We often hear people talk about civil liberties and civil rights and how they are being violated, but do you actually know what they really are and what they afford you as an American? Simply put, they are the personal rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws enacted by Congress. They are designed to recognize the free-decision making required for individual autonomy and provide all Americans equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law regardless of race, religion, gender, age, or other personal characteristics. Aside from the rights and liberties expressly spelled out in the Bill of Rights, they include things like the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
In the U.S., federal and state law has been enacted to prohibit discrimination based on protected-class characteristics (such as race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability, etc.) when it comes to things like education, employment, access to public assistance and facilities, housing, or healthcare, just to name a few. The great thing about our Constitution and our system of laws is that it’s possible to make changes over time to correct or add things the original framers didn’t necessarily take account of or which were against social norms in the 1700s. One big example is slavery, which was still legal in 1776 and widely practiced in the South. That civil rights change only came about because of the Civil War and even then people have had to continue to fight so that people of color would eventually be given the same rights and the same treatment as others. Other civil liberties and civil rights have been secured either by new legislation or court cases providing precedence. But all of these require continued vigilance and enforcement through litigation.
What’s the difference between civil liberties and civil rights?
While they are somewhat similar, civil liberties are different from civil rights in that they are basic freedoms while civil rights focus on the right to be free from discrimination. Many of your civil liberties are guaranteed by placing limits on what the government can do to you, such as limit your freedom of speech or imprison you without proper cause. Other civil liberties include the right to privacy, the right to remain silent, the right to a fair trial, and the right to vote, something that both women and people of color had to fight for as they were not similarly recognized in the original Constitution. Most recently, the LGBTQ community fought to guarantee the right to marry for same-sex couples, a civil liberty the original framers would likely not have ever formally considered.
Civil rights, on the other hand, are designed to provide freedom from discrimination. For example, an employer can’t choose to promote only the men in the company, or layoff people just because they are over 50. Women can no longer be fired or denied promotions for getting pregnant; in fact, employers must accommodate pregnant women in the workplace. Your doctor can’t deny you medical care because they don’t like people of your race. And schools must provide a free education to all children in the U.S. and can’t segregate them into different schools. This is an example of a right that was won by a court case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education.
Fighting for your rights
Fighting for our civil rights is something that we all need to continue to do because our system of governance requires increasing recognition of marginalized people in our society, methods of ensuring fair and equal treatment under the law, and enforcement through lawsuits, because, unfortunately, not everyone follows the law. Much of the civil rights fight happens in the political world, through voting, protests, and other methods of speaking out. The death of George Floyd in May 2020 brought about huge civil rights protests in many U.S. cities. Those protests brought about change and many states have passed new laws, such as requiring the police to wear cameras to accurately record what they do. As lawyers, we support, but cannot directly assist with political efforts. But when it comes to enforcement of the law, we have the tools necessary to sue, for example, employers that continue to find ways to discriminate and government agencies like police departments that continue to violate people’s civil constitutional rights on a daily basis. We are 100% dedicated to using the law to enforce your civil liberties and rights from those who would seek to violate them.
We can fight for your civil liberties and civil rights
If you feel that your civil liberties or civil rights have been violated, we may be able to help. If you believe your rights have been violated, whether it’s discrimination or police misconduct or any other civil rights matter, it’s important for you to contact an attorney that specializes in civil rights as soon as possible. Many claims have a statute of limitations so time is of the essence. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has handled many civil rights cases and we offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case and/or if the attorneys here may be a good match to represent you in your case.
Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form to schedule your free consultation with us today.
Call (720) 515-6165
At some point in your life, you will likely be questioned by the police, whether about something you witnessed or something you are being accused of doing. If you’ve witnessed a car accident or crime of some sort, you should give a statement to the police. But if there is any chance at all that they suspect you of something, it’s important to know your civil rights with regards to answering their questions. If the police believe you have information that they need, they won’t volunteer that information unless they are arresting you and reading your Miranda rights. They often count on people not knowing their rights when in these situations. The main thing to remember is that you have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present, even if you aren’t being arrested.
The police also count on our basic human nature when it comes to answering questions, and in an interrogation room they know all the tricks. Here’s the problem: “When your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can’t contemplate anything else.” (“Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?“, Fast Company) Once someone asks you a question, your brain immediately starts working on the answer whether you want to answer it or not. And our brains can only think about one idea at a time, so the police know that asking questions can mess with our thought processes. So the hard thing is knowing how and when to keep quiet even though your brain is focusing on nothing other than the questions the police are asking you.
