DENVER (CBS4)– A jury has found three people guilty of violating Denver’s controversial urban camping ban. It was the first time such cases have gone to trial.
The three found guilty, Terese Howard, Randy Russell, and Jerry Burton, were homeless at the time when they were ticketed for camping on city property.
Denver Municipal Court Judge Kerri Lombardi sentenced each of them to probation and community service.
It is against the law in Denver to camp on public property or in unauthorized places but it’s not hard to find people violating it. CBS4’s Rick Sallinger met with a group using cardboard boxes for beds underneath an overhang that offers some protection from the elements.
“How do you feel about the urban camping ban?, Sallinger asked a homeless man named Mike who responded, “If we don’t have a place to live where are we supposed to sleep?”
Pleas to end the ban were etched in chalk on the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
Inside the courtroom, Burton, Howard and Russell had previously pleaded not guilty and took their case before a jury.
“Because nobody should be prosecuted for doing what you have to do to survive,” said Howard.
Each faced the possibility of a year in jail and a $999 fine.
The City of Denver stated the defendants were not being prosecuted for using blankets and tents but that they chose to violate the law in order to test it. Prosecutors told the jury each person had been warned numerous times before being cited.
Burton told CBS4, “I think we all need to show compassion towards each other and that set up laws that are going to only affect one group or one set of the population.”
Just after the jury began its discussions a question was sent out to the judge in which
the panel asked if they could pay the fines if the defendants were found guilty. There
were no fines levied by the judge.
After three hours of deliberation, the six-person jury reached a verdict. Each of the
defendants was found guilty of violating the camping ban on one or more occasions.
Some were acquitted on charges of interfering with a police officer.
In her statement to the court at the immediate sentencing Howard said, “I have
been arrested, tried and convicted for just trying to survive.”
Jason Flores-Williams, the attorney for the three defendants said he will appeal the
verdicts. He hopes it will go to the state Supreme Court where it can rule on the
Constitutionality of the law.