Prominent Colorado civil rights attorney David Lane is asking for a federal court to hold Denver Police Chief Robert White in contempt of court following the dismantling of protester tents outside of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse near downtown. The dismantling occurred on August 27, two days after the court’s filed an injunction against police for continual harassment of the protesters.
The activists are part of the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) and has been handing out pamphlets on how to go about engaging in jury nullification. Jury nullification is, in brief, the act of a juror or jurors refusing to convict a defendant for breaking unjust laws or who are being abused by the government. Examples can include everything from petty drug offenses to the same type of activity the protesters have been engaged in.
Denver Police have been engaged in trying to prevent the group from using their First Amendment rights to educate people who go in or out of the courthouse or who are passing by. Denver police overstepped their bounds once they crossed onto the federal courthouse grounds, and drew the ire of both attorneys and judges. Lane filed a lawsuit to stop the cops from engaging in harassment on federal courthouse grounds, which US District Judge William Martinez agreed with.
Martinez said that “there is no contest to [the] point” that handing out the pamphlets is clearly protected speech under the First Amendment. Additionally, he noted that “a minor turf war has erupted between Denver and the 2nd Judicial District over control of the courthouse grounds.” He also said that restrictions put in place on protesters that were intended to reduce chances of violence went too far and should be reviewed.
Denver Police decided that the ruling should be ignored, however, and proceeded to disperse the protesters once more on August 27. They confiscated “all literature regarding jury nullification including about 1,000 pamphlets, a small shade shelter, a table, four chairs, buckets, a cooler, signs and other items” according to Lane. Additionally, they “attempted to take personal property such as purses, computers, backpacks and other items” but “the pamphleteers resisted the attempts by the police to steal their personal property.”
Now Lane is once again filing a request with the court, and this one is for White to be held in contempt for violating the court order–and the civil rights of those involved in free speech activities. Lane also represents two other activists, Mark Ianicelli and Eric Brandt, who are being charged for their part in protests associated with FIJA. It should be noted that the injunction against Denver Police came from the federal courts, while the cases against Iannicelli and Brandt are occurring in Denver County Court, further underlining the apparent turf war between the local and federal governments on the issue.
You can find out more information about FIJA here.