Class-action lawsuit by Denver homeless over sweeps heads to federal court

DENVER -- The first hearing in a class-action lawsuit filed by the homeless against the city of Denver was held at the federal courthouse on Wednesday morning.

The homeless say the city's so-called sweeps earlier this year violated their constitutional rights.

The judge during Wednesday's hearing offered advice to help streamline the process. That included dismissing claims against individual defendants such as Mayor Michael Hancock because can claim individual immunity.

Instead of focusing the lawsuit against the city, the attorney for the homeless plaintiffs said he will make the suggested changes by the end of the week.

He said his goal is to help the homeless he believes whose rights were violated.

Homeless camps have become a common scene across the city, with them popping up on sidewalks and in parks.

Local businesses and residents complained, upset over littering, fights and drug use. That prompted the sweeps by the city.

But during the sweeps, many of the homeless complained about losing their tents and other belongings. The American Civil Liberties Union said the city went too far.

It said it's one thing to make arrests for assault or drug use, but it's another to ban sleeping in public parks.

"That is the job of the city to try to find the balance and I think they have tipped over in favor of the businesses and done nothing for the civil liberties of those that are homeless," ACLU spokeswoman Denise Maes said.

Nine of the homeless are part of the lawsuit.

City officials said the sweeps are well within the law, using the park curfew ordinance that was put in place in 2012 to clear out the camps.