Denver Settles Lawsuit for Wrongful Arrests of Photographers, Others

Posted by on Wednesday August 17, 2011 | Photojournalism

©Kim Sidwell--Denver police confront protestors at the 2008 Democratic National Convention

The City of Denver has agreed to pay $200,000 and change its police training procedures to settle a lawsuit over mass arrests of protesters during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The settlement was announced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which sued the city on behalf of three photographers, a filmmaker, and four others who were observing the protests–but not participating–when they were swept up in the mass arrests on August 25, 2008.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Denver in August, 2009, alleged that the Denver police arrested the plaintiffs without probable cause and prosecuted them for crimes they didn’t commit, violating their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

“The settlement….underscores an important lesson for the Denver police,” said ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein in a statement. “They must have individualized facts showing that each separate person they arrest was violating the law. Police violate the Constitution when they simply arrest everyone who happens to be in the area.”

The city’s crowd control policies will be improved in order to avoid similar violations of civil rights in the future, according to the ACLU.

“I’m relieved to have it come to a close,” says Denver photographer Kim Sidwell, a plaintiff in the case who was a photography student at the time of her arrest. She was acquitted of criminal charges after a three-day trial in 2008, and says, “I was shocked at how close I came to being found guilty of a crime I did not commit.”

Protestors were staging a street march from Denver’s Civic Center Park on the second day of the convention when “hundreds” were boxed in by riot police, according to the ACLU.

“Police eventually arrested nearly 100 persons, without distinguishing between those who were marching in the street without a permit and others, like our clients, who merely watched from the sidewalks, where they had a legal right to be,” said attorney John Culver in the ACLU statement. Culver was the attorney hired by the ACLU to litigate the case.

The city and the ACLU reached a settlement agreement after the presiding judge cleared the case for trial. The settlement agreement is subject to court approval. A hearing has been scheduled for October 12, and the city has declined comment on the settlement pending final court approval, according to the Denver Post.

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