The Loiter of the Law

Shea Davis and two friends, Katie Koshka and Allie Grenier, were headed home after shooting pool last August 24 when they stopped at the King Soopers store at 88th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard to return a page from Davis's mother. That 35-cent phone call wound up costing the family over $200 and months of legal bickering with the City of Arvada.

While Grenier drove her car to the east side of the parking lot to wait, Davis and Koshka went into the supermarket to use the restroom and the phone. After Davis told her mother she'd be home soon, the teenagers walked over to Grenier's car, where some other girls were chatting. As Koshka and Davis approached, they greeted their friends. Seconds later they were stopped by Arvada police and cited for "unlawful remaining."

"As we were walking out, we said hi to a few friends, and that's what they considered loitering. The fact that we stopped for a second and said hi--that's why we got a ticket. It was unjustified," Davis says. The sixteen-year-old tried to tell the judge that at her December 2 hearing, where she represented herself, but was convicted of a criminal misdemeanor.

Arvada's strict loitering ordinance was designed to address the problem of teens loitering--a generation of teens ago, back in 1977. The regulation prohibits a person from remaining "on the premises of another after permission, license or authority has been terminated or revoked and such person has been so notified."

But all her daughter did was make one phone call, Teddi Davis points out. "You can't work with the city," she says. "It's impossible for anyone to know what the parameters of the law are."

Although about twelve other teens, including Koshka, were cited that evening, Teddi Davis felt her daughter's case warranted special consideration. "She went to use a facility that is provided to the public," she says. "I asked the judge how long you have to be there for it to be 'unlawful remaining,' and he says, 'There is no time limit. It's not defined.' The officer, under oath, testified I would be guilty of loitering if I was sitting in my car adjusting my glasses prior to departing."

According to Arvada records, in the six months between April and October 1998, 222 people between the ages of 13 and 21 were cited for loitering--92 percent of those ticketed. Seventeen-year-olds alone netted 53 citations; in comparison, people between the ages of 22 and 46 were cited a total of 19 times.

The high percentage of teen citations is justified, says Arvada City Councilman Ken Fellman. "People in that age group tend to loiter more," he notes. "The problems are more substantial with that age group."

But attorney Randy Paulsen is concerned that Arvada is picking on teens. "It's a campaign against kids," he says. "If they're rowdy or running off customers, then they have to go. But there's no indication that these kids were being unruly. The lesson these kids learn is that laws aren't applied equally."

Paulsen, who successfully defended Koshka against a loitering charge, was hired by the Davises to appeal Thea's conviction. "I think the ordinance itself, provided notice is given, is okay," he says, "but I think the way it is being applied is unconstitutional."

It's also lucrative for the city. "Thea paid $115," Paulsen points out. "If you multiply that times 250 teenagers, that's profitable."

Arvada assistant attorney Tiffany Wagner defends her town's crackdown on loiterers, teens included. "I don't think we're treating them any differently than adults," she says. "We do this on a complaint basis. The officers aren't going out and looking for this."

Although Arvada police reports show that the officers responded to a complaint from King Soopers manager "Dan Stemp" on August 24, there has never been a person with that name employed at the store. The King Soopers parking lot is a popular hangout for local teens, and it's routinely patrolled by the Arvada police.

"The facts that supported her conviction failed to support a conviction for Miss Koshka," Paulsen says of Davis. "I asked the officer if I went into King Soopers and spent $500 on groceries and then on the way out, if I saw the judge and said hi to him and we began to talk, would I get cited--and she said, 'Of course not.' That's just not right. The process ought to be equally applied. How do you conform your conduct to meet the requirements of the law? Is it the minute you walk out the door? Get your receipt? How do you know?"

"The signs provide sufficient notice if you're not supposed to be there and not patronizing the business," Wagner responds. "Nobody has to come out to tell you."

At Koshka's hearing, Arvada police officer Chanda Gustafson testified that she'd observed the girls for fewer than thirty seconds before she cited them and other teens in the group around Grenier's car.

"Whether it's thirty seconds or thirty minutes, they would have probable cause to cite them," says Arvada police spokeswoman Susan Rossi. "It's a discretionary issue."

Paulsen thinks the cops should start exercising a little more discretion in their citations. "If they started citing adults, that shopping center would be a ghost town," he says. "The unfair thing about this whole mess is that the municipal court is the only experience kids get to see. In school they learn about the Constitution and all their rights, and then we pull this crap. You walk into this buzz saw, and you're not treated fairly. They end up distrusting police officers, judges and district attorneys."

After Paulsen told the court that Thea Davis was now pleading not guilty, Judge Boyle dismissed the case on February 5 and refunded court costs to the Davises. "It's not the statute that's the problem; it's the way the judges are applying it," says Paulsen. "I think Judge Boyle needs to go back and take Constitutional Law 101."

Her daughter's case is closed, but Teddi Davis says her fight against Arvada's loitering ordinance goes on. "I am going to continue to work to change this," she says. "I don't want to let it drop because my daughter finally received the justice she deserved initially.

"I wanted Thea to look at the law as an ally--that good people won't get in trouble. I'm trying to raise my kids to be upstanding citizens, and we're creating an environment where people are afraid of the police," she says. "If you're rich, you get off, and if you're underage, you're screwed. That's what the City of Arvada is saying."

Thea Davis, who for two months had a criminal record along with her 3.7 grade point average, says she's learned her lesson: "I avoid Arvada as much as I possibly can.

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Steve Alvarez

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