Homeless Sweeps: Mayor Hancock Avoiding Calls to Testify in Class Action Suit

UPDATE: On Wednesday, March 29, a federal district court judge ruled that a motion to compel Mayor Hancock's testimony in the class action lawsuit was denied. According to Jason Flores-Williams, the lawyer who is representing nine homeless plaintiffs in their suit against Denver, "This means we can bring [a motion to compel] back after the deposition of Evan Dreyer...The issue is whether we can get from Mr. Dreyer, the Mayor's Deputy chief of staff, all we need regarding the Mayor's decisions and comments concerning the homeless sweeps. If we can, then there will be no need to refile a motion to compel. If it is somehow clear that we cannot obtain the information we need from Dreyer, then we will refile a motion to compel."

Since August, Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver have been fighting a class action lawsuit in federal court in which nine plaintiffs allege that the city violated their constitutional rights when it conducted sweeps of the homeless. The plaintiffs claim that, at various times, their possessions were trashed without due process and that the sweeps violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments.

The case is one of two being represented by civil-rights attorney Jason Flores-Williams, who is also defending three clients in county court who were cited for violating Denver’s urban-camping ban this past winter.

As part of the federal class action case, Flores-Williams has called upon Mayor Hancock to testify — a call that is being refused by the mayor and Denver’s city attorneys. The city has filed a protective order that prevents Hancock from providing testimony in the case.

The protective order came in response to a motion that Flores-Williams filed on Wednesday, March 22. In it, Flores-Williams lays out his reasons for believing that the mayor is essential to the case:

“More than any other city official, Mayor Hancock has engaged himself in Camping Ban policy and enforcement—aka the homeless sweeps—by issuing orders for it to temporarily cease, making repeated comments to media, personally explaining to media why certain problems occurred, and even by appointing city officials that have been involved in downtown urban development.

The Mayor could have delegated and distanced himself. He could have let others in his administration forge policy and make statements to the media. He could have issued orders through back channels. Chief example is the order to the Denver Police Department on December 12, 2016 to stop seizing blankets and tents from homeless persons until April 2017. Instead, he issued the order via press release and then went on a media tour to explain it to the public. Mayor Hancock has chosen to be on the front lines of this issue, so that he has made himself an essential witness.”
Mayor's Office spokeswoman Amber Miller says that the city will not discuss an ongoing case.

But in the city's protective order, also filed on March 22, Denver city attorneys make the case that Hancock did not have personal knowledge of many of the enforcement operations that are mentioned in the plaintiff's suit.

According to the city's motion, "Mayor Hancock is a high governmental official. Plaintiffs are unable to show that the Mayor has personal knowledge pertaining to the material allegations contained in the Amended Complaint that cannot be obtained from another source. Thus, under the circumstances of this case it would be unduly burdensome for the Mayor to be required to appear for a deposition, and good cause exists to issue a protective order; no extraordinary circumstances justify burdening the Mayor with appearing for a deposition."

A hearing that will determine Mayor Hancock's involvement in the case is set for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, in the U.S. District Court of Colorado.

Follow Westword news for continuing developments in the trial.
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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