ACLU of Colorado Seeks to Close Denver Police "Spy Files" on Peaceful Protesters, Including Quakers and 73-Year-Old Nun

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
March 28, 2002 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Colorado
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DENVER–The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado today filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Denver Police Department’s practice of monitoring and recording the peaceful protest activities of local residents and law-abiding advocacy groups and falsely labeling a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Quaker organization and a 73-year-old nun “”criminal extremists.””

“The actions of the Denver police are truly disturbing,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “”By monitoring peaceful expressive activity in this manner and by falsely branding law-abiding organizations as criminals and extremists, the police will make Denver residents afraid to express their views and afraid to participate fully in our democracy.””

Those labeled “”criminal extremists”” include the American Friends Service Committee, an 85-year-old pacifist Quaker group that has won the Nobel Peace Prize for its advocacy of nonviolent social change, and Sister Antonia Anthony, a 73-year-old Franciscan nun whose opinions and lawful protest activity are documented in police files.

Additional plaintiffs are End the Politics of Cruelty, a Denver-based human rights organization that has focused on issues of police accountability; the Chiapas Coalition, which conducts education and advocacy activities supporting the struggle of indigenous persons in the Mexican state of Chiapas; and Stephen and Vicki Nash, whose participation in peaceful protest activities is also the subject of police files.

According to the lawsuit, titled American Friends Service Committee et al. v. City and County of Denver, the plaintiffs represent a class of as many as 3,200 individuals and 208 organizations who have been targeted because of their peaceful expressive activities.

Attorneys for the ACLU are seeking a court order prohibiting the Denver police department from collecting, maintaining, and disseminating information on peaceful protest activities. The lawsuit does not seek any monetary damages.

The ACLU is also asking the court to order that the police records be expunged, after first permitting targets of the police surveillance to review their files. Finally, the ACLU will ask the court to order Denver to cooperate in tracking down whatever copies of the files have been sent to other law enforcement agencies and other third parties.

The ACLU first revealed evidence of the secret files at a news conference on March 11, when it disclosed several pages from the Denver police “”Spy Files”” and called on Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb to put a stop to the practice, to make a full public accounting, and to permit individuals to review their files.

Mayor Webb responded by saying that Denver police had gone too far in compiling “”intelligence files”” on 3,200 individuals and 208 organizations, many of which posed no threat. He further stated that Denver police had strayed from the city’s written policy which prohibits keeping files on First Amendment activities unless the information is directly related to criminal activity and there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in that criminal activity.

“”Mayor Webb deserves credit for acknowledging that the Denver police spy files pose a threat to First Amendment rights,”” Silverstein said. “”But so far the city has not agreed that individuals will be able to review their files, and it has shown no interest in holding the police department accountable for this blatant and systematic violation of the clearly-written city policy.””

Excerpts from the “spy files” attached to the ACLU lawsuit show that the Denver police have recorded the following kinds of information about specific individuals:

–membership in specific advocacy organizations labeled as “”criminal extremist,”” such as the American Friends Service Committee, End The Politics of Cruelty, and the Chiapas Coalition;

–organizing and speaking at events sponsored by Amnesty International;

–attendance in 2000 at demonstrations sponsored by the Justice for Mena Committee, which sought to hold Denver police accountable for the killing of Ismael Mena in a botched no-knock raid in 1999;

–participation in protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.;

–the purported opinion of plaintiff Sister Antonia that “”global financial policies are responsible for the uprisings in Chiapas, Mexico;””

–being “”seen”” at a demonstration in 2000 protesting the celebration of Columbus Day;

–license numbers and descriptions of vehicles used by individuals identified as participants in peaceful protest activities;

–home addresses and personal descriptions of individuals engaged in lawful expressive activity;

–the address of a private residence that an individual reportedly “”frequents.””

“”There is no legitimate reason to keep these kinds of files on the peaceful expression of political views and opinions,”” said Lino Lipinsky, of the Denver law firm McKenna & Cuneo, who filed the lawsuit as an ACLU cooperating attorney. “”Denver residents should feel free to join a peaceful protest without fear that their names will wind up in police files.””

The legal complaint is online at

A March 11, 2002 letter from the ACLU asking the Mayor of Denver to take action on the spy files is online at /node/10393

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