Colorado Woman Fights Against ID Checks

Deborah Davis is fighting charges stemming from her refusal to be searched while taking a bus passing through a Lakewood, Colorado Federal Center.

Refusal to Present ID Sparks Test of Rights (Rocky Mountain News)

Federal prosecutors are reviewing whether to pursue charges against an Arvada [Colorado] woman who refused to show identification to federal police while riding an RTD bus through the Federal Center in Lakewood. Deborah Davis, 50, was ticketed for two petty offenses Sept. 26 by officers who commonly board the RTD bus as it passes through the Federal Center and ask passengers for identification. During the Thanksgiving weekend, an activist who has helped publicize other challenges to government ID requirements posted a Web site about the case, which he said had logged more than 1.5 million visitors by lunchtime Monday.

“The petty offense ticket was issued by police on the scene,” Colorado U.S. attorney’s spokesman Jeff Dorschner said Monday. “The status of the matter is now under review.” A decision on whether the government will pursue the case is expected in a week or two.

Davis said she commuted daily from her home in Arvada to her job at a small business in Lakewood, taking an RTD bus south on Kipling Street each morning from the recreation center in Wheat Ridge, where she left her car. She said the bus always passed through the Federal Center and some people got off there. Guards at the Federal Center gate always boarded the bus and asked to see all passengers’ identification, she said. She said the guards just looked at the IDs and did not record them or compare them with any lists. When she refused to show her ID, she said, officers with the Federal Protective Service removed her from the bus, handcuffed her, put her in the back of a patrol car and took her to a federal police station within the Federal Center, where she waited while officers conferred. She was subsequently given two tickets and released.


“We don’t believe the federal government has the legal authority to put Deborah Davis in jail, or even make her pay a fine, just because she declined the government’s request for identification,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which has taken up the case. “She was commuting to her job,” Silverstein said. “She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She wasn’t even suspected of doing anything wrong.” “Passengers aren’t required to carry passports or any other identification documents in order to ride to work on a public bus,” he said.


Some supporters have called Davis “the Rosa Parks of the Patriot Act generation,” a reference to the African-American woman who became a civil rights heroine after she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, Scannell said.
Davis said she showed her ID when a Federal Center guard asked to see it for the first couple of days she rode the RTD bus through the center. But it bothered her. “It’s wrong,” she said Monday. “It’s not even security. It’s just a lesson in compliance – the big guys pushing the little guys around.”


Davis has four children, including a 21-year-old son serving in Iraq with the Army and a 28-year-old son who is a Navy veteran. She has five grandchildren.

Davis should indeed have every right not to show identification to federal agents for the mere act of riding a city bus. It has long been commonplace to require the presentation of ID to enter certain federal installations but not in circumstances, as with Fort Benning, Georgia, where a thoroughfare passes through it carrying routine traffic. I don’t quite have a picture in my mind of the bus route but find it quite odd that it passes through a federal compound.

Update: The website referred to in the article is It offers this explanation:

The bus she rides crosses the property of the Denver Federal Center, a collection of government offices such as the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and part of the National Archives. The Denver Federal Center is not a high security area: it’s not Area 51 or NORAD.

Of course, neither were the Murrah Building in Oklahoma or the World Trade Center.

Substantial parts of the RMN article above are taken straight from the ACLU press release on the matter.

More on the case from Jacob Sullum, Nick Gillespie, and Alex Knapp.

A quick scan of FindLaw reveals no precedents, although I’m sure there is case law on the matter. A similar case involving John Gilmore is pending before the 9th Circuit. He lost at the trial level.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    These are the kind of stupid feel-good security measures instituted all across the country after 9/11. Does it make anyone feel safer? All the 9/11 terrorists had valid IDs too. We are losing freedoms all the time in the name of security. I’m glad she stood up against this stupidity and the ACLU’s support of her rights.

  2. Fersboo says:

    Yeah! Because we all know that today, they want to see our ID cards, tomorrow, they’ll be stampeding our other rights!

    Sheesh, grow up boys.

    Security is mostly about presence and observation.
    Her refusal was out of the ordinary (I am assuming she rides the bus on a frequent basis) and as she stated, they do not record nor check the IDs against any list. I do not see how any of her rights have been violated.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Well, she was arrested and ticketed while, so far as I can determine, committing no crimes and riding a city bus.

  4. Jeff says:

    City buses entered the government campus of the agency I worked for in Seattle. The buses stopped a couple of the buildings to promote mass transit use by government workers. If you were on the bus you were taken through on the route. The facility put in controlled building access after 9/11.

    The Denver facility is compromising peoples rights because they to cheap to put in real security. If the facility is so restricted that you need ID to enter, they need to have the government employees switch to an internal bus system at the gate and not allow city busses to enter. Otherwise, they should do ID checks at the building access since there it is somewhat reasonable and only affects those purposely entering the government offices. They don’t because it costs money.

