ACLU Defends Bus Rider Who Refused to Show ID

A Colorado woman faces misdemeanor charges for refusing to show an ID to Department of Homeland Security guards while riding a public bus. Guards routinely seek ID before the bus goes through a federal office complex in Denver. Deborah Davis says she's resisting unconstitutional intrusions on her personal liberty.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

And now another story about buses, this one from Denver, where a Colorado woman is taking on the Department of Homeland Security. Deborah Davis says federal guards boarded the public bus she was riding and asked her to show identification. She refused and now faces federal misdemeanor charges, and every week day, the guards continue boarding the same bus and asking other passengers to show their ID. NPR's Jeff Brady has our report.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

Bus route 100 runs through the middle of a sprawling complex of government office buildings called the Denver Federal Center. At the entrance, the bus stops. A guard contracted to the Department of Homeland Security boards and asks everyone for their identification.

Unidentified Man: Show us your IDs, please.

BRADY: Riders hold up their ID as the guard walks through the bus aisle.

Unidentified Man: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

BRADY: The entire process takes less than a minute. Rider Eddie Warren(ph) says he doesn't like to show his ID to the guards.

Mr. EDDIE WARREN: Well, since you're on a public transportation, I don't see why you should have to be required. You're not asking to go into the Federal Center. You know, you're trying to get home or to work. So I don't see why it's necessary for you to show ID.

BRADY: But Warren says he does show his ID because he doesn't want to cause problems and make himself late for work. Guards check IDs for about 2,000 people a day, and they've been doing that for 10 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. Deborah Davis was the first to refuse.

Ms. DEBORAH DAVIS: That morning, Monday morning, I got on the bus and the guard asked me if I had an ID and I said yes. And he said, `Can I see it?' and I said, `No.' And he said, `Well, then you have to get off,' and I said, `No, I'm not going to get off.'

BRADY: Davis decided to defend what is an important principle to her. Checkpoints don't belong on public bus routes in a free country. She was arrested and cited for failing to obey the signs that tell visitors to the Federal Center that they may be asked to show ID. She says she didn't want to get off at the Center; she was just taking a public bus to get to a destination on the other side, and guards barely even look at the IDs. So she wonders how this is making the Federal Center more secure.

Ms. DAVIS: It was more like a lesson in compliance because they didn't take my ID. They didn't write down any names. They didn't compare my ID to any kind of no-ride list which doesn't exist.

BRADY: Dennis O'Connor is with the Department of Homeland Security agency called the Federal Protective Service which guards the Denver Federal Center. He says requiring identification does provide some security.

Mr. DENNIS O'CONNOR (Federal Protection Service, Department of Homeland Security): It's a first layer. It's a minor layer of security, but it does give us interaction with the people to begin with.

BRADY: If someone behaves oddly, guards might pick up on that during the brief encounter. O'Connor says his agency has the difficult job of balancing two competing interests, the safety of employees in the Federal Center and the right of the public to ride the bus through it.

Mr. O'CONNOR: Showing of ID is the minimal inconvenience that is possible while still fulfilling those two needs.

BRADY: O'Connor says the FPS began requiring ID about 10 years ago.

Mr. O'CONNOR: The complex was designed prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, and after the bombing, each of our facilities received an in-depth security evaluation. And after that evaluation, it was determined that the best way to secure that facility was to make it a closed facility.

BRADY: O'Connor says the government could have forced buses to go around the 670-acre office park, but that would have inconvenienced thousands of people. O'Connor says it made more sense to allow buses to run through the center as long as guards were allowed to board each time to check IDs. The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up Deborah Davis' case. Her lawyer, Gail Johnson, says the government security guards violated her client's right to freedom of movement and her right to be protected from unreasonable searches.

Mr. GAIL JOHNSON (Attorney): We don't think there's any valid federal law that requires passengers on a public bus to show their identification in order to travel on that public bus.

BRADY: Davis' case comes as a California man is challenging requirements that passengers show ID for domestic flights. His case is before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals next week. Davis is scheduled for arraignment in federal court in Denver next Friday.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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