Not-guilty pleas could send camp­ing ban to trial

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Aguilar John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, jaguilar@den­ver­post.com or @abu­vthe­fold

Three mem­bers of Den­ver’s home­less com­mu­nity Wed­nes­day pleaded not guilty to vi­o­lat­ing the city’s camp­ing ban as part of an ef­fort to move their cases to trial and put the con­tro­ver­sial camp­ing pro­hi­bi­tion un­der a greater le­gal mi­cro­scope.

Jerry Bur­ton, Terese Howard and Randy Rus­sell are the first to en­ter not guilty pleas on charges of vi­o­lat­ing the ban since it was put in place more than four years ago. They were tick­eted on Nov. 28 af­ter they set up camp near Coors Field and on a side­walk in front of the City and County Build­ing.

Some of their be­long­ings — such as tents and blan­kets — were con­fis­cated by Den­ver po­lice and are be­ing tem­po­rar­ily held as ev­i­dence.

That fact was seized upon by their at­tor­ney, Ja­son Flores-Wil­liams, who called the move by the city an “in­ter­est­ing end-run” around due process for his clients.

“This is a proven ex­am­ple of crim­i­nal­iza­tion of the poor,” Flores-Wil­liams said af­ter Wed­nes­day morn­ing’s hear­ing. “Peo­ple aren’t sup­posed to be pun­ished for it, but they are be­ing pun­ished for it.”

Am­ber Miller, a spokes­woman for Den­ver Mayor Michael Han­cock, said po­lice only seized the be­long­ings af­ter ask­ing the trio for six hours to move off the side­walk. She said the city is reluc­tant to is­sue camp­ing ban tick­ets — only 26 tick­ets have been is­sued since the ban went into ef­fect in 2012 — and “is not a wide­spread ap­proach the city takes.”

“Every step that the city takes — and our No. 1 goal — is to con­nect peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness with ser­vices and a place in­doors that is safe and warm,” Miller said. “All (the of­fi­cers) were work­ing towards was com­pli­ance.”

Miller said Bur­ton, Rus­sell and Howard were part of an or­ga­nized protest that evening and noted that the city pro­vides hun­dreds of beds for the home­less every night. She said on Tues­day night this week, there were 200 avail­able beds for peo­ple to use.

But Rus­sell said the shel­ters in Den­ver have “300-plus men cough­ing all over you — with their germs.”

Howard, who is a mem­ber of ad­vo­cacy group Den­ver Home­less Out Loud, said she hopes the cases in which she and the oth­ers en­tered not-guilty pleas will lead to a closer ex­am­i­na­tion of the over­all le­gal­ity of Den­ver’s camp­ing ban.

“I think times have changed,” she said.

Mem­bers of Home­less Out Loud sued Den­ver in fed­eral court in Au­gust, ac­cus­ing the city of clear­ing down­town of the poor and dis­placed by con­duct­ing sweeps of home­less en­camp­ments to make way for new hous­ing and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. There has been no rul­ing in that case.

Han­cock ear­lier this month said that po­lice will no longer con­fis­cate blan­kets and tents from home­less peo­ple dur­ing cold weather months.

Howard, Rus­sell and Bur­ton are sched­uled for a hear­ing Jan. 12 to set a date for trial.

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