Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Denver Agrees to Disclose Jail Policies and Procedures Manual

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Just announced by the ACLU...

ACLU Announces Settlement of Recently Filed Lawsuit; Denver Agrees to Disclose Jail Policies and Procedures Manual

The ACLU of Colorado announced today that it has settled a lawsuit against Denver that sought 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. As part of the settlement, Denver agreed to disclose all portions of the manual designated by the ACLU, and to pay $5,000 of the ACLU of Colorado’s attorney fees and costs. 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.

According to the lawsuit, despite repeated requests from the ACLU, Denver refused to disclose sections of the manual claiming that disclosure would be “contrary to the public interest.” After a final request for voluntary disclosure was again refused by Denver, the ACLU filed suit on May 19, 2008, seeking disclosure of the manual under the Colorado open records laws. Just prior to the first court hearing in the case that was scheduled for June 19, 2008, Denver agreed to turn over all manual sections designated by the ACLU on or before June 25, 2008, subject to redaction. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the ACLU can challenge in court any redactions it believes are unjustified.

“We are certainly pleased that the City has agreed to release the records,” said John Culver, an ACLU Cooperating Attorney who is lead counsel in the case. “Disclosure of the manual is firmly within the public interest, and the City’s policies at the jail should be transparent and open to any member of the public who wants to view them.”

Disclosure of the manual was necessary in part, the ACLU argued in the lawsuit, because of 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. The ACLU argued in the lawsuit that the public had a right to know whether Denver’s policies and procedures at the PADF were adequate to handle the mass influx of arrestees that could result as a consequence of such a policy during the DNC, especially after the events surrounding the Columbus Day protests in October of 2007 when just eighty arrests overwhelmed the PADF and resulted in delays of up to 12 hours before arrestees who had already posted bond were released. At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, police made over 1800 arrests causing serious problems with access to medical care, food, attorneys, and sanitary facilities.
“Denver has certainly done the right thing by finally releasing these policies,” stated ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass, “We are disappointed that it took a lawsuit and Denver’s expenditure of $5,000 of Denver taxpayers’ money, however, to convince Denver to release documents that we believe clearly should have been disclosed in the first place.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Denver does not admit any liability or fault for refusing to disclose the portions of the manual sought by the ACLU.

The settlement of this case is unconnected to a separate lawsuit between the ACLU and Denver where the ACLU is seeking disclosure, under the Colorado open records laws, of records regarding how Denver is spending public moneys on less-lethal weaponry and other equipment prior to the DNC. A hearing in that case has been scheduled for June 24, 2008 at 8:30 a.m. in Denver District Court.