Occupy Denver hearing update: Should First Amendment let people do anything they want?

occupy-denver-riot-cop.jpeg
Today's hearing over an Occupy Denver lawsuit targeting the city and county the group calls home began promptly with a look at the group's history. Protester and photographer Tanner Spendley took the stand to get at the bleeding heart of why the plaintiff has filed an injunction to protect what it sees as violations of the protest's First Amendment freedom of speech.

In the past month, a little less than half of the occupation's lifetime, participation has plummeted in reaction to tickets for honking and stopping to make donations in support of Occupy Denver.

"Police began ticketing anybody and everybody who would pull over and give a donation," he said.

These historical reminiscences also touched on the group's short stay at Lincoln Park, across the street from its current home at Civic Center Park. When David Lane, the lead attorney for the plaintiff, asked Spendley replied, "It was peaceful on the part of the protesters."

Tanner was asked to speak about several photos he took of the event, including a particularly popular one he took of protester John Sexton being placed in a choke hold by police officers. Here it is.

john sexton choke hold.jpg
Photo by Tanner Spendley
Sexton himself attended the hearing, marking a silent but attention-grabbing figure in the second row of onlookers when his picture hit screens inside the courtroom.

The list of witnesses on behalf of the plaintiff is extensive: After Spendley, Daniel Garcia, whose story repeatedly came up with other witnesses as the impetus for much of the decrease in participation. Garcia was ticketed for honking in support of the Occupation, although the first-year DU law student discovered yesterday that his charge has since been dropped yesterday. (Westword was repeatedly cited during mentions of his story.) However, Garcia said he remains wary of visiting the occupation and has yet to bring his car back for fear it might be impounded.

"I don't want to get pegged for another ordinance I'm not aware of," Garcia stated.

Counting Garcia, three plaintiffs have now seen charges against them dropped. The same thing happened for both Natalie Wyatt, who was ticketed for using a compressed air horn, and Bert Schultz, who rode his bike onto the sidewalk to record her ticket. The defense brought up the dropped charges in each case as a means of pointing out the witnesses are no longer affected by their actions, but the plaintiff reinforced the symbolic consequences of ticketing for general participation.

Catherine Lindsey later testified about her new reticence to participate (and even to honk) because of Garcia's story and others. "It's a small way to contribute, but it's meaningful," she said of the honking she no longer does.

Amber Lynn Restorick told the court that her arrest for obstructing a passageway and disobeying a lawful order during the demonstration on October 15 made her "afraid of my government."

Rob Piper, spoke about the overall decline in participation due to legal enforcement, which he said has been confusing to work with, particularly on the subject of encumbrances. "It's virtually impossible for me to obey that law because there has been zero instruction as to what an encumbrance is," he said. Patricia Hughes testified to the extent of the property removed from the occupation, which she estimates to have included approximately $10,000 in medical equipment over the span of the movement so far.

The defense's counter-questioning has focused on the witnesses as individuals -- dropped charges, the span of what they have personally encountered, the limits of their participation inside the movement. At one point earlier this morning, one attorney for the defense attempted to bring drug use at Civic Center Park intothe discussion, but the line of questioning prompted a quick objection and was dismissed based on relevance.

The same thing occurred with the last question directed at Daniel Garcia by the defense -- easily the strangest so far: "Mr. Garcia, do you think the First Amendment guarantees you the right to do whatever you want whenever you want?"

More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: David Lane to use Mayor Michael Hancock's honks against him in court."

Location Info

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Civic Center Park

Broadway and Colfax Ave., Denver, CO

Category: General


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20 comments
Prole
Prole

You're right Lance, it's a tragedy that lots don't talk about.

Rosa Salerno
Rosa Salerno

millions of dollars have been paid across the country for the police to hassle the protesters. the money is coming from the Wall Street companies security funds! it's like an overtime check for the police aside from their regular paycheck!

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Kelsey, while participation has declined, I would attribute that to the weather.  I held a sign briefly today -- several motorists honked.  In the short time I was out there, at least two donations of hot food were made -- no one was ticketed.

I met the Occupiers and David Lane leaving the courthouse -- the mood was upbeat.  The incompetence of the City's legal team apparently extended to allowing DPD officer(s) to perjure themselves in Federal court.  Judge Blackburn will rule tomorrow, and the administration of this city may well begin to get the comeuppance it so richly deserves.  The DPD is rife with liars and unconvicted felons, and Robert White will not be able to fire enough of them.

Jack
Jack

Sounds like david lane should start a class action suit against the denver police department. Arresting people then dropping charges is routine in the DPD and is used to harrass citizens. All victims of DPD harassment should have their day in court, and the denver police officers that are wrongfully arresting citizens should hear it from a judge.

