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ACLU Sues Denver for Disclosure of City Jail Policies and Procedures in Advance of Democratic National Convention

The ACLU of Colorado announced today that it had filed suit against Denver in state district court seeking disclosure of the policy and procedure manual that governs the processing and treatment of detainees at Denver’s downtown city jail, known as the Pre-Arraignment Detention Facility, or PADF.  The PADF is Denver’s intake center, where arrestees are first taken to be booked, fingerprinted, given the opportunity to post bond, and housed until they are released or eventually transferred to Denver’s larger county jail on Smith Road.

According to the lawsuit, which relies on the Colorado open records laws, Denver has refused to disclose the PADF manual, claiming that disclosure “would be contrary to the public interest.”   “The City has it wrong,” said John Culver, an ACLU Cooperating Attorney who is lead counsel in the case.  “Disclosure of public agencies’ policies and procedures is in the public interest.   The public has a right to know how its government agencies are operating.  It is Denver’s secrecy that is ‘contrary to the public interest.’”

The lawsuit recounts various problems and complaints regarding the operation of the PADF.  They include the tragic death of Emily Rice, which prompted a currently pending federal lawsuit; unreasonable delays in processing detainees, including holding persons up to ten and twelve hours even after they have posted bond; and the erroneous detention of innocent persons who are mistakenly held on the basis of warrants for different persons.   “The public has a right to ask whether these failures are the result of inadequate policies,” said Taylor Pendergrass, ACLU staff attorney, “or whether they reflect failures of an overworked and understaffed jail to comply with policies that would be adequate if they were actually followed.”

The lawsuit also raises questions prompted by the possibility of mass arrests in connection with protests at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver.   According to papers filed in court, last summer the ACLU asked Denver police to handle minor violations with a summons or a notice to appear in court, a practice known as “cite and release.”  Denver Police Department Deputy Chief Battista reportedly responded that under Denver’s current policy, police must make full custodial arrests—requiring detention in the PADF—for even minor violations connected with protests.

“Unless Denver changes its ‘no cite and release’ policy for minor protest-related violations,” Pendergrass said, “there is an serious risk that arrests will overload the staffing and physical infrastructure of the PADF.  The public has a right to examine the policies and procedures of the PADF and evaluate whether the facility is prepared to avoid the problems New York City experienced during the 2004 Republican National Convention, when 1500 arrests for minor violations caused excessive backlogs and serious problems with access to food, medicine, attorneys, sanitary facilities, and delivery of medical care to vulnerable detainees.”
Defendants named in the lawsuit are the City and County of Denver and Al LaCabe, Manager of Safety, who oversees the Denver Sheriff’s Department.   In addition to Culver and Pendergrass, ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein also represents the ACLU in the litigation.

   * Read additional information about the lawsuit, including the Table of Contents for the PADF manual and a report documenting problems caused by mass arrests during the 2004 RNC.

About the ACLU of Colorado
The ACLU is a nationwide, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to defending and preserving the principles of the Bill of Rights through litigation, advocacy and public education.  The ACLU Foundation of Colorado works to protect the rights of all Coloradans.

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