Occupy Denver: ACLU investigates constitutionality and safety of police action
Colorado ACLU communications director Rosemary Harris Lytle confirms her organization has launched an investigation of "an escalation of police force" at Occupy Denver -- like, for example, the shooting of Phillip Becarra, seen here, with pepper bullets. The ACLU has expressed concerns about both the safety and constitutional implications of the actions officers have taken. Meanwhile, occupiers have collected police-interaction evidence since the group's first eviction.
Although early dealings between police and occupiers were politely hailed as good behavior from both sides, recent developments have earned shocked attention from representatives of the ACLU, who cite the First Amendment rights at stake in the movement.
"We have been collecting some of the news reports, video that's been online and reports from participants and legal observers, and we're concerned that what has initially been characterized as a policy of admirable restraint now appears to have been transformed into an unwise series of provocative and dangerous tactics," says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado ACLU. "I think police commanders made a serious mistake sending a huge riot-equipped team into a crowd to enforce a minor ordinance regarding tents. There's no immediate health and safety need to take down these tents, and we have to question whether it's appropriate, safe and constitutional to even do so."
The evidence-collection process is an ongoing one. For weeks now, Occupy Denver's legal team has gathered and documented reports of force at the hands of both the Colorado State Patrol and the Denver Police Department: pepper bullet wounds, bruises from police batons, evidence of too-tight zip-ties, hospitalization records and stories of the situations behind them. The occupation's internal legal team hopes to use the evidence in an eventual class-action lawsuit against the city, but the documentation remained on ice pending attention from a larger entity.
Kelsey Whipple Andrew Cleres was wounded by police after being shot out of a tree with pepper bullets.
"We have been collecting all of our evidence and signing documents that this has been happening since the night of the eviction," legal team member Catherine Keffer says. "We've had contact with the ACLU, and they've been aware of the situation the entire time, but it was yesterday that they called us to tell us of the potential possibility of a lawsuit coming out of all of it."
Since the ACLU's involvement began in a more official capacity yesterday evening, the organization has filed record requests with both the DPD and the CSP regarding all recent enforcement actions with Occupy Denver. Because of open record laws, Silverstein expects results by Friday. In the meantime, the group is also encouraging participants to send information and documentation of police interaction to the ACLU.