Brandt Hardin
Brandt Hardin

The Occupy Movement is NECESSARY for our citizens to exposethe corruption which Big Business has infected our Government with.  Every single person occupying the streets andprotesting Corporations is a hero and a patriot.  I was compelled to lend a hand and createsome new posters for the movement which you can download for free on myartist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot...

cmack23
cmack23

I too would love to honk because I do support what the group believes in but the authority keeps a simple honk down, and a wave just isn't quite as effective at bolstering support.  This is a huge abuse of power by the city, and by a city who already has earned itself quite a fowl reputation at least from a Police point of view.  It's the opposite of giving a kid candy to shut up.  Quite the opposite, the government has taken away rights, to quiet the masses then decided their infractions really werent a big deal.  The fact that they are dropping these cases at this time, and so readily implies that maybe there truly was no cause for a citing to begin with.  Either way for far too long the DPD has used abusive and excessive force with citizens far too regularly. (On a side note, I knew a Denver officer who wore plastic knuckled gloves, and used to "look forward to the bars letting out and idiots getting rowdy".)  I think the plastic knuckle is exactly what DPD and our state are; over prepared to hand out ass kickings.  Sadly there are a corrupt few who have ruined the right to gather and freedom of speech and human rights for all of us.

Shawn Sapp
Shawn Sapp

Yeah, what does it say that on the last business day before the hearing, they decide to drop the charges of several of the plaintiffs right at the eleventh hour.  When you selectively enforce local ordinances just to "chill" free speech, make immediate arrests to diffuse a situation, and then drop all charges, it more than sorta smacks of abuse of executive power.  Just a bit? Shame on mayor hancock and governor hickenlooper.  Shame!

Jtcolfax
Jtcolfax

So, they hit these people with outrageous bogus charges, chilled the movement considerably, and then star chamberishly made the charges vanish without even informing them, on the eve of having to explain the charges in court.  The city has already shown that they are guilty.

John H Kennedy
John H Kennedy

Actions against Occupy Denver by Democratic Mayor Hancock have caused the turnout by supporters to drop precipitously from nearly 3000 as reported by the Denver Post, to just a few hundred.  Actions against peaceful voters by a couple hundred armed riot police would intimidate anyone.  Only a total idiot would think that turnout hasn't been cut by Hancock's tactics.  Given that the majority of those that show up on weekends are from the Democratic Base... Democratic candidates will deserve the drubbing they will get in 2012.

Koolbeanzkay
Koolbeanzkay

It's ok!!!!  Not!!!!!  Those 1%'ers don't pay taxes to support the police any ways!!!!  The police chiefs of our delusional country see the power/rights of the wealthy & listen to the wealthy who have plenty of money to payoff the judge, the lawyer, the police what a savings to the wealthy creep.  Police forget the middle class & poor pay their paychecks!Did police ever think of that???  Why, Hell no!!!  Not paid to think, make decisions that would be an imposition.  Really think about it $osa, sweets.  Police think they are so intelligent w/ the John Wayne syndrone.  What a screwed up world!!!  Wake up USA!Thanks Westword for your blog spot. luv, k

Gerald
Gerald

that'll never happen. they are still lashing out over vanderjagt until the next one. 

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Strong post, Shawn. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Koolbeanzkay
Koolbeanzkay

What Denver police dufus(es).  Again, the mid class pays/$ supports the police.  Wake up, USA.  The police attack the hand that feeds them.  Crazy stupidity.  If they only knew.

Koolbeanzkay
Koolbeanzkay

Kinda-sorta ironically funny in a messed up way.  Get a load of this!!!  The 1% humanoids from the deep do not pay taxes to support the police depts nationwide.  It is the milk of human kindness of the middle/poor class that pays the militant Coloradan officers their paychecks.  The LE (law enforcement's) loyalty is to rub elbows with the financially un-supportive well to do's?  Erstwhile, cities & towns going bankrupt but not investors...hmmm something smells in Denmark.  Only non-tax paying citizens can afford to pay the judge, jury, & executioner off to injure the law (courts), & the gov'mt by throwing their weight/money around when they are in trouble.  Wake up, USA !!!!  By the way I served my country in the military too, Colorado..so what?  I am not superior to Life/pets/humans/friends/family/boss.  Internal Communications USNWhere is it written in law that wealthy is above the Law?  That (same diff) Banks/Insurance Companies (Financial Commodities called nowadays) are above the Law & I & my fellow military mates fight/die only for the wealthy elite to have power/rights? Haven't found it, myself.  Thank you, Westword for the blog spot. luv, k

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Nice use of the term "star chamberishly," J.T. Thanks.

Koolbeanzkay
Koolbeanzkay

Just moved to Denver.  What did I step/move into?  Have best friends w/ Hickenlooper & his Wyncoop bar years ago.  I think it is ok & approved by the Catholic Church for the poor to have a voice in this screwed up world.  The 1% keep yakking & verbalizing their bottom line, yet don't earn it & don't pay taxes to the police depts nationwide.  So why should 1% have all the power and the rights??  1%'ers would never expose their suffering on the sidewalks the results of fowl leadership, not to encourage communism, but even in communism, the upper crust have it all & hidden from the poor/disadvantaged.  What more does Occupy W.S have to lose?  ---A world, it's economy going to Hell in a hand basket?  They are making a statement about poverty, loss, & ill-willed lack of leadership.  The rules of prosperity in America been violated !!!!  Prosperity has priorities 1st: People & lives otherwise no business will prosper  2nd Money.  Money only has value when circulated, not hoarded and serves people not inanimate objects like banks  3rd:  Things can have value like Gold/Silver but things can be replaced.  People work for money to provide basic needs, then save for luxury items or dreams of a lifetime not to save lifesavings for health insurance substituting as healthcare.  That just doesn't work!  --no matter how one slices it.  And the Universal Law of Return...to give back in some way. 

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