Denver City Council will vote Monday on whether to pay $825,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a man jailed for three days after he presented an expired, laundry-damaged ID at Denver International Airport.
The California ID was not a fake but police at DIA accused Juan Valenzuela of forging a government ID, a felony, even after Valenzuela presented other identification, including his Social Security card, his work photo ID, and a firearms certification card, according to a 2022 federal court ruling. He was employed as a state prison guard. Three police officers arrested him anyway. Denver prosecutors, three months later, dropped the charge against him.
But, because the Colorado Department of Corrections cannot employ anybody facing a felony forgery charge, Valenzuela lost his job following the arrest and stayed unemployed for five months. His attorneys, in a lawsuit filed in federal court, emphasized that his family struggled to pay rent and living expenses.
A federal court in 2022 awarded Valenzuela $500,000, including $300,000 in punitive damages.
The 13 members of the Denver City Council are scheduled to vote on a resolution to pay the $825,000, reflecting legal costs, based on negotiations between Valenzuela’s attorneys and the city attorneys, according to a resolution posted on the council’s consent agenda.
“The city attorney decides what to pay for the settlement. In theory, the council could say ‘No.’ But that is probably not likely. They have to defer to the litigation process determined by the city attorney’s office,” city council spokesman Robert Austin said.
This incident happened in February 2017 when Valenzuela was at DIA, moving through security checks. A federal Transportation Security Administration agent concluded the driver’s license he presented was a fake, even though the anti-tampering portion of the card was intact, Valenzuela said in his lawsuit. The agent called Denver police officers. The officers asked Valenzuela why his ID card was damaged, and he told them a washing machine was to blame, the lawsuit said. But the police arrested him anyway on suspicion that he committed the felony of forging a government ID.