ACLU presses Denver to investigate events surrounding DNC arrests
Nick Cargo
Published: Sunday November 9, 2008

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is renewing a call to the City and County of Denver's Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal to investigate events surrounding the actions of metro Denver police and possible agents provocateurs at a demonstration on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.

On October 30, ACLU staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass wrote a letter to Rosenthal calling for an internal affairs investigation into a mass detention of demonstrators, bystanders, members of the press and legal observers, 106 of whom were arrested at the corner of 15th Street and Court Place on the evening of August 25. According to internal reports from the Denver Police Department and video footage obtained by the ACLU, hundreds were corralled and not given an order to disperse, and therefore a chance to comply with such an order, before police surrounded the crowd and began making arrests.

In criminal trials arising from the events of August 25th, it was revealed that the crowd was blockaded by police on 15th Street without warning at approximately 7:11pm, and by 7:14pm, hundreds were trapped between police lines. A sworn statement by Sergeant Anthony Foster, in contradiction to the video evidence, said that an order to disperse, without compliance from the crowd, was given at 7:30pm. Other statements by DPD officers say that orders were given over loudspeakers and verbally.

"Contrary to these sworn statements, legal observers, arrestees, detainees and media trapped inside of the police lines on 15th Street, and others like myself outside of the cordon, reported that they never heard any dispersal order given at 7:30 p.m. or any other time, nor were people given any opportunity to disperse," Pendergrass wrote. Commander Dilley and Sergeant Foster, in addition, testified in court that an order to disperse was never given.

The Denver Police Department Operations and Procedure Manual, 108.08(6)(a)(3), reads: "When possible, clear instructions shall be communicated to the crowd. Unless there is an immediate risk to public safety, or significant property damage is occurring, sufficient time will be allowed for a crowd to comply with police commands before action is taken."

"Persons on the sidewalks surrounding 15th Street had a clear First Amendment right to be present on the sidewalk," Pendergrass added, "whether they were engaged in free speech activity, recording police and citizen interaction, or just watching."

On Thursday, Pendergrass followed up with Rosenthal after it was discovered that undercover DPD detectives trapped within the crowd on 15th Street staged struggles with uniformed officers in order to be "arrested" and removed. Pendergrass cited the Operations and Procedure Manual, 108.08 (2)(c), which states that "unprofessional police behavior can inflame a tense situation and make control efforts more difficult and dangerous." 108.08(6)(a)(4) further states that an undercover officer is to "assess the overall behavior and disposition of a crowd" but, Pendergrass said, the text "does not appear to authorize undercover officers to affirmatively engage in what would appear to members of the public and other officers to be illegal acts." Pendergrass wrote that such acts by the detectives may have inflamed the situation, especially given the fact that an officer from neighboring Jefferson County, unaware that the plants were such, pepper sprayed them during the performance.

PDF copies of the two letters can be read at the following links: October 30, November 6.