Denver Police to Stop Files on Protesters

AP, Apr. 18, 2003
http://www.nytimes.com/

DENVER, April 17 — The police will end their longtime practice of keeping secret files on protesters like Quakers and Roman Catholic nuns under a proposed lawsuit settlement announced today.

The American Civil Liberties Union and city officials submitted the accord to federal court for approval. The A.C.L.U. sued after learning that the Police Department had gathered intelligence files on more than 3,400 individuals and groups.

“The end of this political spying enhances the professionalism of the Police Department and is a victory for the First Amendment,” said Mark Silverstein, state legal director for the civil liberties group.

The changes outlined in the settlement have been in force since October, said the city attorney, J. Wallace Wortham Jr. The police will not collect information on protesters unless “there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” Mr. Wortham said.

City officials have conceded that the police went too far when they started documenting individuals and groups about three years ago. It was condemned by Mayor Wellington E. Webb, who was a subject of surveillance when he was a young protester.

People named in the files were allowed to view their information in the fall. Many who waited for up to an hour to see their files received papers that smelled of marker ink where the police had deleted names.

The A.C.L.U. said that among the groups listed as criminal extremists in the files were the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that has won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Chiapas Coalition, a loose-knit group that supports the rights of Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico, the site of a guerrilla uprising. Amnesty International was listed as a civil disobedience group.

Another file, on a group of teenagers called the Trench Coat Mafia, was put together six months after the shootings at nearby Columbine High School in 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the students who fatally shot 12 other students and a teacher before killing themselves, had been rumored to be in the group.

The agreement does not resolve what will be done with the files after the information is purged from police computers. The A.C.L.U. wants the information given to the Colorado Historical Society. The police want to destroy the files.

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