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ACLU of Colorado announces settlement with Denver on behalf of student jailed for requesting police officer

Today the ACLU of Colorado announced a settlement with the City of Denver over the arrest and imprisonment of a student who was handcuffed, arrested and forced to spend a night in jail simply for asking for a Denver police officer’s business card.

The ACLU of Colorado represented Evan Herzoff, a University of Colorado at Denver student and local CopWatch volunteer. CopWatch is a national organization that monitors police and community interactions by observing and videotaping police activity, educates the public about police misconduct, and advocates for more accountable law enforcement practices.

On the night of April 8, 2006, Mr. Herzoff was walking home when he encountered police arresting an individual in the parking lot near 14th and Pearl. Mr. Herzoff began videotaping the arrest, and shortly thereafter was approached by two Denver Police Department officers. Officer Morgan demanded Mr. Herzoff’s identification. After examining Mr. Herzoff’s identification, Morgan told Mr. Herzoff that he was free to go. When Mr. Herzoff subsequently asked for Morgan’s business card, however, Morgan quickly changed his mind and told Mr. Herzoff, “Let’s take you to jail instead.” A trespass charge filed against Mr. Herzoff at the time of the arrest was later dismissed.

“The trespass charge against Mr. Herzoff was never valid,” said Taylor Pendergrass, ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney who represented Herzoff. “Even if Mr. Herzoff had been briefly standing on privately owned property, however, his arrest and imprisonment would have still been unconstitutional. Officer Morgan had already determined Mr. Herzoff was free to go. The arrest was made only because Mr. Herzoff requested Officer Morgan’s business card. An arrest–even a technically valid one–made solely in retaliation for an exercise of constitutionally protected speech violates the First Amendment.”

The settlement agreement, in which the City of Denver denies any wrongdoing, provides for monetary compensation, pending city council approval, to Herzoff and obligates DPD to issue a training bulletin negotiated with the ACLU of Colorado to all officers instructing them against such wrongful arrests. The training bulletin states in part that, “[N]o retaliatory action shall be taken against any member of the community based on [a] request for identification. Any exercise of discretion by an officer with regard to a decision to arrest, cite, detain, search or question and individual must be made without regard to whether that individual has requested the identity or business card of an officer.”

“The right of citizens to ask their police officers for their name and badge number is not only protected by the First Amendment,” stated Pendergrass, “it is also one component of rebuilding the community’s trust in the Denver Police Department. Officer Morgan’s decision to summarily punish Mr. Herzoff by arresting him and forcing him to spend a night in jail simply for asking for a business card demonstrates a disregard for Mr. Herzoff’s constitutional rights and has a chilling effect on all Denver residents. We commend the City of Denver for its willingness to reach a settlement in this case without the need for a lawsuit. We are hopeful that the training bulletin and public attention to this issue will send a clear signal that it is not only unconstitutional, but counterproductive, for DPD officers to retaliate against Denver citizens who simply want to know the identity of the officer with whom they are interacting.”

View Evan Herzoff's encounter with Denver Police here:

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