    This is just another example of lazy and incompetent security measures that eat away at peoples rights implemented because the security isn’t considered important enough to properly fund. It’s just for looks.

    At a minimum, the city should be required to post a sign on the busses on that route stating by riding you give consent to search and seizure. But should using mass transit require you give away your rights?

  5. LJD says:

    This is just dumb. Obviously she had a hair up her ass about something else. I don’t see how furnishing identification in any way infringes on her “rights”. Although I guess she also has the right to get blown up, the right to be held hostage and beheaded…

    What they should do is ask every one that doesn’t want to play along to get off the bus, walk around the federal building, and wait to catch the next one. Maybe they can just eliminate her route all together, so she can pay for a cab. We’ll see how passionate she is about it then.

  6. James Joyner says:

    LJD: She apparently hasn’t taken the bus since. The more reasonable question is why is a city bus going through a federal compound requiring security checks? That makes no sense.

    And, since she’s not getting off the bus, it’s totally unclear why federal agents have a right to detain people and demand ID despite zero probable cause.

  7. LJD says:

    Why is it requiring security checks, or why is it going through the compound? I would agree that another route would be better.

    While I don’t agree with unreasonable searches without probable cause, I’m not sure showing identification qualifies as a search. What’s the fear? Unpaid tickets? A warrant? Illegal status?

    As for the probable cause, this is not new to the Patriot Act or response to the GWOT, we all know the police can qualify just about anything as “probable cause”.

  8. Kent says:

    I’m not sure how comparable this is, but when I was working at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque, which is located on Kirland Air Force Base, I frequently rode a city bus in to work. Everyone was asked to show a DoD or DoE badge when the bus reached the base guard gate. If you forgot your badge, the guards would sometimes let someone vouch for you, but not after 9/11. If you didn’t have a badge, you had to get off the bus. None of this struck me as unreasonable, but then the base was the last stop on the route — there was no reason to stay on the bus when it arrived at the gate unless you worked on base.

    I’m told that at one time the bus was allowed into the Sandia exclusion area. The Sandia protective force would check for DOE badges and those without were not allowed off the bus. But there was some kind of incident involving someone without a badge trying to get off the bus in the exclusion area, and the upshot was that the buses no longer went into the exclusion area.

    I’m having a hard time getting very worked up on behalf of the lady.

  9. Kim says:

    Another ‘all show & no substance’ security check. Just like ‘airport’ security — but another rant at another time.

    I wouldn’t have shown my ID either. This is BullShit. It’s a CITY bus. What if you come to Las Vegas, a city bus happens to go thru our ‘Government’ center on the way to a casino. Are you going to show your ID? Ridiculous.

    She’s not even getting OFF the bus!! The really stupid part is that a CITY bus is going thru that area. It should be routed to go around.

    But the issue here is having to show your ID to WHO? And WHY? Bullshit. We are losing our freedoms left and right in this country. She did NOTHING WRONG. It’s a city bus!! NO ID required.

  10. A generation ago, such ID checks would have horrified everyone and would have immediately brought up images of Hitler and Stalin.

    That our government would adopt such tactics, and that so many people would willingly go along, just shows that the terrorists are winning.

    The terrorists want to destroy our way of life and freedoms.

    “Our” government is giving them what they want.

    How long will it be until the government starts checking names off against lists of enemies or subversives, including those who have spoken out against the people in power?

    Probably not long, we’ve already seen white house staffs of both parties improperly use FBI and IRS records to go after some poltical opponents. Now that the public has been softened up, and they have lots more “just following orders” flunkies, what will keep them from going after all opponents?

  11. Transit Dependent says:

    I am dependent on transit to get around. Is the theory of some of the commenters here that because I don’t drive a car, I have to give up some of my constitutional rights?

    I don’t have a driver’s license either, nor a state ID card. Would you commenters say I’m just a non-person, I have no right to live in this society? Or just that I have to walk across the city, because it’s too dangerous to permit me to ride on buses without identifying myself? Do you mind if I bring a backpack too, or would that be a threat to your mental insecurity? Are we all guilty until proven innocent by a little plastic card that nobody even reads?

    I can understand military people thinking passes and ID’s are fine — they live in an environment where if somebody tells you to do something, you have to do it. Citizens of free countries don’t live in that environment, though. Our interactions with our government are regulated by laws — not just made-up “orders” from “above”. If a guard orders us to suck their wick, we don’t have to do it — it’s not a lawful order. And if they order us to show an ID, it’s not a lawful order either.

  12. Sarah Vander says:

    Transit Dependent, would you argue that the 9-11 hijackers should have had free unfettered access to airports and airplanes? After all, no one should have checked their identification because if they were citizens, they had every right to go wherever they pleased whenever they pleased…right?

  13. James Joyner says:

    Sarah: The 911 hijackers weren’t citizens, they were mostly Saudi nationals. And, no, ID checking for getting onto a plane makes sense. ID checking to pass through a facility the bus shouldn’t be going through in the first place doesn’t.