Tuesday, November 29, 2005

DENVER — Deborah Davis’ refusal to show her identification to federal police at a bus stop has turned her into a cause celebre among privacy-rights advocates.

Mrs. Davis, a 50-year-old Arvada, Colo., grandmother of five, was handcuffed, placed in a police car and ticketed for two petty offenses by Federal Protective Services officers who were checking passengers’ identification Sept. 26 aboard a Regional Transportation District (RTD) bus at the Federal Center stop.

She faces a maximum of 60 days in jail. First, however, federal prosecutors must decide whether to pursue the charges before her hearing Dec. 9 in U.S. District Court here.

“We have a couple of decisions to make — whether to proceed with the charges, whether to proceed with different charges or whether to drop the charges,” said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver.

He said prosecutors would decide how to proceed early next week.

The American Civil Liberties Union has agreed to take her case if it goes to court, and she also is represented by lawyers from the same Denver law firm that defended NBA star Kobe Bryant last year on sexual-assault charges.

Not bad for a woman who’s looking for work after losing her job last month as a result of the confrontation with federal police.

It started when Mrs. Davis began commuting to her new job in Lakewood aboard an RTD bus that made a regular stop at the Denver Federal Center. Each time, federal police boarded the bus and asked passengers for ID.

Mrs. Davis produced her driver’s license once, but it rankled her. The next few times, she begged off, saying she had left her ID at home. Finally, an officer told Mrs. Davis that she would need to show proof of her identity the following Monday.

Several things bothered her about the ID checks. She wasn’t entering a federal building or even leaving the bus. The officers barely glanced at the passengers’ ID cards and didn’t check them against a master list. The whole exercise struck her as “just Big Brother watching you,” she said.

“I spent the weekend trying to decide if the Constitution had changed since I was in eighth grade, and I decided it hadn’t,” said Mrs. Davis, who has a son serving in the Army in Iraq.

The following Monday, after the officers boarded the bus, one of them “asked me if I had my ID with me, and I said, ‘Yes,’ ” she recalled. “Then he asked me if he could see it and I said, ‘No.’ ”

Mrs. Davis had been talking on her cell phone when the officers approached. “One of them grabbed my cell phone and threw it to the back of the bus,” she said.

“The next thing I knew, two big policemen jerked me out of my seat, handcuffed me and threw me in the back of the police car,” Mrs. Davis said. “They wrote the tickets and threw them on the ground.”

Carl Rusnok, spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the Federal Protective Service, said the practice of checking IDs at the bus stop was instituted after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

The cursory bus check is part of a “multilayered security system,” he said. “There are 9,000 federal facilities in the country, and virtually every one of them requires an ID check.”

Bill Scannell, a privacy-rights activist who started a Web site last week about the incident (www.papersplease.org/davis/) said it has received more than 2 million hits since Thanksgiving. Some backers have called Mrs. Davis the “Rosa Parks of the Patriot Act generation,” he said.

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