Relying on the Colorado Open Records Act, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) filed suit today against the City and County of Denver, seeking disclosure of a document that sets out the terms of the Denver Police Department's participation in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
The Denver JTTF, one of over five dozen similar task forces around the country, is run by the FBI and includes full-time agents on loan from participating federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Denver supplies two officers from its Intelligence Unit who work full-time for the FBI task force. One of the Denver police officers has been with the JTTF since 1998.
"The Denver Police Intelligence Unit's relationship with the JTTF is an important public issue," said ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein. "Last Spring, Denver settled the Spy Files lawsuit and agreed it would stop collecting information about peaceful protesters who have no connection to criminal activity. The FBI, however, is not bound by the same restrictions, especially now that recently-relaxed FBI guidelines make it even easier for the agency to gather information on peaceful political activity. This raises the question whether Denver intelligence officers assigned to work full time for the JTTF must abide by Denver's new intelligence policy, or whether they are permitted to operate under the FBI rules that are much less protective of civil liberties."
According to Silverstein, documents released to the ACLU during the Spy Files lawsuit, some of which are posted on the ACLU of Colorado website, demonstrate that the JTTF has been collecting information about peaceful protest activities that have nothing to do with terrorism or any other criminal activity. "These documents show that the JTTF has been gathering the same kind of information that the Denver Police Department is now prohibited from collecting," Silverstein said.
Denver's Public Safety Review Commission (PSRC) also raised questions about the Denver Police Department's relationship with the JTTF in a preliminary report issued on August 21, 2003. The PSRC noted that in a public hearing about the Spy Files in April, then-City Attorney Wallace Wortham said that Denver Police Department intelligence officers who are assigned to the JTTF are not bound by the new intelligence policy that forbids spying on peaceful protesters. Chief Whitman, however, told the PSRC the opposite.
According to the lawsuit filed today, the ACLU requested that Denver Police Chief Gerald Whitman release the Memorandum of Understanding between the Denver Police Department and the FBI that sets out the terms of Denver's participation in the multi-jurisdictional task force. The response came from the City Attorney's office, stating that Chief Whitman had determined that the requested document is a criminal justice record the disclosure of which "would be contrary to the public interest."
"Chief Whitman is getting very bad advice from his lawyers," Silverstein said. "In other cities around the country that participate in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the memoranda of understanding have been treated as public records and freely disclosed to the public. Disclosure does not harm the public interest. On the contrary, disclosure serves the public interest."
Today's lawsuit, ACLU of Colorado v. City and County of Denver, was filed in Denver District Court by ACLU cooperating attorney Bruce Jones of Holland & Hart.