Remember the pair of viral videos that showed Denver Police officers confiscating blankets and other survival gear from homeless individuals last December?
This week, a handful of those confiscated items were returned to their rightful owner.
On Monday, March 12, Jerry Burton visited the Denver Police headquarters, where he was able to retrieve a tent, a sleeping bag and some blankets from one of two locations where he had items taken by police officers as “evidence” that he'd violated Denver's urban-camping ban.
Burton was accompanied by Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud, with whom he is a co-defendant in a trial in which both have pleaded not guilty to camping-ban citations they received in late November. The third defendant in the trial, Randy Russell, did not accompany them to police headquarters on Monday, but he also has a tent, blankets and two sleeping bags impounded there. All three will stand trial beginning April 4. They are being represented by attorney Jason Flores-Williams, whom Westword profiled in a December cover story.
On Monday, Burton was hoping to retrieve all of the items he had taken from him at 27th Avenue and Arapahoe Street, as well as later in front of the City and County Building.
Mayor Michael Hancock has characterized sleeping in front of the the City and County Building as a “protest.” But after videos taken at both locations circulated the Internet and racked up millions of views, he issued a directive to police officers that they were to no longer take survival gear while enforcing the camping ban through April 2017.
In his letter on December 10, Hancock added that every action Denver takes around homelessness is "intended to connect people with safe and warm places and critical supportive services."
This week wasn't the first time that Burton, Russell and Howard have attempted to retrieve survival-gear items being held by the police department. In January, all three went to police headquarters after the judge in the camping-ban trial called their lawyer, Flores-Williams, and informed him that the seized property had been released. Once at the police station, however, an attendant told them that her records showed the items should remain impounded.
“Last time, a lady said, ‘Can you sign this paperwork?’ But then she came back and said, ‘We’re still holding on to this for evidence,’" recalls Burton. “They really don’t know what they’re doing. This is what we get: crazy rules and regulations. We can’t sleep outside, but we’ve got to survive somewhere!"
On Monday, Burton picked up a black telephone in the lobby of the police headquarters that connects callers to the police impound.
“This is Jerry Burton,” he said into the receiver.
“Okay, I’ll check it when you bring it out."
After thirty minutes, an attendant emerged with a box.
Burton opened it and discovered a tent, sleeping bag and blankets taken from him at 27th and Arapahoe. He's not sure why he wasn't able to get his additional sleeping bag and blankets that were taken in front of the City and County Building.
Because Burton has recently been housed through a Veterans Affairs program, he plans to donate the items to friends still living on the streets.
“I’m going to donate it to people — friends and less fortunate — that need it," he said.
Standing closely, Howard said, "I think it's evident that the DPD has a very arbitrary method for releasing stuff, and it's questionable whether or not they even have the blankets from the second location since they refused to release them.
"It's interesting that the first time we went to the police station to try to get our stuff back, the police said that it hadn't been released," she continued. "Then this time, the lady started by saying it couldn't be released and then changed her story...so it's unclear how that came about.”
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Howard believes that it's possible that the other items may show up during the trial that begins on April 4.
"What's important to remember is that these items were taken through a procedure that's now illegal," she added, referring to Hancock's directive to police officers on December 10 to not take survival gear through April 2017.
Howard hopes to quickly locate Russell so that she can let him know that Burton was able to retrieve some of his items. There's a good chance that Russell will be able to, as well.