Denver, CO – On Wednesday, October 12th, 2016, Judge Craig B. Shaffer’s court room was packed during the first hearing in the class-action lawsuit against the city and county of Denver for violating the human rights of people without housing.
Attorney Jason Flores-Williams filed the class-action on Thursday, August 25th, 2016 on behalf of Denver Homeless Out Loud and the thousands of people without housing who have experienced harassment and abuse at the commands of the defendants: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Police Chief Robert White, Denver Public Works Manager Jose Cornejo, Hancock Chief of Staff Evan Dreyer, and District Six Police Commander Antonio Lopez.
During the hearing in the Alfred A. Arraj United States Federal Court House, there was a lot of back-and-forth between Judge Shaffer and Flores-Williams about lawsuit logistics and how to move the suit along quickly and efficiently.
Judge Shaffer shared his concern with the prosecuting attorney regarding the chosen defendants in the case:
The Supreme Court recognizes that each of the independent defendants have the right to qualified immunity. Not the city, though. You should consider dismissing the defendants and focus on the city and county of Denver.”
According to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, “Absolute and qualified immunity were developed to protect officials from lawsuits for actions relating to their official duties.”
If Flores-Williams maintains these defendants, they could file for qualified immunity, which essentially means they were just doing their job and any pain or suffering it caused is their employer’s fault; their employer is the city and county of Denver.
Flores-Williams made clear that the reason for filing these individual claims was because these defendants were complicit and steered these unlawful policies. To this Judge Shaffer added,
Until the issue of qualified immunity is resolved, the case will be unnecessarily muddled.”
A drawn-out lawsuit means a drawn-out end to the sweeps. During these sweeps people without housing have their personal belongings seized by police and public works officials, including bedding and protection from cold weather.
At a rally outside the court house prior to the hearing, Raymond Lyall, member of Denver Homeless Out Loud and a plaintiff in the case, reminded the crowd of the urgency to end the inhumane sweeps:
13 people died this year of hypothermia, not because they were drunk, not because they were drug addicts, not because they had a mental issue… because of hypothermia, died on the streets. That can’t happen in a world class city. This is a–what [Mayor Hancock] says is, this is a world class city.”
This class-action is vital for thousands of people who don’t have housing in Denver. Due to the ever-increasing “affordable” housing developments being built downtown for people who make at least $35/hour–more than four times the amount of Colorado’s minimum wage–the number of residents unable to afford housing and are therefore forced to live on the streets is also ever-increasing.
Jerry Roderick Burton, another plaintiff in the case and member of Denver Homeless Out Loud, spoke at the rally prior to the hearing:
The funny thing about all this is this, my rent will be totally paid and I cannot get into an apartment because of my credit. Even though I’m a veteran, I have a voucher, I was told yesterday that because of my credit I cannot move into an apartment.”
Another factor in Wednesday’s hearing was the fact that Flores-Williams had previously filed a motion for recusal of Judge Shaffer in this lawsuit because he did not think Shaffer would be able to guarantee an objective litigation process.
Judge Shaffer’s former business partner is John Moye of Moye, Giles, OKeefe, Vermeire & Gorrell, LLP. This law firm has had a long-term relationship with the Downtown Denver Partnership, which has strongly backed the Urban Camping Ban and other ordinances which have caused mass constitutional deprivations.
According to the Downtown Denver Partnership’s 2011-2012 Annual Report:
The Partnership helped lead the successful lobbying efforts to institute a city-wide unauthorized camping ban to address behaviors negatively affecting businesses and the Downtown environment.”
On August 18, after the first meeting to gather potential plaintiffs, Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud spoke with Unicorn Riot and said the following:
It’s time to respect people on the streets the same way you would respect anybody living in a house or anybody with lots of money.”
The chosen plaintiffs who represent the class of people without housing are: Raymond Lyall, Garry Anderson, Thomas Peterson, Jerry Roderick Burton, Fredrick Jackson, Brian Cooks, William Pepper, Christopher Farrell, and Krystal Mcevoy.
To learn more about the class-action and to stay updated, follow our continued coverage. You can also check out Denver Homeless Out Loud’s website.
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