Challenge to Denver Homeless Sweeps Advances

DENVER (CN) – A federal judge on Monday refused to dismiss a class action challenging the city and county of Denver’s infamous homeless sweeps.

The lawsuit filed by lead plaintiff Raymond Lyall in August 2016 alleges that Denver’s enforcement of its 2012 Urban Camping Ban sanctioned unlawful searches and seizures, depriving thousands of persons of their property without adequate notice or due process.

According to the complaint, “these sweeps that have been ratified and implemented by defendants not only violate plaintiffs’ rights, but our concept of a just society.”

On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Martinez denied two motions for summary judgment from both the plaintiffs and the city, declaring the case to go to trial.

For the purpose of the trial, this action began on a cold December morning in 2015, when a police officer filled a garbage truck with “medicines, tents, and blankets” belonging to 15 people who were sleeping outside a shelter.

The court will only be addressing “homeless sweeps,” incidents in which ten or more city employees were sent to deprive individuals of their property, but the plaintiffs have also argued that sweeps are one of many discriminatory practices enacted by the city in efforts to drive out the homeless population.

Still, Martinez wrote that the court will only consider the narrow issue of whether, “Denver indeed has a policy, custom, or practice of sending ten or more officials or agents to clear away an encampment of multiple homeless persons by immediately seizing and discarding the property found there.”

Additionally, the court will weigh in on whether “whether such sweeps are likely to recur such that plaintiffs have standing to seek a permanent injunction.”

While Denver did not carry out any major sweeps from 2017 to present, it also has not made any policy changes that would prevent it from doing so.

The city claims the sweeps were made in response to local complaints about unsafe and unsanitary parks, and that homeless encampments allowed for “violent crime against the female homeless population, open drug dealing and other safety issues.”

The lawsuit was awarded class certification in January 2017 for some 3,000 homeless Denver citizens who claim the city wrongfully seized or destroyed their property.

On March 14, the Colorado Legislature voted against passing a Homeless Bill of Rights. Presented for the fourth year in a row, the bill would have solidified the right to rest and the right to eat in public.

The class is represented by Jason Flores-Williams, a criminal justice lawyer who recently made history by attempting to represent the Colorado River. City Attorney Conor Farley is leading Denver’s defense.

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