Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Masters case detective Broderick makes first court appearance - The Denver Post

Masters case detective Broderick makes first court appearance - The Denver Post

FORT COLLINS — Fort Collins Police Lt. Jim Broderick, accused of felony perjury related to his work in the Tim Masters murder investigation, this morning was advised of his rights in a Larimer County court room.

Broderick hobbled into district court on crutches and told visiting Weld County District Judge James Hartmann that he understood his rights as an accused felon.

He could also have been arraigned, but his attorney Patrick Tooley asked Hartmann for additional time to review more than 3,300 pages of evidence in the case as well as various CDs and DVDs related to the case.

Broderick spent about 10 minutes in front of Hartmann.

An unfriendly crowd, including Masters' family and people connected to Judicial Justice for Larimer County, filled the two rows behind him.

"I have no special feelings of hate toward Broderick," said John Masters, Tim Masters' uncle. "I just think he's a piece of slime. He'd done a disservice to a lot of good police officers out there."

Broderick was indicted by a Larimer County grand jury last month on eight counts of felony perjury for his role in building a case against Tim Masters. Masters was convicted in 1998 of mutiliating and killing Peggy Hettrick in 1987.

But in 2008, a visiting judge overturned Masters' conviction after ruling that new DNA results pointed to another suspect in Hettrick's killing. Masters was released from prison after serving 10 years. The two prosecutors in the case — Jolene Blair and Terence Gilmore — have been censured by an arm of the Colorado Supreme Court for their role in the case.

Blair and Gilmore are now Larimer District Court judges and are standing for retention.

Hartmann was named visiting judge in the case since Blair and Gilmore may be called as witnesses if a criminal case proceeds.

Judicial Justice for Larimer County is lobbying against the retention of Blair and Gilmore, and several members of the group joined the Masters family outside of the Larimer courthouse to bash both judges and Broderick.

"This is historic to break down the big blue wall," said Judicial Justice's Carol Davy. "You know police protect their own, but not this time."

Grand jurors claimed Broderick — who has been put on paid administrative leave — fabricated evidence to convict Masters.

There was no physical evidence linking Masters to Hettrick. Her murder remains unsolved.

Broderick, meanwhile, faces a second internal police investigation into his conduct during the Masters probe, said Fort Collins Police spokeswoman Rita Davis. An internal investigation cleared Broderick in 2008 after Masters was released from prison.

But after the grand jury indictment, Fort Collins Police Chief Dennis Harrison decided enough new evidence has been produced to conduct a second internal probe, Davis said.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, named special prosecutor in the case, also initially cleared Broderick. But Buck re-opened the case against Broderick after new evidence was produced by the FBI and from a lawsuit brought by Masters' lawyers.

Masters has settled with Larimer County and Fort Collins for a total of $10 million.

Colorado Pot Shops Face Closure Under New Rules

DENVER — Nearly a fifth of Colorado's medical marijuana dispensary operators could be forced out of business in coming weeks because of new state rules barring some convicted felons from the pot business, federal drug authorities say.
The Drug Enforcement Administration reviewed requirements under a new state law to see how many felons could be forced out of business. The DEA estimates that up to 18 percent of current dispensaries may be shuttered by the no-felon rule.
After years of leaving marijuana rules mostly to local officials, the Colorado Legislature this year required medical marijuana centers to apply for state licenses by Sunday, an effort to bring some regulation to the state's anything-goes medical marijuana industry.
To get a license, dispensary owners have to pay hefty fees ranging from $7,500 to $18,000 and show that they haven't been convicted of felonies in the last five years. Owners with felony drug convictions face a lifetime ban from the business.
The felony figures, first reported by KUSA-TV, bear out officials' fears that former drug dealers and drug users have flocked to Colorado's nascent medical marijuana industry, made legal under a 2000 amendment to the state constitution. Including less serious crimes, the DEA says about 28 percent of pot shop owners have criminal records for drug offenses.
"There's people who are in the marijuana business strictly to make a profit and not what was portrayed to the voters, which was care for very sick and imminently dying people," said Kevin Merrill, assistant special agent in charge for the Denver field division of the DEA.
Marijuana advocates say the no-felony rule will likely just drive affected pot sellers back to the black market.
"I'm sure there are places that are going to close their doors, and what's sad is that a lot of people are just going to go back to the underground market, and that means no taxes to the state, no quality control over the marijuana product," said Danyel Joffe, a Denver lawyer who represents medical marijuana growers and sellers.
Medical marijuana was cleared by Colorado voters more than a decade ago, but the industry took off last year when the federal government signaled that it wouldn't seek prosecution against marijuana sellers who follow state medical marijuana rules. Coupled with a state decision not to regulate how many patients a caregiver could provide pot for, the federal signal gave rise to more 1,000 dispensaries statewide.
The proliferation prompted state lawmakers to adopt the state's first pot-shop licensing plan last session.
An even bigger blow to many existing pot shops could take effect Sept. 1, when medical marijuana dispensaries will be required to produce 70 percent of all the pot they sell.
That means that marijuana businesses won't be able to outsource production to large-scale growing greenhouses — something small pot shops often have to do because of the time and expense involved with growing pot. State authorities say the grow-your-own requirement will likely mean the end for small-time operations.
"People are already closing their doors," said Jake Browne, general manager of The Releaf Center, a Denver medical marijuana center. The Releaf Center has 2,600 patients and is prepared to grow enough marijuana to stay in business, but Browne said many dispensaries won't be able to meet the requirement.
"You have a lot of people who got into business thinking, 'Hey, I'm going to run a store,' and now they're going to have to run a store and a growing operation, and they're not prepared for that," Browne said.
One pot grower getting out of the business is Mark Rose, who opened Grateful Meds in Nederland, Colo., in 2009 but has had to turn over ownership because of a 2000 felony conviction for pot possession.
"There's a mass exodus," said Rose, 50, who gave his pot shop to a business partner with a clean criminal record and plans to become a consultant. "They're treated us worse than they do Mafia folks."
It's unclear how long it'll take for the state to start closing pot shops that don't meet the new requirements. Matt Cook, who will lead enforcement of Colorado's new pot licenses for the state Department of Revenue, says he anticipates 2,200 applications for state licenses to sell medical marijuana. But he said he has no idea how long it'll take to process the applications because he only has three employees and no supplies to process them.
Asked how long it would take to start rejecting applications, Cook said with a sigh, "There really is no way of knowing."
Cook said that rejected pot sellers could ask for administrative hearings to challenge their rejections.
But Joffe warned that Colorado's licensing rules could backfire. She said that many so-called "ganjapreneuers" are still skittish about disclosing information that could land them in federal prison.
Although the federal Department of Justice has indicated it won't pursue federal drug charges against marijuana sellers following state medical marijuana laws, Joffe said many in the marijuana business aren't eager to see what happens if the federal agency's position changes.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Susan Greene: Jail Death Is Witness' Nightmare

