears the agency could be with some of the abuse allegations lately.

Responding to my public records request under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, the Denver Sheriff provided me with documents related to mental health training and accommodations made in compliance with the ADA.  I made the public records request because of the troubling, to put it mildly, allegations in the press that the Denver Sheriff used their Tasers to inflict pain, some of whom are mentally ill.1 Noelle Phillips, Denver Jail’s Taser Use At Odds With Federal Guidelines, Post Finds, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26846770/denver-jails-taser-use-at-odds-federal-guidelines?source=rss.

I have argued in a previous post on this website 2 Joe Thomas, Denver Sheriff’s Taser Use on the Mentally Ill, Colorado Common Law, http://cocommonlaw.com/2014/11/denver-sheriff-taser-mentally-ill/. and on my Arizona Common Law website 3 Joe Thomas, Police Have Affirmative Duty to Accommodate Disabilities, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/03/police-affirmative-duty-accommodate-disabilities/; See also Joe Thomas, The Police’s Duty to Accommodate Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/02/police-duty-accommodate-americans-disabilities-act/. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act4 The Americans with Disabilities Act,  Title II Public Services, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et. seq. creates a  duty in which law enforcement must proactively make reasonable accommodations for known individuals with qualifying disabilities.5 A qualifying disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act, Definitions, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A).

Provided with all the documentation related to my request (except for the course materials which would need to be printed for me at an extra charge), I think this should give a good overview of how the Denver Sheriff approaches mental health issues and disabilities in general.

Continue reading Denver Sheriff and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act

References   [ + ]

1. Noelle Phillips, Denver Jail’s Taser Use At Odds With Federal Guidelines, Post Finds, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26846770/denver-jails-taser-use-at-odds-federal-guidelines?source=rss.
2. Joe Thomas, Denver Sheriff’s Taser Use on the Mentally Ill, Colorado Common Law, http://cocommonlaw.com/2014/11/denver-sheriff-taser-mentally-ill/.
3. Joe Thomas, Police Have Affirmative Duty to Accommodate Disabilities, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/03/police-affirmative-duty-accommodate-disabilities/; See also Joe Thomas, The Police’s Duty to Accommodate Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/02/police-duty-accommodate-americans-disabilities-act/.
4. The Americans with Disabilities Act,  Title II Public Services, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et. seq.
5. A qualifying disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act, Definitions, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A).

Denver Sheriff’s Taser Use on the Mentally Ill

Law enforcement needs to treat all people within their care with fairness and reasonableness.  This includes people with disabilities.

Earlier this month, the Denver Post reported 1 Noelle Phillips, Denver Jail’s Taser Use At Odds With Federal Guidelines, Post Finds, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26846770/denver-jails-taser-use-at-odds-federal-guidelines?source=rss allegations that the Denver Sheriff Department “often rely on their Tasers to inflict pain to force inmates, some of whom are mentally ill.” The newspaper’s findings include: “[d]eputies used their Tasers’ drive-stun mode, designed to inflict direct pain, in at least eight cases”; and  “[i]n at least six incidents, the inmate who was shocked had been experiencing a mental health episode.” 2 Id.

The Denver Post reviewed fourteen Taser cases so far this year by the Denver Sheriff Department.  In continuing coverage of the use of force by the Denver Sheriff, the Denver Post suggests, that if true, the allegations would violate federal Taser guidelines.

I am going to assert that if these allegations, if true, the conduct by the Denver Sheriff Department would violate federal law, the United States Constitution,  and international law.  At the very least these allegations, if true,  at least amount police abuse, and at most to torture.

Continue reading Denver Sheriff’s Taser Use on the Mentally Ill

References   [ + ]

1. Noelle Phillips, Denver Jail’s Taser Use At Odds With Federal Guidelines, Post Finds, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26846770/denver-jails-taser-use-at-odds-federal-guidelines?source=rss
2.  Id.

Remember Legal Non-Profits on Colorado Gives Day

With Thanksgiving just a few short days away this is the season of giving.  There are many, many great non-profits out there to give to that do tremendous work and are in need of donations.

In addition to Thanksgiving, December 9, is Colorado Gives Day which seeks to strengthen the state’s non-profits through online giving and donations.

Legal non-profits need help.  No matter the cause they fight for our rights, liberties, and values.  This can be free speech rights, labor rights, gun rights, privacy rights, religious freedoms, equality rights, etc.  The law affects every single one of us and we as Americans cherish our rights under the law.  Legal non-profits often times are the ones who stand up for the rights we hold sacred.

Since this is a legal blog focusing on Colorado, I want to mention a few  non-profits doing amazing legal work in Colorado and that would really appreciate a donation.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.  There are many other fantastic legal non-profits in Colorado who deserve donations.  These are just a few who stand out to me.

Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition

http://www.ccdconline.org/

This group works to support disability rights.  In addition to litigation, the organization also counsels for-profit and not-for-profit businesses on disability issues.  I have been impressed with their work in court.  One of their lawsuits they are currently working on is suing  RTD (Regional Transportation District) over wheelchair accessibility on the lightrail.  The claim is wheelchairs users do not have enough room to manauver on lightrail trains in Denver.

I have several cases and pleadings argued by CCDC (Colorado Cross-Disability) attorneys and they are a very impressive.

American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado

http://aclu-co.org/

This state chapter is Colorado’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.  A multi-pronged organization, it’s work is directed in three different areas: litigation, public policy and legislation, and public education.

An interesting case that settled before going to court, recently argued by the Colorado ACLU is Valdez v. Arapahoe Co. Sheriff’s Office.  The Sheriff’s office was called out to help with a domestic disturbance.  Ms. Claudia Valdez was arrested and taken to jail by the Arapahoe County Sheriff.  The next day her husband admitted he was the aggressor, and a judge ordered Ms. Valdez’s release.  Rather than release her, the Sheriff detained her on an immigration detainer from the federal government.  Immigrations detainers are used when the federal government needs up to five extra days to decide whether to take that person into federal custody for a possible immigration violation.

