ACLU calls Denver’s parks banishment plan “an unacceptable end run around the Constitution”

A person does not need to be convicted or even arrested on a drug charge to be banned from city parks and the Cherry Creek path.

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The American Civil Liberties Union thinks Denver’s plan to tell suspected drug dealers and users they have to stay away from parks violates due process.

Denver Parks and Rec announced the temporary directive this week after finding some 3,500 needles in city parks this year and getting a lot of complaints and media attention related to open drug dealing along the Cherry Creek Greenway.

If Denver police officers see behavior that looks like drug dealing or using, they can issue a suspension notice that bars that person from city parks and the Cherry Creek path for 90 days. If they violate the suspension notice, they can be charged with violating a parks directive, a municipal offense punishable by up to a year in jail and up to $999 in fines.

A person does not need to be convicted or even arrested on a drug charge to be subject to the directive.

The state ACLU issued a statement Thursday strongly objecting to the policy.

Here’s ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley’s thoughts on the matter:

“Denver’s park banishment directive is an unacceptable end run around the Constitution. There are already laws on the books to deal with illegal drug use. Those laws guarantee due process and basic civil liberties protections against potential abuse. The park banishment directive, which is not authorized by statute or code, empowers police to banish people from public parks based only on an officer’s accusation and nothing more.”

“The banishment takes effect immediately, with no opportunity, other than a possible appeal down the line, to rebut or contest the officer’s accusation. That is a backwards approach, and it contradicts even the most rudimentary understanding of due process and how the law is supposed to work.”

While Cynthia Karvaski, a spokeswoman for Denver Parks and Rec, said the temporary directive had nothing to do with homelessness and specifically is meant to deal with drug-related behavior that makes the parks feel dangerous for other users, the ACLU drew a connection between homeless sweeps earlier this year and the increase in police patrols and private security downtown.

“The only conclusion that can be drawn, given this administration’s policing-first crackdown over the last several months, is that this directive will be another in long line of questionable tactics used by the city under the auspices of ‘perceptions of safety’ to selectively target, harass, and drive out people who are homeless and have nowhere else to go,” the ACLU said.