The Denver Post
I'd like to believe that any of us would speak out if we watched a man be roughed up and die behind bars. Still, I'm pretty sure we'd hesitate out of self-preservation.
Dozens of people who were waiting to be booked into Denver's jail July 9 witnessed sheriff's deputies restrain Marvin Booker and shock him with a Taser before he went limp on the floor.
Some openly denounced the deputies for the excessive force they're convinced killed Booker right in front of their eyes. Some questioned why, as they tell it, officials ordered an inmate to sweep up and mop the crime scene shortly after the body was rolled away.
A few outspoken critics were promptly shuffled into holding cells where their commentaries couldn't be heard, witnesses tell me. They say an officer then asked if anyone else had anything to add, as if they, too, would be shooed off and silenced.
I wrote last week about Booker's death in the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility and the city's refusal to make public any of the videos taken from various angles.
John Hickenlooper has the power to release the footage. City Attorney David Fine now says the mayor "wants the video released, but the DA has insisted that the video not be released while his investigation is pending."
Without the videos or an autopsy report, we can't yet know exactly what killed Booker and need to suspend disbelief as the sheriff's deputies involved keep reporting for duty.
Meantime, The

Post is getting consistent eyewitness accounts about the scuffle that led to Booker's death — and about those witnesses feeling too intimidated to come forward. One of them, Phillip Wicks, was waiting to be booked that day for failure to appear on traffic violations. He's 56, has a drug conviction and has worked as a referee for high school sports.
After Booker's death, a city official asked Wicks if he wanted to make a statement.
"I'd just watched them kill a man and sweep it up. As long as I was (in) their custody, I couldn't take the risk," he says.
I'm struck by a moment when witnesses say it was obvious that Booker had no pulse, yet an officer started speaking to his limp body, telling him to stop resisting.
"All of a sudden, the charade had started and they're pretending he's not dead," Wicks says.
After Booker's body was wheeled away with a towel over his face, the same officer insisted to the crowd that he had a faint pulse.
I'm especially curious to see videotapes of the point at which officials scurried to tidy up the scene, according to the witnesses.
"I'm no detective. But I've watched enough 'CSI' to know that this ain't the way it's supposed to be done," Wicks says.
Fine wouldn't comment.
Nearly three weeks after his 20 hours in jail, Wicks is rattled by what happened to the man across from him in the booking area.
"They choked and electrocuted a man right there in front of us. . . . Where's the outrage?" he says.
"If they did that at the dog pound, the people of this city would be up in arms."
Susan Greene writes Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at 303-954-1989 or greene@denverpost.com.

Criminal records abound for owners of Colorado medical-marijuana centers - The Denver Post

Criminal records abound for owners of Colorado medical-marijuana centers - The Denver Post

More than half the owners of medical-marijuana centers in Colorado have criminal arrest or conviction records for crimes such as dealing drugs, sexual assault, burglary and weapons violations, according to statistics developed by the Drug Enforcement Administration and obtained by 9News.

The DEA says 18 percent of medical-marijuana-center owners have been convicted of felonies.

"This business seems to have an inappropriate number of people with criminal backgrounds involved as business owners," said Kevin Merrill, assistant special agent in charge for the Denver field division of the DEA. "I would be hard-pressed to find any other business group where their members have so many criminal violations, arrests and convictions."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

House Joins Senate In Ditching Crack Cocaine Sentencing Laws


House Joins Senate in Ditching Crack Disparity

FAMM Hails Elimination of First Mandatory Minimum Since Nixon Administration

Date:  July 28, 2010
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org              

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed landmark legislation to dramatically reduce the sentencing disparity between federal crack and powder cocaine sentences and to repeal the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. The bill, S. 1789, already won unanimous approval from the Senate in March and now goes to the White House for President Obama’s certain signature. Its passage marks the first time that Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the Nixon administration. 

“Members of both parties deserve enormous credit for moving beyond the politics of fear and simply doing the right thing,” said Julie Stewart, founder and President of FAMM. “For those of us who have been pushing for reform for nearly 20 years, today’s vote is phenomenal. To see members of Congress come together on such a historically partisan issue like this during an election year is heartening.

“The 100-to-1 disparity was an ugly stain on the criminal justice system,” Stewart continued. “Nobody will mourn its passing – least of all, the thousands of individuals and families FAMM has worked with over the past 20 years that have been directly impacted.

“I am hopeful that the forces of reason and compassion that carried the day today will prevail again soon to apply the new law retroactively to help those already in prison for crack cocaine offenses,” Stewart concluded.   

While S. 1789 will not eliminate the mandatory minimum for trafficking crack cocaine, it will substantially reduce racial disparity in cocaine sentencing.  The infamous 100-to-1 sentencing ratio will be reduced to 18 to 1.  Moving forward, 28 grams of crack cocaine will trigger a five-year prison sentence and 280 grams of crack will trigger a 10-year sentence.   Once enacted, the law could affect an estimated 3,000 cases annually, reducing sentences by an average of about two years and saving an estimated $42 million over five years. The bill does not provide any relief for people in prison serving crack cocaine sentences because it does not provide for retroactivity. The bill also provides for enhanced sentences for drug offenses involving vulnerable victims, violence and other aggravating factors.

For more detailed information about the history of the federal crack disparity and the changes that will result for S. 1789, click here.

 Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization supporting fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety.  For more information on FAMM, visit www.famm.org or contact Monica Pratt Raffanel at media@famm.org.

Mexico touts drug arrests, but suspects often go free - The Denver Post

Mexico touts drug arrests, but suspects often go free - The Denver Post

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — It's practically a daily ritual: Accused drug traffickers and assassins, shackled and bruised from beatings, are paraded before the news media to show that Mexico is winning its drug war. Once the television lights dim, however, about three-quarters of them are let go.

Even as President Felipe Calderon's government touts its arrest record, cases built by prosecutors and police under huge pressure to make swift captures unravel from lack of evidence. Innocent people are tortured into confessing. The guilty are set free, only to be hauled in again for other crimes. Sometimes, the drug cartels decide who gets arrested.