The Fourth Amendment
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
When being questioned by the police, the main thing that protects you is the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment. The police need reasonable suspicion if they are going to stop you, whether you are driving or just walking down the street. If they want to arrest you or search your car, they must have probable cause. If they want to search your home, they need a warrant or exigent circumstances. If they don’t have any of these things, they must get consent and that’s why it’s important to know your rights and keep quiet. For example, just because the police pulled you over doesn’t mean they have the right to search your car so they’re going to try to get your consent. They often make it seem like no big deal and say something like, “Hey, do you mind if we take a quick look in your car?” When you think you haven’t done anything wrong, your defenses are down and you aren’t thinking about protecting yourself. And sometimes they will take the assumptive approach and just tell you that they are going to search your car, knowing that a lot of people will just let them. So remember never to consent to a search even if you are innocent. If they try to give you a hard time about it, just tell them that your lawyer told you to never consent to a search without a warrant.
How to act while being questioned by the police
The main thing to do when being questioned by the police is remain calm and respectful. The police will often try to say or do things to make you angry or even scared because they know that’s when people lose control and end up saying things they shouldn’t. Your actions while angry could also give them probable cause to do a search so do everything you can to remain calm and in control. And definitely resist the urge to argue with them because they are very well trained in that art form and it rarely ends well for you.
Once you are calm, simply ask the officer if you are being detained. If they say no, ask if you are free to leave. If they say you are, then simply walk away. Don’t run or do anything to escalate the situation, and don’t taunt them or respond to their taunts. If the police suspect you of doing something or believe that you have information they want, they will continue to try to get you to react in some way that gives them reason to detain you.
What to do if you are detained
Being detained is not the same as being arrested, but that can still happen so it’s vital to know your rights. If they say you are being detained, ask for how long. They can’t detain you for an unreasonable amount of time without probable cause so this is an important question to ask because it lets them know that you are aware of this right. Once they tell you how long you are being detained, ask them why. Again, you have a right to know why they are detaining you and they must have reasonable suspicion to do so.
Another important thing to remember when being detained is that you also have a right to know the officer’s name and badge number. Most Colorado law enforcement agencies require the officer to give you their business card when requested. In addition, they can’t retaliate in any way just because you asked them for this information.
If you are pulled over and then detained, they will often ask if they can search your car. Ask if they have a search warrant and if they say no, calmly say that you do not consent for them to search your car. Once again, it’s important to be respectful and stay in control so that you don’t give them a reason to do a search. When being detained or even just stopped on the street, many states allow officers to do a pat down to be sure you aren’t carrying any weapons, but any search beyond that requires a warrant, exigent circumstances, or your consent — so don’t give that to them.
While you are detained and being questioned by the police, the main thing to remember is that you have the right to remain silent. Aside from telling the officer your name and possibly your address, you don’t have to answer any other questions. If you are being detained after a traffic stop, you are required to provide insurance and registration in addition to your ID, but you are still not required to answer any other questions like where you are going or what you are doing. However, you do have the right to ask questions so don’t be afraid to ask them why they stopped you, why they are questioning you, and if you have the right to leave.
Many innocent people are in prison simply because they started talking to the police. We wrongly believe that only guilty people stay silent and that the innocent will always try to help by answering questions. In fact, the police will use this against you and often say something like, “If you haven’t done anything wrong then you don’t have anything to fear.” They know it’s in our nature to answer questions, especially if we don’t think there’s any harm in doing so. But if the police have detained you then they already suspect that you are guilty of something so don’t give them any help in that regard. If they arrest you, they will often read you your Miranda rights and remind you of that — but not always — so remember that you still have that right even if you are only being detained. It’s also important to remember than choosing to remain silent does not give them probable cause to do a search. So stay calm and shut up. And if for some reason you do decide to talk, you have the right for an attorney to be present so request that before saying anything.
Were your rights violated while being questioned by the police?
If you believe that your rights were violated then it’s important that you contact a civil rights attorney who is experienced in dealing with the police. We work diligently to ensure police accountability and fight those who violate your civil rights. For a free, no-obligation consultation with the Civil Rights Litigation Group, contact our Denver CO law firm today at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form.
