More Lawyers Join Homeless Class Action Showdown in Denver

Homeless encampments along  Denargo Street in north Denver that were swept in January.
Homeless encampments along Denargo Street in north Denver that were swept in January. Brandon Marshall
Killmer, Lane & Newman, a well-known civil-rights law firm, has joined a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of homeless individuals suing the City of Denver over its sweeps of homeless encampments.

David Lane, a partner of the firm, calls the case an “extremely uphill battle,” but is convinced that he can help Jason Flores-Williams, the attorney who filed the case, prove that the city violated the Constitution when it conducted sweeps and enforced its anti-camping ordinance.

“The rich and powerful in Denver have decided that homelessness is bad for business,” Lane says, "and Denver has dutifully fallen into line behind their rich and powerful friends and criminalized homelessness. It's a difficult [case] that we face, but there are various, discrete aspects of it which are very winnable.”

For example, Lane cites evidence of Denver Police taking belongings of homeless individuals without any due process, which could violate the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments.

District Court Judge William Martinez suggested that Flores-Williams add a co-counsel to the case when he granted class certification on April 27 (which made the nine homeless plaintiffs in the case representative of all 3,600 homeless individuals in Denver). In his brief, Martinez wrote that, while he admired Flores-Williams's passion for his clients, he questioned the attorney's ability to take on such an extensive case all by himself, and “strongly encouraged” him to find other lawyers to join him.

Lane helped Flores-Williams draft a temporary restraining order back in December when videos surfaced of Denver Police officers confiscating tents and blankets from individuals experiencing homelessness during the winter.

The restraining order stipulated that police could not confiscate survival gear, and within 24 hours of Lane's calling the city and threatening to file the motion, Mayor Michael Hancock issued a public directive telling police officers that they could not take items from the homeless while enforcing the city's camping ban.

In a separate lawsuit in county court, Flores-Williams tried to defend three individuals — two of whom were featured in the viral video of police confiscating their blankets — against charges of illegal camping. A jury upheld those charges after a dramatic and contentious two-day trial in April.

As for the ongoing class action lawsuit, Flores-Williams says that the case — because it's in federal court — will have national implications for how cities treat their homeless populations.

Lane says that he is happy to join the case, and that when it comes to fighting for the underdog, "that's what our firm is all about."
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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