Records obtained by The Associated Press showed that the government arrested

226,667 drug suspects between December 2006 and last September, the most recent numbers available. Fewer than a quarter of them were charged. Only 15 percent saw a verdict, and the Mexican attorney general's office won't say how many of those were guilty.

The judicial void is a key reason why Mexican cartels continue to deliver tons of marijuana, methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine onto U.S. streets.

"It in effect gives them impunity," U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said, "and allows them to be able to function in ways that can extend themselves into the United States."

System corrupt, secret

Mexico's justice system is carried out largely in secret and has long been viciously corrupt. Add a drug war that Calderon intensified, and the system has been overrun. Nearly 25,000 people have died in the war to date, and the vast majority of their cases remain unsolved.

AP obtained court documents and prison records restricted from the public and conducted dozens of interviews with suspects' relatives, lawyers, human-rights groups and government officials to find out what happened after suspects were publicly paraded in key cartel murder cases. (click title to read more)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

FAMM Celebrates House Passage of Criminal Justice Commission Bill

FAMM Celebrates House Passage of Criminal Justice Commission Bill
WASHINGTON, July 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) commended the U.S. House of Representatives today for its approval of H.R. 5143, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010. The vote comes three months after Ms. Stewart joined the bill's sponsors, sentencing reform advocates, and law enforcement officials to announce the bill's introduction.
"Today's vote shows Congress is aware that our nation's criminal justice system is in need of major repair," said Ms. Stewart. "With 2.3 million people in its jails and prisons, the United States has the highest incarceration in the world. One of out of 31 Americans is under some sort of correctional supervision – jail or prison, parole or probation. Brave though we may be, we are no longer the land of the free," continued Stewart.
"We know too much about crime and rehabilitation, and about what works and what doesn't work with regard to recidivism, to continue to mindlessly sentence minor offenders to long prison sentences and inflexible mandatory minimum penalties. The moral bankruptcy of such policies is now being compounded by the fiscal bankruptcy it is visiting upon the state and federal governments.
"We applaud the House for taking this enormous step, and we look forward to seeing this bill through until it reaches the president's desk before the 111th Congress adjourns," Ms. Stewart concluded.
If enacted, H.R. 5143 will create a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the entire criminal justice system and offer concrete recommendations for reform within 18 months. The bill was introduced in the House on April 27 by U.S. Reps Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), and Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
The bill approved today is the companion to Senator Jim Webb's (Va.) legislation, S. 714, which was introduced in the Senate on March 26, 2009 and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 21, 2010. The Webb bill, like its House counterpart, has received widespread bipartisan support and has 37 cosponsors in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), Ranking Member, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Orrin G Hatch (R-Utah).
Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization supporting fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety. For more information on FAMM, visit www.famm.org or contact Monica Pratt Raffanel at media@famm.org.

Inmate Farmhands Plowing Along

Pueblo Chieftain

DENVER — Four years after it began, a pilot program that allowed Colorado prison inmates to perform labor on Pueblo County farms is still gaining altitude.

Touted as a way to reduce the demand for foreign workers in the fields, the effort overseen by the Colorado Department of Corrections' Correctional Industries began in 2007 with 10 women housed at La Vista prison in Pueblo doing the work.

This summer, 50 La Vista inmates are working at Pueblo County farms, and that's just half as many as last year, when 100 inmates were enlisted, according to DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti.

This year the demand for inmate help on the farms was pared by a reduction in crops that were damaged by severe weather, Sanguinetti said.

The program was the brainchild of former state Rep. Dorothy Butcher, D-Pueblo.

Inmates volunteer to participate and must meet a series of criteria — including progress through high-school-equivalency studies and an absence of disciplinary write-ups — to be eligible. They also must be deemed a low risk for escape.

Farmers pay DOC $9.60 an hour for each inmate's work, with $4.50-$8 a day going into the inmate's personal account. If they have outstanding child support or restitution for their crimes, it is applied to that balance.

The remainder funds staff, equipment, food and transportation associated with the work. Any profit beyond that generates productivity bonuses for staff and inmates in the program.

Like all the enterprises of Correctional Industries, it is self-supporting.

Sanguinetti has observed the inmates at work in Pueblo County's fields, and she said they like it, despite pressing physical demands.

"They truly were enjoying what they were doing," she said. "Some used it as ‘get-fit’ time, and they definitely enjoyed the time spent outside."

In August 2008, La Vista inmate Bonnie Neal, 43, who had only been at the prison for a few days, died of a pulmonary embolism while picking watermelons at a Pueblo County farm.

Sanguinetti said no litigation resulted, and that inmates receive basic physical examinations before they're allowed to join the program.

Denver Jail Death Needs Full Scrutiny

Longmont Times Call
The recent death of an inmate at the new Denver County jail has raised serious questions about the behavior and decisions of public employees at the jail during the incident.
According to The Denver Post, Marvin Booker, 56, died shortly after being shot with a Taser repeatedly in an altercation with jail personnel. Two witnesses, both of whom were at the jail because they’d been arrested, told essentially the same story, according to the Post story. Neither witness was characterized as a career criminal.

The incident began at the jail early in the morning on July 9, according to the Post. The witnesses say Booker was sleeping in a chair in a holding area when his name was called at about 3 a.m. A sleepy Booker walked to the processing desk without his shoes. A female deputy asked him to sit in a chair by the desk but he said he wanted to stand. When Booker went to get his shoes, the deputy repeatedly told him to stop, then tried to restrain Booker, who pushed her away. Four other deputies wrestled Booker to the concrete floor. A fifth deputy put Booker in a headlock while a female deputy began shocking him.

Booker was heard to say he couldn’t breath. The deputies left him lying facedown on the floor of a holding cell but didn’t check his pulse. He was pronounced dead later that morning.

One witness told the newspaper, “What I saw is not what you’d expect to see in America.”

There are further disturbing aspects to this story that must be fully investigated.

Booker, described as a homeless, ordained minister who worked with poor people, did not have a spotless record, to be sure. He had what was described as a string of arrests. He was in jail on this occasion on suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia.

The public should demand a full, fair and independent investigation. This seems like a needless death and a situation that most likely could have been approached differently and more professionally. The public interest in this case will be much better served if a videotape of the incident and other evidence does not become “lost,” as has happened before.
If Denver authorities do not conduct a fair and independent investigation, then the Colorado attorney general should step in as soon as possible. Federal authorities should also keep a close eye on this situation in Denver. Federal involvement may be needed to get to the truth and to make necessary recommendations for improved jail operations.

