New Evidence in Homeless Sweeps Trial Shows City Trashed People's Belongings

Encampments along Arkins Court, days before they were swept on July 13, 2016.
Encampments along Arkins Court, days before they were swept on July 13, 2016. Brandon Marshall
Last year, Denver Police and other city departments conducted multiple sweeps of homeless encampments. The operations proved controversial, especially given allegations by individuals experiencing homelessness that at some of the sweeps, their personal belongings were thrown away by the city without a means to retrieve them — a potential violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unlawful searches and seizures.

Now one of the sweeps that occurred on July 13, 2016, under the code names “River Dance” and “Night Crawler,” has resurfaced in court proceedings for a class action lawsuit filed by attorney Jason Flores-Williams.

During deposition hearings last week, Flores-Williams says that DPD officer Ligeia Craven admitted that all items seized on July 13 were trashed. In an e-mail statement, Flores-Williams explains:

Denver Police Officer Ligeia Craven, who was one of the main members of the Homeless Out Reach Team, ("Hot" Team) that was designed to outreach to the homeless community, admitted on the record that there was no storage of anyone's property at the July 13, 2016 Arkins Court clean up and that all items seized were trashed.

"Were they trashed?"


Furthermore, there was no city oversight of the Arkins court homeless sweeps and the protocols that were in place for the March 8, 9 sweeps - to the degree that they were implemented - were not in place for the July 13 Sweep.

Based on this admission, Plaintiffs will be filing a Motion for Summary Judgment on the Fourth Amendment violation arising from the sweep of Arkins Court, July 13, 2016. It is a substantial motion that will be filed by May 1, 2017.

Flores-Williams has shared with Westword additional evidence that he obtained through discovery requests that suggests that the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation, which participated in the July 13 sweep, did not have any process in place by which homeless individuals could retrieve seized items.

In an e-mail thread discussing how to answer questions sent by Westword last year about the sweeps, Parks and Rec spokeswoman Cyndi Karvaski wrote to Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julie Smith: “During the clean-up that took place on July 13, we did not catalogue or store any items for retrieval. In the case of an item found such as a driver’s license or I.D., those items were turned over to the police.”

Courtesy of Jason Flores-Williams

When reporting this story last year, our requests to interview Officer Craven and Karvaski were denied. Instead, all of our requests were routed to DHS spokeswoman Julie Smith. Given what we were able to gather through Smith, we wrote:

“Information about all that occurred during the July 13 sweeps is limited by subjective accounts, what is handed over through open-records requests and what officials knowledgeable about the operation are willing to say about it."

With Flores-Williams’s findings last week, there is a clearer picture of what happened. The lawyer says, “We will be filing a motion for summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment violation arising from the sweep of Arkins Court, July 13, 2016. It is a substantial motion that will be filed by May 1, 2017.”

When asked to comment about this case last week, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Hancock's office declined to discuss the ongoing lawsuit. Flores-Williams recently made a motion to compel Mayor Hancock’s testimony in this case — which was later denied by a federal judge. But the case will continue in federal court.

"After a week of deposing city officials about the homeless sweeps, what really happened has come into focus," Flores-Williams says. "The July 13 sweep of Arkins Court, when the city thought no one was watching, was pure stormtrooper action. The police didn't confer with city officials, they didn't inform the city council, they trashed people's IDs, blankets, papers, photos, family heirlooms — they didn't even pretend to store people's property. As we said in the complaint filed back in August, the city's actions didn't just violate the Constitution, they violated the Magna Carta. What happened along the river on July 13 was a sad day for the city of Denver."

A separate jury trial in county court is also set to begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 4, for three individuals who were cited for violating Denver’s urban-camping ban.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker