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City appeals after judge rules Denver must give at least 48 hours notice prior to homeless sweeps

The city of Denver said it plans to appeal the temporary ruling.

DENVER — The city of Denver has appealed a temporary ruling from a federal judge which ordered the city to give at least 48 hours notice prior to sweeping homeless camps, even if the city deems the camp a public safety hazard. 

Documents filed Tuesday, a day after the initial ruling, say the judge's order limits Denver’s ability, through its departments, to address significant and imminent public health, environmental and safety risks related to conditions in large-scale encampments. 

"Due to the serious and significant public health, environment and safety concerns implicated by the district court’s order—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic—Denver seeks an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction," the document says. 

U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez only partially sided with the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit brought by the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud and other people experiencing homelessness. 

The defendants include the city of Denver and specifically city officials including Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Public Health Director Bob McDonald. 

"What we have seen the city do is they created their rationale after the fact and what Judge Martinez is saying is you have to actually have empirical evidence that proves that this is necessary and that has to be published publicly before you can do a sweep," said Anna Cornelius, an organizer with Denver Homeless Out Loud. 

RELATED: Denver Homeless Out Loud challenges sweeps as 'unconstitutional' in new lawsuit

While Judge Martinez did not go as far as to stop the sweeps during the pandemic as CDC guidelines suggest, he did write in his order that it seemed city officials were trying to avoid encountering protestors by not giving any notice for past sweeps. 

"Moreover, the Court also finds that the decision of DDPHE managers to conduct the sweeps at issue in the manner that they did were not based on actual, scientific, or evidence-based, public health concerns," wrote Judge Martinez in his decision. "While these indeed were the aspirational justifications articulated by Lee and McDonald, the Court finds that in fact the decision to conduct these area restrictions with effectively no advance notice to the residents of the affected encampments were actually based, as Plaintiffs’ counsel has argued, on the possibility of additional (and vociferous) public scrutiny and the threat of First Amendment protected activity, and these managers’ preference to avoid same." 

Judge Martinez also upheld a previous settlement that says the city needs to give seven days notice for large-scale sweeps. 

RELATED: 3 years later, Denver homeless and the city reach settlement in lawsuit over sweeps

In an emailed statement from the city, they wrote “today’s ruling dangerously ties the hands of city officials and prevents us from acting swiftly in the case of a public health or safety emergency or significant environmental impacts, which we unfortunately see with some frequency in large encampments." 

The city says they will likely appeal this ruling. 

The order is temporary as the case moves through the courts, but federal cases can take years to resolve. 

RELATED: Denver extends contracts to continue housing homeless in hotels during COVID-19 crisis

RELATED: Metro area mayors working on plan to address homelessness

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