Monday, July 26, 2010

2010 Legislative Summary

JUST RELEASED!  CCJRC 2010 Legislative Summary

An unprecedented number of criminal justice reform bills were passed with bi-partisan support by the
General Assembly and signed into law during the 2010 legislative session.   To help better understand this historic occasion, CCJRC developed a detailed summary that includes descriptions of the bills, vote count by chamber, voting record by legislator on select bills, prison bed impact, and an appropriations summary.

Thank you to all for your support during the 2010 legislative session.

Sheriff Clamps Down On Inmates' Correspondence

The Gazette

Inmates at the El Paso County jail are no longer allowed to mail personal letters in envelopes and are instead forced to use postcards, a policy shift the ACLU of Colorado says is a violation of First Amendment rights.
The policy, which took effect Thursday, allows Criminal Justice Center inmates to pay 50 cents for a 4x6 postcard for letters sent to family or friends.
All inmate correspondence has previously been screened by jail staff for potential escape plots, for example. Forcing inmates to correspond only in a way that can be read by anyone outside the jail infringes on free speech, said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
“It affects the First Amendment rights of prisoners and people in the free world who wish to receive that correspondence,” Silverstein said.
It was unclear Friday what prompted the policy change. A sheriff’s spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.
The policy does not affect legal correspondence.
Poor inmates will be provided with one envelope and two blank pages for legal correspondence, according to an intra-office memorandum from Cmdr. WIlliam Mistretta, which was sent to the Gazette by an inmate. Non-indigent inmates can purchase legal envelopes and paper from the jail.
“All outgoing legal letters will be checked to ensure address (sic) is a legal source,” the memorandum says.
“Imagine if you will your husband or wife receiving a personal letter already read by county sheriff staff. Detainees at CJC await transport and/or trial therefore have not been convicted of any crime. How then is it possible to take away there (sic) right to personal private mail?” inmate James Gregory Malveaux wrote in a letter to the Gazette.
Silverstein said he spoke with sheriff’s officials Friday and suggested they repeal the policy. He would not comment on their response or if the ACLU is considering suing the Sheriff’s Office.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Witness says 'excessive force' killed inmate; protests held at Denver jail - KDVR

Witness says 'excessive force' killed inmate; protests held at Denver jail - KDVR
DENVER - An activist group in Denver is calling for justice and seeking answers in the death of Marvin Booker, who died at the new Denver city jail two weeks ago.

"Copwatch demands justice and we're going to stay on top of this case until we get justice!" activist Shareef Aleem told the crowd gathered at the jail.

West Denver CopWatch organized a rally and vigil Thursday night to bring attention to the case.

More than 50 people showed up demanding to know what really happened to Booker.

They arrived about 6:00 p.m. carrying signs and holding pictures and calling for city officials to give them more information.

Darold Killmer, the attorney for Booker's family, claims the city is hiding details about his death and told the crowd.

"We have questions as to why Marvin Booker would die at the hands of sheriff's deputies. These people are there to serve and protect," Killmer said.

Booker, 56, was being processed at the jail on the morning of July 9 when deputies used a taser gun to try to control him. He died a short time later.

FOX31 News spoke with an inmate who witnessed the incident, but he didn't want to be identified. He described how deputies had Booker in a choke hold just moments before he was tased,

"I think his death had something to do with that choke hold, the taser did not kill him," said the witness. "The taser was the last thing they did."

" I think he was dead before then, they either broke his neck or choked him," he added.

The witness called it "excessive force" on a man who was much smaller than the deputies who retrained him.

"For them to even jump on him the way they did was out of line. Even to put him in a choke hold was out of line. I've done way worse than that and I've never been put in a choke hold."

The rally continued with a symbolic move of people removing their shoes. Booker was reaching for his shoes when the scuffle started. But despite the attention the case is getting, the city is urging residents to be patient.

City officials say they will not release any information about the case until their investigation is completed and the autopsy results are in.

However, FOX31 News did speak to Richard Rosenthal, the Independent Monitor who oversees police investigations.

"I responded to the in-custody death the night it happened," Rosenthal said. "I monitored the homicide detectives who conducted the interviews and I will continue to monitor the entire investigation to insure that it's thorough, complete and done correctly."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Runaround over videotape after jail death

The Denver Post
It has been a week and a half since Marvin Booker died in Denver's jail.
The city continues denying access to videotape that could show whether sheriff's deputies used excessive force that may have led to his death.
In memory of the homeless pastor who served the poor — and for the sake of inmates under the watch of officers who remain on-duty while the case is being investigated — his family is demanding the footage.
"My brother's dead, and we just want to see what happened," says the Rev. Spencer Booker, who helped bury his brother Friday. "What does Denver have to hide?"
As my colleague Kirk Mitchell has reported, two witnesses say deputies had wrestled Booker to a concrete floor in the jail's booking area and shocked him with a Taser when he cried out that he couldn't breathe. One of the witnesses says Booker — who stood 5 feet 5 and weighed 175 pounds — then went limp.
After placing him in a holding cell without checking his pulse, a witness told Mitchell, "the deputies walked away high-fiving and laughing."
Mayor John Hickenlooper hasn't commented on the case or on why the deputies are working while it's being probed, though his office released a letter promising a "thorough review of the matter."
The Denver Sheriff Department takes umbrage with speculation about whether its staff may have killed an inmate.
"I'm a little concerned that there seems to be an implication these officers

caused the death of Mr. Booker," says spokesman Frank Gale. In the weeks it will take for an autopsy report, the videotape could help clear things up. I'm getting the runaround about who's keeping it from going public.
The Sheriff Department says it won't release the footage because the district attorney is investigating. The DA's office tells me that, though it's participating, the police homicide unit is leading the inquiry. Police, for their part, referred me to the Safety Department, which, in turn, says the tape can't be released because it would impede the investigation.
"The city instinctively circles the wagons and slams the doors," says Darold Killmer, an attorney for Booker's family. "There's a legitimate concern that Marvin was actually murdered. Lots of people are interested in seeing what happened. It doesn't give us a lot of confidence in the system when the city is trying to sweep this under the rug with bureaucratic mumbo jumbo."
It seemed odd, too, that when asked for the videotape, the Sheriff Department said its computerized surveillance system wouldn't be able to reproduce it.
The Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility where Booker died is a brand-new, $158 million facility that the city has touted for its state-of-the-art surveillance. In this case, I wonder how comfortable deputies feel about appearing on their own cameras.
Watchdogs are planning a vigil for Booker at 6 p.m. today at the main entrance to the jail.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Parents of inmate who died in Denver jail hire legal help - The Denver Post

Parents of inmate who died in Denver jail hire legal help - The Denver Post

The parents of a 56-year-old man who died in the new Denver county jail have hired a law firm to represent them.

