News

Civil-Rights Lawsuit Filed Over Treatment of Muslim-Ban Protesters at DIA

Civil-Rights Lawsuit Filed Over Treatment of Muslim-Ban Protesters at DIA
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLC
A civil-rights lawsuit and motion for a preliminary injunction have been filed in relation to protests at Denver International Airport against President Donald Trump's controversial executive order about immigration, which bans all refugees from entering the country for 120 days, indefinitely restricts U.S. entry by Syrians, and forbids visits by citizens of seven nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for ninety days.

Attorney David Lane accuses authorities at the airport of violating the rights of demonstrators by claiming that "there's no First Amendment activity allowed at the terminal at DIA."

The lawsuit's plaintiffs are Eric Verlo and Nazli McDonnell, while the defendants are the City and County of Denver and two members of the Denver Police Department: Commander Antonio "Tony" Lopez and Sergeant Virginia Quinones, both of whom are identified in the document as being "responsible for security at Denver International Airport’s Jeppesen Terminal."

Lopez is front and center in three videos that are being used by the plaintiffs to support their filing — and in the last of them, he tells protesters unhappy with what they see as his efforts to restrict their right to free expression, "We can debate that in court." The clips are included below, along with the aforementioned suit and motion.

click to enlarge COURTESY OF KILLMER, LANE & NEWMAN, LLC
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLC
Killmer, Lane & Newman LLC, Lane's law firm, is taking the lead on the court actions.

However, Lane stresses that the action falls under the umbrella of the Lawyers Civil Rights Coalition, a recently formed organization that's "devoted to stopping the onslaught of coming civil rights violations anticipated under the Trump administration," according to an LCRC release.

Lane says edicts that all protests stop at the terminal is unconstitutional, and in his view, they went to absurd extremes. "One guy asked, 'Can I even hold up a copy of the Constitution?'" he notes. "And Commander Lopez said, 'No.' But the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that protest activity is permissible at airports. They can't give a blanket order that there is no protest allowed, and that's essentially what this commander did — and then he threatened to arrest everyone. He told them they could have their protest on Tower Road, which is literally in the middle of nowhere."

In response, Lane continues, "our clients weren't sure how to proceed — but they were intimidated enough that they don't want to go back to the airport and continue any protests, because they've been threatened with arrest. So we filed this civil-rights lawsuit."

click to enlarge Photos from the late January protest of the Trump administration Muslim ban appear courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLC. Additional images, videos and more below. - COURTESY OF KILLMER, LANE & NEWMAN, LLC
Photos from the late January protest of the Trump administration Muslim ban appear courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLC. Additional images, videos and more below.
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLC
DIA and other airports can institute "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on free speech," Lane acknowledges. "But a complete ban on all protests is not considered by the U.S. Supreme Court to be a reasonable time, place and manner restriction. You can't ban all free speech. You can limit the number of people they'll allow inside the terminal; you can limit to a degree where people stand. But they're claiming people can stand on the big cement area between the Westin Hotel and DIA, which means that if you happen to stay at the Westin, you might see a protest, or if you're on an airport train, you might see it. And that's not acceptable."

It's Lane's hope that the courts will move forward quickly on the motion for a preliminary injunction; he'd like to have a hearing scheduled for as soon as next week. In the meantime, he says, the filings are "part of a zero-tolerance-for-civil-rights-violations policy that we are invoking under the Trump administration."

He doubts it will be the last. "I'm sure we'll be very busy over the next four years," he says.

Look below to see the aforementioned videos, followed by the complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction.




Nazli McDonell and Eric Verlo v. City and County of Denver, et. al.

Muslim Ban Motion for a Preliminary Injunction


KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts