The City of Denver and the American Civil Liberties Union reached a settlement on May 16 regarding a case where a citizen was arrested and sent to jail for requesting a Denver cop’s business card ("Watch and Learn," June 8, 2006).
On April 8, 2006, Evan Herzoff was walking home past the parking lot near 14th Avenue and Pearl Street when he came across officers arresting a man. Herzoff – a University of Colorado at Denver student and a volunteer with CopWatch, an organization that monitors police activity – assessed what was happening and then began videotaping the arrest. An officer approached him and demanded his identification and then told him he was free to go. When Herzoff subsequently asked for that officer’s business card, he was arrested and forced to spend a night in jail on a charge of trespassing, which was later dismissed.
Of course, the exchange was caught on tape.
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As a result, the city will pay Herzoff $8,500, and the Denver Police Department will issue a training bulletin to all officers, stating that: “No retaliatory action shall be taken against any member of the community based on the request for identification.” (The deal must still be approved by the Denver City Council before it is official.)
Following Herzoff’s arrest, the ACLU had sent a demand letter to the city that resulted in months of negotiation regarding the amount of compensation and specific language of the police bulletin. ACLU attorney Taylor Pendergrass said that while it is Denver Police policy to give a business card when asked, the department did not have a policy that explicitly forbade retaliation against an individual requesting the information.
According to Pendergrass, the city denies any wrongdoing in the agreement. “The right of citizens to ask their police officers for their name and badge number is not only protected by the First Amendment, it is also one component of rebuilding the community’s trust in the Denver Police Department …,” Pendergrass said. “We commend the City of Denver for its willingness to reach a settlement in this case without the need for a lawsuit, and we are hopeful that the training bulletin and public attention to this issue will send a clear signal that it is not only unconstitutional, but counterproductive, for DPD officers to retaliate against Denver citizens who simply want to know the identity of the officer with whom they are interacting.” – Jessica Centers