The firm of Killmer, Lane & Newman requested a meeting with officials last week on behalf of the Rev. Benjamin Booker Sr. and Roxey Walton, parents of Marvin Booker, who died July 9 in the booking area of the jail after being restrained.

In a July 14 letter to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, attorney Darold W. Killmer wrote that the family hired the law firm after their "desperate" attempts to learn the circumstances of Marvin Booker's death were "thwarted."

Killmer requested copies of all surveillance tapes of Marvin Booker's initial arrest and his treatment inside the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility as well as copies of all evidence related to his death.

The materials were requested immediately, Killmer wrote, to avoid what happened in the case of a previous client, Emily Rice, 24, who bled to death in jail from injuries sustained in a drunken-driving crash in 2006.

Surveillance videos and documents were lost or destroyed in Rice's case, in which Denver Health Medical Center and the city of Denver settled separately with Rice's family in 2008 for a total of about $7 million.

In Marvin Booker's case, two detainees told The Denver Post that he was restrained after he disobeyed an order not to retrieve shoes that he left near the chair where he had been sleeping about 3 a.m.

Deputies held him while he was repeatedly Tasered and he was left in a holding cell.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Deputies should be on paid leave - The Denver Post

Deputies should be on paid leave - The Denver Post

A fatality in the intake area at the new Denver jail raises questions about why deputies who subdued the man who eventually died remain on active duty.

The death of homeless pastor Marvin Booker is under investigation, but we find it odd that the deputies who forcibly restrained Booker and administered electric shocks to him before he was found dead continue to work at the jail.

The deputies ought to be placed on paid administrative leave while investigators review the death and determine if there was any wrongdoing by deputies. Booker, 56, was being processed at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility for a charge of possessing drug paraphernalia in the early-morning hours of July 9.

Two witnesses who were contacted separately by The Denver Post's Kirk Mitchell describe events that preceded Booker's death that, if true, are beyond troubling. Both witnesses were also at the jail due to arrests. The two men were charged with minor offenses and have had previous brushes with law enforcement.

Booker, while an ordained minister, was no stranger to police, though the bulk of his arrests for disorderly conduct type offenses in Denver occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.

The witnesses said Booker was sitting in the open intake area at the new jail that is meant, by its design, to minimize violent disputes. Because the facility allows inmates to move about more freely and doesn't confine them to crowded cells — unless they present a known danger — experts say conflicts should be fewer than at the holding tank of the old jail.

Nevertheless, when a deputy called Booker to the processing desk, tensions soon escalated. Booker refused to take a seat, saying he preferred to stand. When the deputy threatened to have Booker placed in a holding cell, he allegedly headed off to get his shoes.

A scuffle turned into a struggle, and witnesses said as many as five deputies held Booker face down on the floor, while one of them held the man in a headlock and another shocked him with a Taser.

Booker went limp and the deputies reportedly hauled him into a holding cell and left him face down on the floor. The witnesses told Mitchell they saw that Booker didn't appear to be breathing and told the guards, who had reportedly high-fived each other after leaving Booker in the cell.

Mitchell reported that as of last Friday, Denver police detectives investigating the fatality had not yet talked to the two inmates who said they witnessed Booker's treatment. We hope they do so.

Typically, if a law enforcement officer kills a suspect, the officer is placed on paid administrative leave while the death is investigated, even if the use of force appears justified from the outset.

Jail spokesman Capt. Frank Gale tells us that it remains unclear that Booker's death resulted from his treatment. A coroner's report has not yet been completed.

The city's position is that such leave would be inappropriate. We don't follow that logic.

It's unfair to leave the deputies on the job when their actions are under a cloud that could affect how they respond to future incidents. And it's also unfair to Denverites so long as there is a possibility that the deputies used unnecessary force.

Officials should rethink their position.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Colo. groups fight against judges' retention - The Denver Post

Colo. groups fight against judges' retention - The Denver Post

FORT COLLINS — There is marked crankiness toward judges in Colorado this election year.

Some Larimer County residents are rallying against the retention of district judges Jolene Blair and Terence Gilmore, citing their reported misconduct while prosecuting Tim Masters.

The group Clear the Bench Colorado is advocating voters reject all four Supreme Court justices up for retention because of rulings it believes are unconstitutional.

Although history is not on the side of the anti-judge movement, groups such as Judicial Justice for Larimer County are ramping up for the November election.

Retired math teacher Sandy Lemberg, organizer of Judicial Justice, says the Masters case is the latest, but most high-profile, example of judicial abuse in Colorado.

"You look at the national picture of criminal false prosecution, and this case is relatively minor," Lemberg said. "But in Colorado this is a pretty major example of the police and prosecutors conducting themselves criminally."

Masters, convicted of murdering Peggy Hettrick, was freed from prison in 2008 after new DNA analysis suggested someone else had killed her.

The lead investigator in Masters' case — Lt. Jim Broderick — is facing felony perjury charges for his actions in pursuing Masters. Former prosecutors Blair and Gilmore were censured by an arm of the Colorado Supreme Court for conduct that "directly impaired the proper operation of the criminal justice system" in the Masters trial.

Both Blair and Gilmore have been district judges in Larimer County since 2001, and both have announced their intent to stand for retention in November.

Lemberg said the performance of most judges doesn't get much attention except for a few on the local level.

Judges near retention time also are supported by the local legal establishment and most law enforcement, which do not want to see a friendly judge leave, he said.

But Lemberg hopes his group's work against Gilmore and Blair will show how poorly many judges conduct themselves.

Few judges are voted out of office because most do a fair job, said Chuck Turner, executive director of the Colorado Bar Association.

"I think people are generally pleased at what actually goes on in our courts," Turner said. "Most judges get 70-to-75 percent of the retention vote, and that's pretty good."

Since 1990, there have been 953 judges on retention ballots and seven have not been retained by voters, according to the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation. This, even though the office has recommended 15 judges not be retained.

