Occupy Denver update: 100-plus arrests, more charges added, one case misplaced
In the almost five months that Occupy Denver has maintained a presence downtown, the group has experienced more than 100 arrests. Add to this mix upwards of seventy lawyers, hundreds of court dates and an attempt at a federal injunction, and the results become tough to track. Yesterday, Westword caught up with Jes Jones, a boardmember for the National Lawyers Guild of Colorado, whose role it is to do just that.
The defendants are all "in different positions," Jones says -- and for their attorneys, this is both a blessing and a curse. In some cases, for example, their clients' arrests weren't captured on video, while in others, the evidence is more substantial. During the 2008 Democratic National Convention, for which the NLG also served as legal representation, the mass arrests all took place at the same event on the same day and were seen by the same judge, who was called in overnight. In contrast, Jones notes that some Occupy arrestees "are really active and vocal protesters, some were on the sidewalks trying to comply, and others were just randomly visiting. There are so many different charges and DAs and judges and things we did not have to deal with during the DNC, [and] that makes it all that much more complicated."
All of the lawyers working with occupiers have volunteered to take on their legal issues pro bono. In the new year, group strategy meetings between attorneys have grown less frequent but are still regular and accompanied by mass e-mails. But in the entire Occupy Denver caseload, only a small handful have ended or been dismissed. David Glenn, who was arrested on November 12 and charged with disobeying a lawful order, was set to be the first case to go to trial last Monday, but his case has since been continued -- and so have many others.
"It wouldn't surprise me if some of these Occupy cases lasted until late fall," says Faisal Salahuddin, an attorney with Killmer, Lane & Newman who is overseeing five Occupy Denver cases. "In some of these cases, they just handed over a big haystack and said, 'Hey, go through this.'"
Here's a date-by-date update on each set of Occupy Denver arrests.
October 14: For Occupy Denver's first large-scale altercation, Jones' records show 22 arrests, predominantly for charges of unlawful conduct on state property, with a few outliers focusing on false information and resisting arrest. Because the event took place in the group's first home of Lincoln Park, on state property, all but two of the cases are being handled in county court. To date, fifteen of these cases are active, and seven people have pleaded guilty. In the meantime, many are facing additional charges they were not ticketed for that night.
Kelsey Whipple Protesters confront police during a raid on December 19.
"One problem we're seeing is that because these fifteen cases are still pending, prosecutors are still adding charges -- most often trespassing,'" Jones says. "From my perspective, it seems like they do one thing and when the district attorney is unsuccessful, it encourages them to plead out when they add all these other extra charges. The DA has the discretion to add charges up until the day of trial, but all the clients don't know that."
October 15: The next day at Civic Center Park, police arrested 27 protesters, only one of which is a county case -- specifically the sexual misconduct charge against previous Westword cover boy Corey Donahue'. The most common cases this round were disobeying a lawful order, interfering with police authority and obstructing a street or passageway. Of these 27 cases, 23 remain active, Brenda Kaiser-Kee's charges have been lost (and are assumed dismissed) and three people have taken guilty pleas.
In most of the Occupy Denver cases to date, the standard -- and "almost too good to be true," says Jones -- offer is that of deferred judgment. Unless protesters have an established criminal record, they are typically offered the opportunity to plead guilty for six, nine or twelve months of probation, after which the crime is erased from their records if they are not arrested again in the interim.
"In my opinion, it puts a huge damper on their ability to exercise free speech," Jones says. "It really scares people into saying they will lay low, even if they have something to say or to protest. For some of the clients, that's a great deal, but for others they say, 'No, I won't take that. I still want to protest and stay here for the reason I started.'"
Deferred judgment was notably not an option for cases resulting from the 2008 DNC. Most deferred judgments so far are accompanied by a $100 fine and anywhere from four to 24 hours of community service. Probation occasionally incurs supervision fees, but a few cases have earned unsupervised probation.
October 22: On this day, protesters put together an unplanned march down Colfax to protest police brutality. During this, police arrested one man for destruction of city property when he put up stickers, and he has since accepted deferred judgment.
October 23: Although not directly tied to Occupy Denver, a raid on a local squat ended with four arrests for the class three felony charge of burglary. All four are still active, and though the named individuals are eligible for probation, they also face the possibility of four-to-twelve years in prison.
Click to read more about Occupy Denver's pending cases -- and plans for the future.