What Does the Fourth Amendment Mean? (uscourts.gov)
Know Your Rights (ACLU)
Police misconduct and your civil rights
Police accountability improving in Colorado
While gathering evidence and documentation is necessary for your workplace discrimination case, the first step is often the hardest for most people to take: say something. If you feel you are being discriminated against for any reason, the most important thing is for you to make it officially known to your employer that you feel this way, in writing. Every company has their specific policies, whether it be filing an official report or speaking with a specific person, so if you aren’t sure consult your employee handbook or ask someone in the human resources department to find out what steps you need to take. If you don’t have an HR department and it isn’t specified in your employee handbook, just start with your immediate supervisor. Send an email, a letter, or a fax, however you choose to do it, make sure you complain in writing and make sure that you make it clear you believe you have been discriminator against due to your protected class status.
Workplace discrimination: Make it official
Now, a lot of people are probably wondering why you should let your employer know you feel this way, after all, its probably not the most comfortable conversation you can imagine. But there are many reasons why it is to your advantage to do this. The first reason is that sometimes talking about an issue can help resolve it. It’s possible your employer didn’t realize they (or another employee) were doing something that either made you feel uncomfortable or made you feel you were being treated differently than other employees. If you talk to them about it, they might be willing to address the issue and make things better without getting lawyers involved. This is certainly the easiest and quickest outcome you can hope for and could lead to you enjoying your job again and moving forward.
However, we all know this isn’t always the case so the second reason it’s important to speak up or file an official report is to create a paper trail. Once you file your complaint, any adverse action your employer takes against you after that may count as retaliation, which is illegal. According to the EEOC, “Participating in a complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances.“ Whether it be termination, a demotion, discipline, or even a significant schedule change, it is illegal for them to treat you differently simply because you have raised a complaint. And if these actions do occur, they are great evidence for a discrimination and/or relation lawsuit.
One last thing to consider is that raising a complaint can also help you keep your job longer. Most HR representatives know the laws regarding retaliation, so it is less likely your boss’s boss will approve termination or other adverse employment actions against you once you raise a good-faith complaint. While termination may still be inevitable, this could help bring attention to illegal conduct and provide you and others interested in ensuring an equal opportunity workplace necessary time to gather more evidence.
How do I prove retaliation in workplace discrimination cases?
Once you file your complaint — a protected activity — your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you because of it. However, if you do something wrong, they are still allowed to address that behavior how they normally would (i.e. cutting your pay for being late). “In a case alleging that an employer took a materially adverse action because of protected activity, legal proof of retaliation requires evidence that:
- An individual engaged in prior protected activity
- The employer took a materially adverse action
- Retaliation caused the employer’s action.” (EEOC website)
The last one isn’t easy to prove, but it’s one more reason why you want to make your complaint official, to show a timeline of events. If you are now being punished for something that you and other employees have done in the past without consequence, that can help prove retaliation by helping to show that you are being treated differently than similarly situated others have been treated in the past.
Gathering other evidence for your case
Never forget that the best time to gather evidence on workplace discrimination is while you are still employed. If you happen to get terminated, you still have the right to obtain your employee files (See our previous blog post: You have a right to your personnel files) but that won’t include everything, just official documents like performance reviews, official discipline, or other official actions. So, in addition to filing an official complaint, remember to save anything that could be used to show how you are being treated or patterns in your employer’s behavior. One easy thing to do (so long as you do not violate any company policy) is to blind copy (BCC) your personal email address. This is a great way to have backup copies of any important emails that tend to show discriminations because typically you won’t be able to access your work email account after you are terminated. You can also just forward emails as well. And don’t just keep copies of emails that might show discrimination but also ones where your employer praises you, or ones where other employees thank you for doing something. These can help prove you were a good employee if they suddenly start giving you bad performance reviews or otherwise try to falsely claim that you were a bad employee before you started complaining about discriminations. And if your supervisor gives you cards or notes with praise, save those too. You never know what could end up helping prove your case.
Who can help you fight workplace discrimination?
If you ever feel you are being discriminated against at your job, it’s important to speak to someone as soon as possible. Very often you must file an official complaint before your employer can be made liable and there are important deadlines to filing claims with state or federal investigatory agencies. Finding the right civil rights attorney is key. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many workplace discrimination cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.
Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.
Additional resources on workplace discrimination:
Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues, https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/retaliation-qa.cfm.
Discrimination, Harassment, & Mistreatment, https://cdle.colorado.gov/wage-and-hour-law/termination/discrimination-harassment-mistreatment
Despite the passage of the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pay disparities continue to exist for women, especially women of color. Studies show that women typically earn 86 cents for every earned by a man, with Black women earning 63 cents and Hispanic women earning only 53 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. To help close the pay gap, the Colorado Legislature passed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (EPEWA), which went into effect on January 1, 2021. The intent of the act is to help “… close the pay gap in Colorado and ensure that employees with similar job duties are paid the same wage rate regardless of sex, or sex plus another protected status.”
