An unhoused Denver resident named Sara, left, borrows a cart from her neighbor Marcio Johnson, 43, as Sara packs up her belongings to move from an encampment along the 1300 block of Pearl Street in Denver on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A federal judge has ordered city officials in Denver to give seven-day notices before clearing out illegal homeless encampments in the city.

Judge William Martinez ruled on Monday that Denver must give a week’s notice before each sweep, regardless of the size of the encampments, after finding out that city officials had not done so before several high-profile sweeps last year to avoid growing protests, The Denver Post reported.

Martinez said the decision to clear the encampments with “effectively no advance notice to the residents were actually based, as plaintiffs’ counsel has argued, on the possibility of additional public scrutiny and the threat of First Amendment protected activity, and these managers’ preference to avoid the same.”

The ruling stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Colorado last October by attorney Andy McNulty to stop the sweeps. Martinez’s ruling was announced as the lawsuit makes its way to trial.

McNulty said not giving notice was a “damning indictment” of the city’s practices, saying officials were “so afraid of people showing up to criticize their actions that they hid it from the public.”

The order also requires city officials to tell McNulty and the City Council member who represents the district when, where and why the sweeps will happen.

Martinez also said officials can clear out an encampment with a warning no less than two days in advance in certain emergencies, but that doing so would require approval from the state Department of Public Health and Environment and written justification from the city.

The ruling was criticized by Michael Strott, spokesman for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

“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,” Strott said.

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