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ACLU: Denver Police illegally monitor peaceful protest groups

By The Associated Press

03.13.02

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Editor's note: Seven plaintiffs sued the Denver Police Department on March 28 over its practice of keeping intelligence files on peaceful protesters. The Colorado ACLU filed the suit in Denver District Court seeking class-action status on behalf of 3,200 people and 208 organizations.

DENVER — The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the Denver Police Department of keeping illegal files on peaceful protest groups including Amnesty International and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee.

The ACLU's Colorado legal director, Mark Silverstein, showed reporters files he said came from the police department.

Silverstein wouldn't say how he obtained the files. He said they were marked as permanent, not simply reports that would be discarded at the end of the day.

"These are a small sampling of documents we have that show Denver police are monitoring peaceful protest activities of individuals and law-abiding groups," he said at a news conference March 11.

The ACLU has asked the mayor to stop all monitoring, make all files available to their subjects and have police disclose who has been given the information, Silverstein said. He threatened to sue if the practice isn't stopped.

Andrew Hudson, spokesman for Mayor Wellington Webb, said Webb had asked police for a full report to answer the group's concerns.

"The mayor thinks their concerns are legitimate," Hudson said.

Denver Public Safety Department spokeswoman C.L. Harmer said police would comply with the mayor's request.

Stephen B. Nash, who was identified in one of the files as an event organizer for Amnesty International, said police could not say the files were needed for security because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"My file goes back to 2000, well before Sept. 11," Nash said.

The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, "acts in the best tradition of nonviolence," said Barry Leaman-Miller, who was identified in one file as a member of the "American Friends Service Committee (criminal extremist G)."

There was no immediate explanation for the "criminal extremist" note.

Harmer said people named in the files were not considered criminals and the files were collected because legal gatherings are sometimes the scene of illegal actions.

"Law-abiding groups sponsoring lawful assemblies can be unwitting magnets for unlawful activity," she said.

"If you go to a peaceful demonstration, is your name going to come up when you get a traffic ticket? The answer is no, because the data isn't shared," she said. "I don't think this is a retreat to the era of J. Edgar Hoover."

Harmer said that although the intelligence-gathering started before the terrorist attacks, the attacks illustrated the need for such files.

Among the events mentioned in the files were a protest of an Italian-led parade honoring Columbus, protests of a killing by a police SWAT team that went to the wrong house, protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and demonstrations by the Chiapas Coalition against alleged civil rights violations in Mexico's poorest state.

"This is really outrageous to me ... since Sept. 11 immigration equals terrorism," said Luis Espinosa, a member of the Chiapas group.

Update

Panel: People listed in 'spy files' should be allowed to review reports
But recommendation that Denver police records on 3,277 individuals, 208 groups should be destroyed after 60 days draws fire from ACLU.  07.06.02

Related

Lawmakers kill bill banning police surveillance of peaceful protesters
Colorado House panel rejects measure amid complaints it would hinder police activity.  04.27.02

NYPD seeks more leeway to monitor political groups
Citing a climate altered by terrorist threats, department asks federal court to sharply curtail powers of three-member panel that oversees its surveillance of domestic activists.  09.26.02

Pa. county's new law bans protests during terror warnings
Constitutional-law specialists say threats of terrorism do not relieve York County of obligation to protect freedom of assembly.  04.11.02

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