The EPEWA applies to all public and private employers in Colorado, regardless of how many employees they have.
What does the Equal Pay Act do?
Aside from requiring employers to give their female employees equal pay, the act also gives employees more rights with regards to their compensation:
- Employers can’t prohibit employees from discussing compensation or punish them for doing so.
- Employers can’t ask about a job candidate’s wage history and/or use that wage history to determine an employee’s salary.
- Employers will have to make reasonable efforts to “announce, post, or make known all opportunities for promotion” to all current employees on the same calendar day.
- All job postings must contain salary and benefits information.
- Employers must keep records of job descriptions and wage history for each employee while employed and for two years after termination.
Employers are now prohibited from requiring employees to disclose their wage history and/or using that to determine their compensation. This will give women more opportunities to increase their pay by eliminating the cycle of moving from one low-paying job to another. Also, allowing employees to discuss compensation without retaliation removes the veil of secrecy that often hides male employees receiving higher pay for similar jobs. Basically, it increases transparency and equality.
Exceptions to the Equal Pay Act
While employees are protected against any sex-based pay discrimination for work requiring similar skill, effort and responsibility, the law does permit pay differences arising from:
- A seniority system
- A merit system
- A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production
- The geographic location where the work is performed
- Education, training, or experience reasonably related to the work
- Travel that is a regular and necessary condition of the job
However, the law also states that employers must prove that they “reasonably” relied on any of these exceptions they use when determining salary. If an employer is going to pay a male employee more because he has more education, they have to prove that the additional education makes a difference in job performance.
How the Equal Pay Act helps your claim
One of the main things the Equal Pay Act does is require employers to keep records of all job descriptions and wage histories for the duration of each employee’s employment, and for at least two years after that. This includes hourly rate or salary range, plus all benefits and other compensation offered to the employee. Failure by the employer to maintain these records creates a rebuttable presumption that the records not maintained contained information favorable to the employee’s claim in a lawsuit.
The EPEWA also provides a right of action that allows employees to sue for up to three years of backpay for unlawful pay disparities. Employees may also receive additional damages if an employer is shown not to have acted in “good faith” when determining compensation. Finally, employees can sue for attorney fees, reinstatement, promotions, pay increases, and other legal relief.
What can you do if you believe you have been unfairly paid?
If you feel you have been the victim of pay discrimination, you need to act quickly because there is a two-year window (after you leave your job) when you can file a claim. Beyond that, compile all your employment records, including reviews and pay history. If you don’t have these records, you have the right to request them from your employer (see our post: You have a right to your personnel files).
After that, you need to find an attorney who is experienced in fighting workplace discrimination. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at 720-515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We’ll aggressively fight for you in court and make sure your rights are protected and you are treated fairly.
If you ever feel that your rights have been violated by an employer or think you may need to consider legal action against a current or former employer, it may be important for you to obtain your personnel files. Those files may contain information that helps you prove discrimination, harassment, or other civil rights violations. It could also help you prove that the reasons an employer has provided for adverse employment action against you are untrue. Employers should not make it difficult for you to get that kind of information. While there is no federal law requiring employers to give employees access to personnel files, Colorado does have a law that affords you a right to obtain your personnel file.
In 2016, Colorado passed House Bill 16-1432 that requires private sector employers to allow current employees access to their personnel files once a year, and former employees one-time access after leaving employment. (If you are a public employee, you are already allowed access to your personnel files through the Colorado Open Records Act.)
C.R.S. § 8-2-129, provides, in part:
“Every employer shall, at least annually, upon the request of an employee, permit that employee to inspect and obtain a copy of any part of his or her own personnel file or files at the employer’s office and at a time convenient to both the employer and the employee. A former employee may make one inspection of his or her personnel file after termination of employment. An employer may restrict the employee’s or former employee’s access to his or her files to be only in the presence of a person responsible for managing personnel data on behalf of the employer or another employee designated by the employer. The employer may require the employee or former employee to pay the reasonable cost of duplication of documents.”
It should be noted that this law doesn’t apply to financial institutions chartered and supervised under state or federal law, such as banks, trust companies, savings institutions, and credit unions.
What exactly are personnel files?
