Denver police used pre-printed forms to issue charges, misled arrestees
Saturday, August 30, 2008
The ACLU has accused the Denver Police Department of violating the constitutional rights of protesters arrested in the vicinity of the Democratic National Convention by denying them access to lawyers, forcing them to plead guilty to inappropriate charges and placing some of them in leg shackles.
The letter summarizes how basic facts of law and criminal justice were either ignored or turned on their head by the police in the absence of legal counsel for arrestees, itself a violation of the Constitution.
The ACLU alleges that police effectively forced some protesters into pleading guilty, by tricking them into believing they had to do so in order to post bond and gain access to a phone call.
In addition it is thought that some arrestees were led to believe that only they could post bond, rather than having a third party do it on their behalf.
“This meant that no one was allowed to make a phone call unless they plead guilty, thus making it impossible for arrestees to even call a lawyer until admitting guilt.” Raw Story writer John Byrne comments.
Furthermore, the letter charges that some of those in custody were told that pleading not guilty would result in a “double sentence” if convicted.
The ACLU also states that police used “pre-printed” charge forms and had to scrub out charges that did not apply to some protesters. According to the letter some were erroneously charged for offenses they did not commitsuch as “begging, loitering and throwing stones and missiles,” simply because cops failed to remove them from the forms. In addition the letter also states that extra charges were written in to some forms by hand, leading to duplications of charges. In one case an arrestee seemed to be facing six charges when in reality there were only two separate ordinance violations listed.
Not content with issuing false charges, police also mislead those arrested into thinking that any conviction stemming from the charges could lead to “years in jail”, according to the ACLU, when in reality no such penalties exist for municipal court violations.
The letter states that the only time arrestees got to consult lawyers was in front of the jury gallery or in open court in front of the judge, a blatant transgression of the most basic legal rights.
One section of the letter, written by Taylor Pendergrass, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado, intimates that protesters were rounded up in mass arrests and were not given the opportunity to back off by police:
“It is not clear whether any order to disperse was given. No Legal Observer [sic], witness or arrestee on the scene we’ve debriefed heard any order to disperse… Numerous persons, including Legal Observers, asked to be able to leave the blockaded area and were refused.” the letter states.
“After the arrests, attorneys from the People’s Law Project and the ACLU arrived at the [Temporary Arrestee Processing Site to conduct confidential attorney-client consultations,” Pendergrass continues. “The City refused to provide any access to allow these persons to meet with attorneys.”
Pendergrass also charges that those who could not make bond spent up to eight hours at the holding facility before being taken to court. Many were not given any food and were refused blankets or extra clothing to keep warm. He also states that arrestees were flexi-cuffed to each other in painful positions and were not even allowed to go to the bathroom individually.
He also reveals that protesters were kept barefoot and in leg shackles:
“Arrestees were kept barefoot at TAPS. I personally saw one such arrestee later at the City and County Building. I saw her marched from the elevator to the courtroom in bare feet and leg shackles. I saw her appear in bare feet and leg shackles.”
Two weeks ago reporters discovered the huge city owned warehouse holding facility in Denver, consisting of steel cages topped with barbed wire, ready to receive thousands of protesters.
On seeing footage of the facility one local political organizer told the crew it resembled a “concentration camp”, while another described it as a “meat processing plant”. The facility has since been dubbed “Gitmo On The Platte”.
On Monday Alex Jones and the Infowars crew obtained exclusive footage outside the holding facility.
Last week a police bulletin was leaked which advised officers that potentially violent protesters may be identified from their use of hand held radios, bikes, maps and “camping information.” The ACLU called the bulletin “unnecessarily provocative” and warned, “It has the potential to get police officers all amped up and looking for a confrontation at a time when what we need is cool heads and restraint.”
The ACLU has demanded that arrestees be allowed access to attorneys and that all other discretions and violations listed in their letter be corrected by the city during the last two days of the convention.