By Jeff Todd
DENVER (CBS4) – The first ever trial challenging Denver’s urban camping ban is underway.
“Ultimately what we want to do is challenge the constitutionality of the camping ban,” said defense attorney Jason Flores-Williams.
Jerry Burton, Terese Howard and Randy Russell are the first people to be cited for urban camping and are also the first to take that citation to trial. The three were cited on Nov. 28 as Denver police officers were working their way through town near Arapahoe and 28th streets.
“What we’re also trying to do is show that large sections of the community do disagree with Denver’s ‘war on the poor’ that’s taking place. And the jury, being a reflection of the community, we’re going for a not guilty verdict.” Flores-Williams said.
“The city’s approach to connecting those who are living on the streets with the help they need to stabilize their lives has been consistent. The city’s practice is to first try and connect people to services and treatment, and if that doesn’t work, people are given notice, usually multiple times, before any enforcement action is taken,” Jenna Espinoza from the City of Denver told CBS4 in a statement. “The three individuals involved in the lawsuit were contacted by Denver police officers on several occasions. The officers worked for hours to connect them to services, but services were refused. The three individuals are not being prosecuted for using blankets or tents. They chose to violate a city law by camping. What’s worse is they were taking this action in protest so they could challenge the law in court.”
What’s still unclear is if the defendants are found not guilty, how that will affect the ban and its enforcement.
Denver police have maintained they urge homeless people to move along, but the homeless community continues to ask “move along to where?”
The trial is expected to last until Thursday.
“Tomorrow is really going to be our show. We’re going to talk about the pain on the streets, the camping ban, and the immorality of prosecuting poor people when there’s so many other better things to do,” Flores-Williams said. “Here we are drawing our line in the sand here and saying, ‘Hey guys, it’s immoral and get your priorities straight.’”
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.