The term personnel file is defined in this law as “the personnel records of an employee … that are used or have been used to determine the employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, or employment termination or other disciplinary action.”
However, it does not include all records. Pursuant to the law, your employer is not required to give you access to the following documents:
- Documents required by state or federal law to be maintained in a separate file (such as medical or FLMA documents)
- Confidential reports from the employee’s previous employer
- Documents pertaining to an active criminal investigation
- Documents pertaining to an active disciplinary investigation
- Documents pertaining to an active investigation by a regulatory agency
- Documents identifying a person who made a confidential accusation (as determined by the employer) against the employee requesting the personnel files.
Is my employer required to create or keep these files?
Not necessarily. The new law does not require employers to create or maintain records that they do not already keep in the course of running their business. Some employers may not do performance reviews or keep anything but basic contact and tax information on their employees, as a matter of practice. This law does not require them to change those practices. The statute does not do any of the following:
- Create a private cause of action, (meaning it does not create a new way for you to sue)
- Require employers to create, maintain, or retain personnel files of employees or former employees
- Create any new record retention requirements.
Since this particular law does not require employers to retain any personnel files, it is imperative that you request them as soon as possible. While most companies already have their own policies in place regarding the retention of records (and institutions may be penalized for not retaining records once they are put on notice that litigation is imminent), it is often necessary to review your personnel records to know whether you have a good case or whether litigation is in your best interest. Either way, it is a good practice to review your personnel files after leaving a job.
If you are a current employee — regardless of whether you have any issues at work or not — it’s good practice to review your performance reviews and similar files (promotions, transfers, demotions, etc.). If you are ever written up or have an incident with another employee (unless confidential), request copies of those documents as well. Finally, if your employer has done something to make you think your rights have been violated, let them know — preferably in writing (so that there is a record of your concern). It would be a violation of your rights for them to retaliate against you for this. This could trigger the responsibility for your employer to retain all related records (not just personnel records).
How do I get access to my personnel files?
You ask for them. However, while an employer is required to give you access upon request, you cannot expect an employer to drop everything and provide you this kind of information, at any time, unannounced. An employer may take a reasonable amount of time to respond to a request. The best thing to do is contact them by email so you have a record of all communication. If the employer has a human resources department, contact them first. If there is no HR department, then email your supervisor and/or a person whom you believe has control over personnel files. Many employers have a specific form to fill out for access to your files. Once they send the form to you, return it to them by email/fax (if possible) so that you again have a record of it. If you fill it out on a website, see if there is an option to print the form so you have a record of submitting it.
It is always a good practice to create a paper trail if anything you do might be questioned or otherwise might become evidence in a lawsuit. If you are involved in any kind of dispute with your employer, keep a record of everything. Sometimes you must be the one to document issues, record conversations, or otherwise gather evidence necessary for an attorney to advocate for you later.
Additional details set forth by this law, include:
- Current employees can request copies of personnel files at least annually and an ex-employee can request access to their files once after termination of employment
- The inspection and copying shall occur at the employer’s office.
- The inspection must be at a time that is convenient to both the employee and employer.
- The employer can require the inspection to occur in the presence of another person designated by the employer.
- The employer may require the employee to pay the reasonable costs of duplication of documents.
If the employer refuses to give you access to your personnel files, file a complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor.
What if I disagree with what’s in my personnel files?
If you disagree with something in a performance review or an action taken by your employer, such a disciplinary action, you have the right to submit a response to be included in your personnel file. This does not imply any agreement on their part, but you and the employer may, obviously, see things differently. An employer should keep this as part of the records related to issue that prompted your response. Again, it is always a good idea to put everything in writing so that there’s a record of it
Finding the best civil rights attorney when you have a dispute with an employer
If you have been the victim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment from an employer, you have rights. But it is important to act quickly because certain legal or regulatory deadlines may apply and many claims have a statute of limitations. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at 720-515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We’ll aggressively fight for you in court and make sure your rights are protected and you are treated fairly.
If you feel your civil rights have been violated, you will want to gather evidence to show that you have a case. In fact, obtaining information before you contact a lawyer is a good idea because many attorneys will want to see that information before deciding on whether to take on your case. The type of evidence and information your attorney needs is fairly straightforward, but the more you are prepared, the easier it will be. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a private investigator or CSI fan to gather evidence — everything we’ve listed below is available from public records. Remember: the sooner you get all the evidence to your attorney, the faster the case can be reviewed and then you and your attorney can move forward with your case.
