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Denver officers sue over vaccine requirement, argue health leaders overstepped authority

An August public health order requires the officers to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 30 or face termination.

DENVER — Seven Denver Police (DPD) officers who face losing their job if they don't get a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this month are suing over the public health order that requires them to get the vaccine.

The health order was put in place Aug. 2 by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) requires people in certain jobs to be vaccinated by Sept. 30. Denver Police officers are included, and Chief Paul Pazen, who's named in the lawsuit, put the requirement in place for the department.

RELATED: Denver's COVID vaccine deadline for city employees is 2 weeks away

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and DDPHE Executive Director Bob McDonald are also named as defendants in the suit filed by the seven officers listed below.

  • Jonathan Christian
  • Dewayne Rodgers
  • Bart Stark
  • Rich Ziegler
  • Nick Elliott
  • David Curtiss
  • Les Tucker

The officers argue that the "order is nothing more than a series of rules” and said that McDonald does not have the authority to issue those rules.

They're asking the court to review the order to determine whether it is indeed lawful.

"You know, we find the filing today, the injunction to be regretful and very disappointing," said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock Friday. "But we are dealing with one hundred years of history where in the midst of a public health crisis, governments have the ability to issue vaccine mandates to save lives. And that's what we were doing here. That was our overriding objective."

He added that they expected a lawsuit eventually. 

"We were sued when we issued the stay at home order," he said. "We were sued when we issue the mask mandate..."

While there is no set date yet for a hearing, Hancock said he is confident that the case will go the way of the city and county. 

"I don't know what more we need to say about the numbers in terms of the number of people who are at risk of infection, at risk of hospitalization and dying, who are unvaccinated today for people to understand, for these plaintiffs to understand that it's incredibly important for them for the benefit of not only themselves but their families and the community they serve and the people who pay their salaries to get vaccinated so that they can remain safe," he said.

RELATED: Denver requires all school staff to receive COVID vaccine

9NEWS Legal expert Whitney Traylor said he also believes the mandate will be upheld in a court, considering other court cases. 

"...but if you look at the court precedent by these various independent judges, which is being upheld in these various court of appeals all the way up to the US Supreme Court, the courts are saying that, yes, the personal liberties that are at stake, the public good and the health factors are outweigh those personal liberties," Traylor said. 

However, he added that there may be a stronger argument for public employees instead of private employees.

"I think there would be a stronger argument just from the due process argument because they're public employees and so they have certain safeguards that private employees may not always have," he said. "So that will certainly be a factor."

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