The Law of the Weed

IN 1971 a group of teenagers in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, started meeting after school, at 4:20PM, to get high. The habit spread, and 420 became code for fun time among potheads worldwide. Ever since, California has remained in the vanguard of global cannabis culture. Oaksterdam University in Oakland is today unique in the world as a sort of Aristotelian lyceum for the study of all aspects—horticultural, scientific, historical—of the weed.
Legally, California has also been a pioneer, at least within America. In 1996 it was the first state to allow marijuana to be grown and consumed for medicinal purposes. Since then, 13 states and the District of Columbia have followed, and others are considering it. But this year California may set a more fundamental, and global, precedent. It may become the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise, regulate and tax the consumption, production and distribution of marijuana.
Other Western countries—from Argentina to Belgium and Portugal—have liberalised their marijuana laws in recent decades. Some places, such as the Netherlands and parts of Australia, have in effect decriminalised the use of cannabis. But no country has yet gone all the way.
Several efforts are under way in California to do exactly that. One is a bill wending its way through the state legislature that would essentially treat marijuana like alcohol, making it legal for people aged 21 and over. Sponsored by Tom Ammiano, a flamboyant gay activist and assemblyman from San Francisco, it would levy a $50 excise tax on every ounce produced and a sales tax on top, then use those funds for drug education. A rival bill would de-penalise (as opposed to legalise) marijuana, so that getting caught with it would be no worse than receiving a parking ticket.
The more visible effort is a measure, Proposition 19, which will be put directly to voters on the November ballot. This so-called Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, sponsored by the founder of Oaksterdam University, would also legalise the growing, selling and smoking of marijuana for those older than 21, within certain limits. But it would leave the regulation and taxation entirely up to counties and cities. These could choose to ban the business or to tax it at whatever rate they pleased.
This burst of activity may yet come to nothing, however. California has deeply conservative parts, and Proposition 19 has mobilised them. George Runner, a Republican state senator, calls legalisation a “reprehensible” idea. He fears that “once again California would be the great experiment for the rest of the world at the expense of public safety, community health and common sense.”

Marijuana advocates cheer DEA agent's exit from state - The Denver Post

Marijuana advocates cheer DEA agent's exit from state - The Denver Post

Marijuana-legalization advocates cheered the upcoming departure of federal agent Jeffrey D. Sweetin because, they said, they believe his views are not in line with the will of Colorado voters who legalized the drug for medicinal purposes.

The outspoken special agent in charge of Denver's Drug Enforcement Administration understands that he became the "face" of anti-legalization in Colorado, but says his exit doesn't mean the fight over marijuana is over.

"The person who takes my place is going to have the same mission I have," Sweetin said.

DEA agents are sworn to uphold the constitution, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law, he said.

A widely publicized clash

Sweetin was promoted to run the DEA training center in Quantico, Va., and will provide international support in places such as Afghanistan. The new assignment begins in September.

Sweetin was widely panned by medical-marijuana proponents during his eight-year tenure. The criticism heightened after Chris Bartkowicz, a Highlands Ranch resident who was growing medicinal-marijuana plants in his basement, was arrested after showing his operation in a television interview.

The DEA maintains that Bartkowicz was arrested because he was selling more plants than he had patients and his grow operation was within 1,000 feet of an elementary school.

Sweetin points out that the DEA is not raiding dispensaries that have boomed throughout the state. He believes marijuana proponents used the arrest as a way to build hysteria.

"It's a difficult societal issue that can't be broken down into soundbites," Sweetin said. "It's going to continue to be a challenge for Colorado."

Mason Tvert, campaign director of SAFER, a marijuana advocacy group, says he is glad Sweetin is leaving, but agrees that his moving on won't change the DEA's mission.

"One disingenuous anti-marijuana zealot is just the same as another, and I would expect that his replacement would be just as adamant about going after marijuana regardless if the substance is safer than alcohol," Tvert said.

As Sweetin became more outspoken about marijuana in Colorado, the personal attacks increased.

"Medical-marijuana proponents threatened my life and the lives of my family," he said. "We are not thin-skinned. It's OK to disagree with us, but I don't agree with personal attacks. That's cowardice. But people who legitimately stood up, I think that is fine."

Inmates say they witnessed man's death when jailers restrained, shocked him repeatedly - The Denver Post

Inmates say they witnessed man's death when jailers restrained, shocked him repeatedly - The Denver Post

Marvin Booker just wanted to get his shoes.

But deputies at the new Denver jail told him to stop. When Booker, who was being processed on a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, didn't obey, he was held down, hit with electric shocks and then placed facedown in a holding cell, according to two inmates who watched it unfold.

Booker never got up. He was pronounced dead later that morning.

"I've never seen anything happen like that before in my life," said John Yedo, 54, who was being processed on a charge of destruction of property and said he witnessed the scene. "What I saw is not what you'd expect to see in America."

The two jail witnesses, who were both arrested in the early-morning hours of July 9 around the time Booker was being processed, were contacted and interviewed by The Denver Post separately. Both of them said they had not been questioned by police investigating the death of Booker, a homeless ordained minister who served the poor, but also a habitual criminal with a long string of arrests.

Capt. Frank Gale, spokesman for the jail, said he cannot comment on the ongoing investigation by the Denver Police Department and the Denver district attorney's office, and cannot confirm the inmates' accounts.

He said what happened at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility would have been recorded on videotape.

"If in fact what they are saying is true, it should be reflected in the video," Gale said.

District attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said she couldn't comment during the investigation, which could take several more weeks. The coroner's office is awaiting test results before completing the autopsy report and determining how Booker died, she said. In the meantime, the deputies involved in Booker's case are still on the job.

Yedo has had one prior arrest, in 1974 on a drug charge. Christopher Maten, 25, the other witness, was arrested in 2005 for public consumption of alcohol. Neither is a career criminal. The versions the two suspects tell are nearly identical.

"I can't breathe . . ."

Both say that Booker, 56, was asleep in a chair in a holding area of the jail when his name was called and he was ordered to a processing desk.

Half-asleep about 3 a.m., Booker walked to the desk in his socks, forgetting to put on his shoes. The female deputy ordered Booker to sit in a chair in front of the desk.

Booker responded that he wished to stand. When the deputy threatened to have him placed in a holding cell if he didn't sit, Booker told her he would go to the holding cell, said Maten, who had been arrested that morning for resisting arrest in a confrontation with a parking-meter attendant.

" 'Let me get my shoes,' " Maten quoted Booker as saying as he walked toward the chairs to get his shoes.

The deputy yelled at him repeatedly to stop, got up and followed Booker. Booker turned and repeated that he was getting his shoes, Maten said.