Deportation proceedings are civil, not criminal, cases. Remaining in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws is not a crime.  The Arapahoe County Sheriff eventually settled.  Ms. Valdez has lived in Colorado for 15 years, has three U.S. citizen children and no criminal record, yet she faces deportation proceedings as a result of her arrest and detention in 2012.

Colorado Freedom Of Information Coalition

http://coloradofoic.org/

This group works for transparency of state and local governments in Colorado by promoting freedom of the press, open courts and open access to government records and meetings.  The resource page of the website is an invaluable tool for the public to learn how to access information about their government.

Colorado Prison Law Project

http://www.coloradoprisonlawproject.org/

This is a group that I am not too familiar with, but I really like their mission fighting for prisoner rights.  Just because someone is being punished for crimes they have committed, does not mean they have to endure abuse by correctional officers, live in inhumane conditions, etc.  They are working on some pretty interesting cases, check them out!

There are many more legal non-profits than the ones I listed.  They all need help to continue doing the work they do.  Please contribute to them any way that you can, so they can continue to stand up for all of our rights.

Colorado State Patrol Uses Predictive Technology

The Colorado State Patrol does use predictive technology in some capacity.

Algorithmic crime-fighting, based on predictive technology makes makes me nervous.  Let me just say that upfront.

But the Colorado State Patrol probably predicted I would say that….

Colorado State Patrol Predictive Technology

Reading through the Colorado State Patrol, Strategic Plan 2014, I saw a paragraph mentioning how technology is utilized.  On the screen shot below, it is the third yellow box called “utilizing technology.”  The reference is not much, the whole paragraph is just two sentences.

Colorado State Patrol Stategic Plan, Predictive Technology
Colorado State Patrol Stategic Plan, Predictive Technology, page 7.

The Colorado State Patrol utilizes predictive and adaptive, knowledge-based tactics to enhance our mission effectiveness. We are focused on implementing practical technologies that enable our members to be more effective and efficient in the attainment of our mission.

— Colorado State Patrol, Strategic Plan 2014 (or alternatively view the Strategic Plan 2014 at the bottom of this article).

My interest was piqued.  The Colorado State Patrol uses some sort of predictive knowledge-based tactics that involves some sort of technology.  As a individual who is interested in police procedure this really got me thinking about the possibilities.  What sort of predictive technology court the Colorado State Patrol be using?

Continue reading Colorado State Patrol Uses Predictive Technology

How the Denver Sheriff Defines Use of Force

The use of force is a hot topic within the Denver Sheriff and the surrounding community currently.  Deputies claim with the increased scrutiny, at times they second-guess their decisions, putting both officers and inmates at risk.

They’re afraid a Monday- morning quarterback is going to come back and find the one rule they violated. It’s frustrating from a supervisory standpoint.

— said  Sgt. Charles Denovellis, during a rally outside the Denver County Jail Oct. 6, 2014 to the Denver Post.

It is such a hot topic that Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins wrote a formal letter telling deputies the use of force is prescribed by state law and is not some moving target.

This whole discussion makes me wonder what the use of force policy is and how it can be misconstrued.  Is it vague?  Does it really differ from other jurisdictions?  Since the Denver Department of Safety refuses to allow the Denver Sheriff to turn over copies of the Sheriff Orders and Jail Procedures then I have to go with what is available. Fortunately, the Denver Sheriff Discipline Handbook is freely available, even though the Denver Department of Safety forgets to mention it in open records requests.

Continue reading How the Denver Sheriff Defines Use of Force

Denver Sheriff Does Not Want to Share Accreditation Standards

The Denver Sheriff is really proud of the accreditations it has been awarded, really proud. On the front page of the Denver Sheriff website the accreditation are boasted about.  If that is not enough, Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins sat down with a Denver Post Editorial Writer and talked, and talked about the Department’s accreditations and how useful they are.

Because of the hype, I am interested to find out what these accreditations consist of.  How is the Denver Sheriff able to maintain these prestigious accreditations when they have faced numerous allegations of brutality and corruption by deputies?  The allegations were so severe former Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson was voluntarily demoted.  So what can the Denver Sheriff be doing so right with so much stuff going so wrong?

I made inquiries into two of the three accreditation standards that the Denver Sheriff currently holds: The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement (CALEA), and The American Correctional Association (ACA).  Both agencies told me the only way I could get a copy of their policies was to purchase a year-long license for about $100. I then figured to turn to the Denver Sheriff.  In the article with the Denver Post Editorial Writer, Sheriff Diggins clearly states he is in possession of the records.  “‘These standards help anyone get better,’ Diggins said, pointing to boxes of documents for ACA accreditation on the floor of his office.”

My thought was I would file a public records request with the Denver Sheriff and get the standards directly from the Sheriff’s Office (this is the same approach I used to get the Colorado Revised Statutes).  Well it turns out the Denver Sheriff likes the brag about the fact they are accredited by three agencies, but they really don’t want to share what those accreditations entail.  The Denver Post article never once inquired into goes into the accreditations.  Kinda seems like it would be an important and newsworthy question to ask an embattled agency like the Denver Sheriff what their standards are.

So I filed my Open Records request with the Denver Department of Safety and last night I received a non-responsive, response.  “The accreditation standards requested in the email below are set by each accrediting body and are therefore records of each body.  Please direct your request to CALEA and ACA.” (See email screenshot below). The Denver Department of Safety tried to deflect my request.

Denver Sheriff Public Records Request Denial

Continue reading Denver Sheriff Does Not Want to Share Accreditation Standards