Protesters denied access to attorneys, forced to march in leg shackles, ACLU charges

The Raw Story | August 28, 2008
By John Byrne

The ACLU issued a stinging rebuke to the Denver Police Department Wednesday, alleging that the department may have violated laws and constitutional rights of protesters arrested outside the Democratic National Convention.

In the letter, obtained by RAW STORY, the ACLU revealed that the police refused those arrested access to attorneys. Police did not let detainees use phones unless they posted their own bonds, and even failed to provide shoes, in one case marching a protester into court in bare feet and leg shackles, according the ACLU.

What's more, police are said to have tricked protesters into pleading guilty, by giving them the impression they had to plead guilty in order to post bond. This meant that no one was allowed to make a phone call unless they plead guilty, thus making it impossible for arrestees to even call a lawyer until admitting guilt.

Most ominously, the ACLU letter claims that protesters were told they would be "facing 'years' in jail for a conviction of a single particular charge."

"In fact, all the charges were municipal court violations that do not carry such penalties," the ACLU added in a footnote.

Charges for arrestees were issued on pre-printed forms, where police were told to "cross out" charges that they were not facing. In many cases, police failed to cross out inappropriate charges, and so the detainee would be charged with "begging, loitering and throwing stones and missiles," the ACLU said.

Nor were protesters even given the chance to back down before they were arrested.

"It is not clear whether any order to disperse was given. No Legal Observer [sic], witness or arrestee on the scene we've debriefed heard any order to disperse," wrote Taylor Pendergrass, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado. "Numerous persons, including Legal Observers, asked to be able to leave the blockaded area and were refused."

"After the arrests, attorneys from the People's Law Project and the ACLU arrived at the [Temporary Arrestee Processing Site to conduct confidential attorney-client consultations," Pendergrass continued. "The City refused to provide any access to allow these persons to meet with attorneys."

Perhaps the most outrageous charge, however, is that one protester was forced to march barefoot into court in leg shackles.

"Arrestees were kept barefoot at [the detention center]," Pendergrass wrote. "I personally saw one such arrestee later at the City and County Building. I saw her marched from the elevator to the courtroom in bare feet and leg shackles. I saw her appear in bare feet and leg shackles."

"Some arrestees who could not make their own bond spent 6, 7, 8, or more hours waiting at TAPS before being transferred to court," he added.

Pendergrass also elaborates on the detainees being kept from being able to talk to a lawyer. The only opportunity lawyers had to speak with those arrested was in front of the jury gallery or in open court in front of the judge.

"The only access we were given to those clients was to whisper," he wrote.

Among the seemingly more minor complaints, Pendergrass also notes that many detainees weren't able to eat because they were vegetarian or vegan and the city mostly provided meat-based food.

In addition, he said that the city was well aware that the ACLU and other groups had arranged for attorneys to be present. "Attorneys were at the court from 11 pm on the night of Aug. 25, 2008 and were staying until each and every arrestee came to the City and County Building."

In conclusion, the ACLU demands the City permit attorney access at the detention facility; provide blankets, shoes and slippers; allow phone calls immediately upon entering the facility; permit detainees to use restrooms individually and privately; and permit confidential attorney-client consultations in the City and County Building.

Last week, New York City agreed to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit claiming 52 Iraq war activists were unjustly arrested.

The activists were arrested in April 2003 outside the Manhattan offices of a military contractor, the Carlyle Group.

Lawyers for the activists charged that the tactics used by police at the demonstration were similar to those used a year later when hundreds of activists were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.

The city of New York and police department faced backlash after the convention, with critics claiming the aggressive response showed a blatant disregard for the demonstrators' civil rights.