The deputy grabbed Booker by the arm and put a lock on him, Yedo said. Booker, who was 5 feet 5 and weighed 175 pounds, pushed her away. At that point, four other deputies wrestled Booker to the concrete floor. They slid down two steps to the floor in the sitting area. Yedo said the deputies each grabbed a limb while he struggled.

" 'Get the Taser. Get the Taser,' " Yedo quoted one of the deputies as saying.

Yedo said he was only about 3 feet away, and Maten said he was close enough that if he stood and took one step, he could reach out and touch one of the deputies.

None of the deputies involved in the restraint has been identified. One female deputy was treated at a hospital for an injury she suffered in the confrontation, Gale said.

A fifth deputy put Booker in a headlock just as the female deputy began shocking him with a Taser with encouragement from one of the deputies, who kept repeating, "Probe his ---," Maten said. He could hear the Taser crackle repeatedly.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

NPR: Difficult Births: Laboring and Delivering in Shackles

It's a practice so hidden, many don't realize it exists: the shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth.
Across the U.S., there are stories of women going from jails or prisons to hospitals, where they labor and sometimes even deliver while restrained with handcuffs, leg shackles or both.
In recent years, a growing number of states have moved to ban the practice. Ten states now have anti-shackling legislation: California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia — and as of two weeks ago, Pennsylvania.
There have also been lawsuits in a number of states. On Thursday, a jury in rural Arkansas found that a guard had violated the constitutional rights of a woman by shackling her while she was in labor, though they awarded her just $1. In May, a shackling case was settled in Washington state for $125,000. And in Illinois, there's a class action lawsuit against Cook County and its sheriff, Tom Dart.
Legs Chained, Handcuffed To The Bed
Chicago attorneys Tom Morrissey and Ken Flaxman believe there could be as many as 100 to 150 women included in the class action suit, with cases dating back to late 2006. They're seeking an end to the shackling of inmates during childbirth, and compensation for their clients, including Jennifer Farrar, 25.
In November 2008, Farrar was arrested for cashing fake payroll checks. She was charged with forgery, and booked into the Cook County Jail, a sprawling complex on the southwest side of Chicago, and one of the largest jails in the country. She was almost seven months pregnant at the time.
One day the following January, Farrar went to court for a hearing, and there the pains began. An ambulance was called. Farrar says officers cuffed her hands and chained her legs together. Another chain was placed around her belly, connecting her hands to her feet. When she got to the hospital, she says, the belly chain was removed, but her legs were still chained, and one hand was cuffed to the bed.
"The doctor and the nurse," Farrar says, "they were telling the officer, is this necessary, you know? Where is she going to go? She's in labor you know."
She says she remained that way for eight or nine hours, until it came time to push. At that point, the correctional officer unlocked the leg restraints, but left one arm cuffed to the bed. An hour later, Jennifer Farrar delivered her baby girl.
"Here I am, a mother giving birth," Farrar says. "It should be a happy time in my life. I know that I did something wrong, and you have to take the responsibility for what you do. But it wasn't like I was a murderer."
"Tantamount To Torture"
Another plaintiff, Cora Fletcher, was 17 years old in 2006 when she was charged with retail theft. A year later, she missed a court date, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. A year after that, officers showed up at her house, and took her in when she was eight months pregnant. (Click the title to read more)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Far Should The DNA Dragnet Go?

New York Times

Updated July 14, 2010, 03:46 PM
Mitchell R. Morrissey is the district attorney of Denver. An expert in DNA technology and its application in criminal prosecutions, he introduced the first DNA evidence used in a criminal trial in Denver and maintains an online DNA resource.
The recent arrest of Lonnie Franklin for the so-called Grim Sleeper murders is a dramatic example of the value of using familial DNA searches. This arrest highlights the importance of employing every resource and investigative lead available, and reminds us that more than 95 percent of the victims of crime involving DNA are women and children.

When conducting a familial DNA search, investigators use specially designed software to search the DNA database for near matches to generate leads to help solve crimes, often rapes and murders. A near match indicates that the criminal who left the DNA at the crime scene could be the father, brother or sister of the offender whose DNA is in the database. This extra step was estimated by one study to provide a 40 percent increase in the number of investigative leads generated from a DNA database search. This could mean the difference between a serial rapist or murderer being caught or getting away with it, as the "Grim Sleeper" did for 22 years.

Increased public safety is the primary benefit of using familial searching software. DNA helps identify predators; familial DNA searching provides a science-based investigative lead in those cases in which a predator has avoided having his DNA added to the database. This procedure represents a solid first step, grounded in biology, statistics and genetics, which, in conjunction with traditional investigative work, can result in solving crimes and stopping a predator before he strikes again. Of equal importance to law enforcement and the community is the crucial ability of DNA to exonerate the innocent.

Familial searches, and the traditional investigation those searches yield, must be conducted in a legal and constitutional manner. The goal is always to provide investigators with a scientifically based lead while addressing privacy concerns. The familial search polices of the United Kingdom and in Colorado and California address the issues of privacy through a carefully crafted set of practices.

I believe we have a responsibility to use available technology in a constitutional and legal way to protect our communities. Familial searches extend the benefits of DNA technology to ensure that we are doing our best to prevent and solve crimes, and exonerate the innocent. By evaluating DNA evidence and providing leads for investigators, familial DNA searches save time, money and future victims.

Weld County judge will handle Broderick perjury case - The Denver Post

Weld County judge will handle Broderick perjury case - The Denver Post

Weld County District Court Chief Judge James Hartmann will handle the felony perjury case against Fort Collins police Lt. James Broderick.

Hartmann — a former Weld County prosecutor — was assigned the case Tuesday by state court officials.

Larimer County Chief Stephen Schapanski last week asked the state to appoint an outside judge to the Broderick case, since all of Larimer's district judges had voluntarily disqualified themselves. The reason was that sitting judges Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair may be called as witnesses in any trial of Broderick.

Broderick was indicted by a grand jury last month of eight counts of fabricating evidence and lying during the investigation of Tim Masters for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.

Hettrick's mutiliated body was found in a field near Masters' home in Fort Collins.

Masters, convicted of murder in 1999, was freed in 2008 following several hearings in which his lawyers produced DNA results that indicated someone else killed Hettrick.

Broderick was the lead investigator in the case and Gilmore and Blair both prosecuted Masters. After Masters was released, Blair and Gilmore were censured by the Colorado Supreme Court for not providing Masters' defense team all the evidence collected by police.

Broderick's first court appearance is scheduled for Monday.

