University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name American Friends Serv. Comm. v. City and County of Denver PN-CO-0002
Docket / Court 1:02-cv-00740 ( D. Colo. )
State/Territory Colorado
Case Type(s) Policing
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On March 28, 2002, the plaintiffs, the American Friends Service Committee, along with the ACLU and other activist organizations, filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and under federal regulations in the United States Court for the District of Colorado, Denver Division against the ... read more >
On March 28, 2002, the plaintiffs, the American Friends Service Committee, along with the ACLU and other activist organizations, filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and under federal regulations in the United States Court for the District of Colorado, Denver Division against the City and County of Denver. The plaintiff, represented by the ACLU and private counsel, asked the court for injunctive and declaratory relief, claiming that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated, as well as violations of federal regulations and the state constitution. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the maintenance of "Spy Files" on leftist groups in Colorado for lawful, peaceful, non-criminal activities and falsely labeling the groups "criminal extremist" was a violation of the constitutional rights of its members to petition the government for redress of grievances, the freedom of association, and a misappropriation of federal funds in electronically storing this information.

On March 11, 2002, the ACLU published the partial contents of leaked "Spy Files" that the Denver police had been maintaining on several organizations and individuals. The ACLU petitioned the Mayor of Denver to investigate take four specific actions to stem the dissemination and expunge the Spy Files. The Mayor held a news conference in which he claimed that the Spy Files resulted from an overly broad interpretation of the City's policy on the maintenance of criminal intelligence.

The city's policy mirrored a federal regulation (28 C.F.R § 23.20) that prohibited the police from maintaining criminal intelligence electronic records that would violate citizens' constitutional rights, absent (1) a direct relationship to criminal conduct, and (2) a reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal activity.

The disclosed records detailed the protest activities of individuals not only in Colorado, but lists of protest and political beliefs of persons from outside the state. The Spy Files also labeled several organizations as criminal extremists (notably including the American Friends Service Committee, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947). The plaintiffs alleged that this information was false, that the organizations were not criminally extremist, and that there were statements of the political beliefs of the members that the City had misconstrued were defamatory. Most importantly, the plaintiffs claimed that criminal intelligence files were being maintained on them for lawful activity that was not connected to criminal conduct.

Defendantes moved and were permitted to remove the case to the United State District Court for the District of Coloradoon April 16, 2002. Thereafter, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, which was denied by the Court (Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer) on October 17, 2002.

On April 17, 2003, the case was settled without class certification being determined. In the settlement agreement, the City of Denver agreed to adopt a more specific and detailed policy (included in the Clearinghouse collection as Appendix to Settlement Agreement), and to review and purge all criminal intelligence files in violation of the new policy. The city also agreed to furnish copies to all individuals and organizations on which the city maintained criminal intelligence files. Lastly, the city agreed to contact entities to which it had distributed copies of the criminal intelligence files and notify them of the purge. Compliance of the agreement was subject to an audit for a two-year period.

On August 05, 2004, the Court (Judge Edward Nottingham) ordered that the City pay the plaintiffs attorney's fees in the amount of $469,018.63. The case was dismissed with prejudice thereafter.

Blase Kearney - 07/09/2012

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Freedom of speech/association
Right to travel
Content of Injunction
Goals and Timekeeping
Failure to train
Records Disclosure
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Denver
Plaintiff Description Organizations and Individuals on which the Denver Police maintained criminal intelligence files
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2003 - 2005
Case Closing Year 2004
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Federal Enforcement of Police Reform
By: Stephen Rushin (University of Illinois College of Law, University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program )
Citation: 82 Fordham Law Review 3189 (2014)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Modern-Day Red Squads: Police Surveillance of First Amendment Activity
By: Bryan Pennington (Washington University in St. Louis)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

  Panopticism for Police: Structural Reform Bargaining and Police Regulation by Data-Driven Surveillance
By: Mary D. Fan (University of Washington)
Citation: Forthcoming, 87 Washington L. Rev. __ (2012).
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  What Happens When Police Are Forced to Reform?
Written: Nov. 13, 2015
By: Kimbriell Kelly, Sarah Childress and Steven Rich (Frontline/Post)
Citation: Washington Post (Nov. 13, 2015)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

1:02−cv−00740 (D. Colo.) 11/05/2004
PN-CO-0002-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint 03/28/2002
PN-CO-0002-0001 PDF | Detail
Settlement Agreement 04/17/2003
PN-CO-0002-0002 PDF | Detail
Document Source:
Appendix to Settlement Agreement 04/17/2003
PN-CO-0002-0003 PDF | Detail
Document Source:
Judges Nottingham, Edward Willis Jr. (D. Colo.)
Shaffer, Craig B. (D. Colo.) [Magistrate]
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lipinsky de Orlov, Lino S. (Colorado)
PN-CO-0002-0001 | PN-CO-0002-0002 | PN-CO-0002-0003 | PN-CO-0002-9000
Silverstein, Mark (Colorado)
PN-CO-0002-0001 | PN-CO-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Matise, Brian Keith (Colorado)
Rice, Thomas Sullivan (Colorado)
PN-CO-0002-0002 | PN-CO-0002-0003 | PN-CO-0002-9000
Sharoff, Stan M (Colorado)
Other Lawyers None on record

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