The initial statement
Before you start to gather evidence, the first thing we recommend is to write out a detailed statement for your attorney describing everything about your case, such as:
- What date(s) did the incident(s) occur? If there were multiple incidents, describe each one in a timeline format, starting with the date of each incident, and include all details about each incident by date.
- Everything that was said and done between you and the person(s) involved. Who was involved? What department or company were they working for at the time? What happened during the incident?
- Who was involved? Are there any witnesses and, if so, include their contact information and what you believe they would say if called to provide testimony.
- Identify corroborating evidence. Do you have any corroborating evidence regarding the incident that helps show your version of events is more accurate than othe persons, such as emails, voicemails, texts, video or audio recordings, etc.? Colorado is a one-party consent-to-record state. Generally, people have a right to audio-record as long as one party to a conversation (usually you) consents to the recording. Thus, typically, other people do not need to consent for you to record legally. 
- How were your rights violated? If a police, jail, prison or corporate official violated your rights, identify (to the best of your ability) who that was and what they did that makes you believe the conduct at issue violated your rights.
As time passes, so do the memories of some important details. Writing down this information for your attorney can help you remember and serve as a reminder for you and/or your attorney later.
On that note, see our previous blog post on how long a civil rights case takes.
How to gather evidence regarding injuries and/or medical records
If your case involves injuries, you will want to document your injuries with photographs, video, and/or going to see a qualified medical provider. If you were taken to a hospital or see a medical provider, you can contact them directly and request disclosure of your medical records from the provider’s records department by filling out a HIPAA-Compliant request/release of records. If you were injured while in jail and treated there, you can get medical records either from the Colorado Department of Corrections or the county jail in the city where you were held. Once you call, always ask to be transferred to the records department before you make a records request and fill out the appropriate forms to request your records.
How to gather evidence from the police, sheriff’s department, jail or other law enforcement agency
If you are pursuing a civil rights case that involves the police, you are allowed to gather evidence from law enforcement agency records departments. Typically, criminal justice and/or police records are public information. Police agencies cannot unreasonably withhold this type of information (whether requested by you or someone on your behalf), if you request it properly, including:
- Police or jail records showing arrests, detentions, booking/releases, the time you spent in jail, and/or any incident reports regarding specific incidents or occurrences.
- Video footage of you, including body cameras, surveillance video, or video taken by third parties that was obtained by law enforcement authorities.
- Any police reports on your case, including dispatch records and body camera reports.
How do I get my records from the police department sheriff’s department, jail or other law enforcement agencies
Every state is different, but the first thing you need to do is contact the police agency involved and ask for the records department. Then you will need to fill out a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request (for federal agencies) or a CORA/CCJRA (Colorado Open Records Act/ Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act) request for local police departments to obtain your records. The Colorado Open Records Act (1968), gives the public access to all government records except criminal justice records. Here’s a good article describing the difference between CORA and CCJRA requests and how to file them when you need to gather evidence. Usually, a person requesting records should do so by noting your right to records under CORA and/or the CCJRA, or simply by filling out and submitting the agency forms for such requests.
Occasionally, there may be some fees associated with obtaining these records based on the number of pages you request, or the time required to investigate and locate information. But this usually only occurs when there is a lot of information requested. In many cases you can request a fee waiver. In Colorado, you can get the fee information on the Attorney General’s website and on the CORA website, which has links to the forms that you will need to fill out (see the general CORA request form or the CORA Information and Procedure website for request procedures).
Here are some other agencies you can contact to obtain records and gather evidence:
DORA Public Information and Records: Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see a list of all the CORA Custodians who can help with specific types of records, such as the Civil Rights Division. This website is specific to Colorado.
City and County of Denver Police Records: On this website, you can request many types of police records, such as arrest records and photos, accident and offense reports, 911 recordings, investigation reports, and audio and video recordings. Some of these records require a fee, which is listed on the site, and most can be ordered online. If you are in another county, look up the county name and ‘police records’.
Colorado Court Records: On this site, you can look up court documents in Colorado.
Colorado Department of Corrections: You can look up offender records for the state. On the City and County of Denver website, you can look up inmates being held in Denver jails.
A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies: This website has a complete list of all U.S. agencies, including contact information, for any FOIA requests.
How to find the right attorney
If you believe your rights have been violated, whether it’s discrimination or police misconduct or any other civil rights matter, it’s important for you to contact an attorney who specializes in civil rights cases as soon as possible. Many claims have a statute of limitations, so time is of the essence. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many civil rights cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.
Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.
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