Widgets and snuzus - The Denver Post

Widgets and snuzus - The Denver Post

If Colorado lawmakers restructured how prisons operate, the system could pay for itself and actually benefit society further than just warehousing humans.

The present Colorado inmate workforce of 22,550 prisoners costs taxpayers an average of $30,000 per year to house a single offender. At $755 million, the Colorado Department of Corrections budget is the third largest expenditure for Colorado taxpayers.

Just imagine if two-thirds of the prisoners created more revenue than it costs to house them. There would be additional monies for other areas of state government, and much-needed funds for when prisoners are released.

This is achievable. How?

Inmates could manufacture, service, and sell widgets and snuzus.

What are widgets and snuzus, you wonder?

Widgets and snuzus are a hot commodity, only we aren't producing or marketing them any longer — we are making them abroad.

Due to rising corporate taxes, increased wages, and towering costs of benefits widgets and snuzu companies are leaving Colorado and the U.S. for foreign countries like Mexico, Malaysia and India every day.

What do they make and sell? Everything, you name it: pencils, toys, electronics, bicycle helmets, telemarketing customer service, etc.

But what if we could offer a few of these companies the very advantages they were seeking overseas, here at home, with an eager supply of employees?

DOC director Ari Zavaras has been complaining that violence is on the rise in Colorado prisons. His only solution was more money to partially staff a new maximum security prison.

The majority of Colorado prisoners sleep all morning, play cards all day, and exercise. If they are lucky, they are given a 15-minute task, for which they earn 60 cents a day to pay for their hygiene, restitution, and save for their release.

Given the chance to earn a real income, even a meager income, most prisoners would flock to the opportunity.

Colorado has 24 adult prisons. Each prison would work in conjunction with a contracted medium-sized company that would build their facilities right on prison grounds. Two-thirds of the prisoners would work for the company, the other third would work for the prison itself doing the cooking, laundry, maintenance and schooling. The convicts would receive prevailing wages of at least minimum wage, and the state and private company would split the profits.

This would reduce overall corrections spending from the state budget, and free up revenue for more vital core programs like education and health care.

Profit margins would be substantial. The private companies would not have to provide benefits, wages would be low, and there would be tax breaks. This is a win-win situation.

The biggest winner of all would be the public. Crime would actually be reduced.

As these prisoners are released with savings and good work habits, no doubt, a greater percentage of them would succeed. And dare say, we might actually have to close some prisons.

It's time Colorado lawmakers start thinking outside the box — a box of widgets and snuzus.

State lawmakers OK $2 million to eliminate backlog on medical-marijuana applications - The Denver Post

State lawmakers OK $2 million to eliminate backlog on medical-marijuana applications - The Denver Post

State lawmakers have approved an extra $2 million for the state to hire 56 temporary workers to process a backlog of 63,000 medical-marijuana applications that grows by the day, according to budget records.

State law requires the patient applications to be processed within 35 days, but it is taking the state six to eight months, according to 9News.

"The backlog has continued to grow at a faster pace than anticipated and the authorized funding is no longer sufficient. This backlog must be eliminated," wrote the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to the Joint Budget Committee in June.

The health department expects to receive 150,000 medical-marijuana applications a year, based on the number of applications it receives each day. That is equivalent to everyone in Fort Collins getting a medical-marijuana license every year.

According to the health department, 63,100 pieces of mail have not been opened, and 31,400 applications have been opened and evaluated, but the data have not been entered into the system.

Johnson: Leon Kelly helping to keep parolees free - The Denver Post

Johnson: Leon Kelly helping to keep parolees free - The Denver Post

The calls come every single day.

This time the man's name is Alex. He is 35 years old and a 16-year penitentiary loser out on parole with a voice as sweet as an angel's.

Indeed, he says over the speaker phone, he and his wife have just finished scrubbing the kitchen floor of his 80-year-old neighbor's.

He also tells of having a great lead on a job doing fundraising work. Hopefully, he says, it will be the one thing that finally launches him on a "normal life."

The Rev. Leon Kelly hears this, throws himself backward in his big, plush office chair and beams a smile that would warm pretty much every square foot of surrounding Lower Downtown.

"You have come a long way," Kelly tells him, still beaming, repeating the man's words, before asking about the man's wife and whether there is anything he can do for them.

This may represent the next act for Leon Kelly, who for 25 years has struggled mightily to keep gang warfare from exploding in Denver.

Now Kelly, who turns 57 today, is rapidly focusing his life on keeping gang members he might have missed from re-offending and returning to prison.

He sat with me, and we chatted a long time about his newest project.

Last week, he graduated the second class of his "Flipping the Script" program, in which he works with 10 to 12 parolees to keep them from ever landing behind bars again.

Among this recent class of 11, not one was ever a saint.

Drugs, robbery, burglary — "these have been very bad people," he says of the group he now calls his "children."

He got them for six weeks. He sought not one of them out. They were told what he was up to. Not one was required to take part.

"Each of them looked me in the eye and told me they were tired of prison, that they wanted a life," Kelly says.

He can't remember the length of the parolee list he was given. He selected more than 20 for one-on-one interviews. The parolees ranged in age from 28 to 35.

He could tell the ones who were not ready, were still too hostile and wanted back in the gang life. Those he turned away.

"I told them, 'If I take you on, I will treat you like my own son or daughter.' Some simply were not ready for that," Kelly says.

If they were ready, he would teach them how to change their life path, how to better communicate, how to get a job or finish their education, how to lead a happier and more productive life.

"Not one of them had ever had someone, a father or other role model, who had ever respected them enough that they could trust and actually listen to," Kelly says.

He always knew that was why the penitentiary gates were constantly spinning with the same people.

He had mentioned this to a Department of Corrections higher- up, a man who asked for his ideas and greenlighted this one.

Of the 21 parolees in his two classes, three no longer have contact. Kelly knows they are not back in prison. He just wonders why they don't call.

The other 18 still show up every Thursday night to chat with Kelly.

"It is about adjusting their mind-set. That," he says, "is the biggest thing for me."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

CSP II to open September 1.

CANON CITY — A portion of a new administrative-maximum security prison will open Sept. 1, providing much-needed deluxe security beds for the state's most-dangerous prisoners.
Workers are finishing up construction of the $162 million Colorado State Penitentiary II. At the same time, new staff who will be working there are undergoing training at the Colorado Department of Corrections Training Academy here.
"There will be a total of 229 employees working in one tower which will house 316 inmates. Some staff will be transferred from other prisons and some are new," said Katherine Sanguinetti, DOC spokeswoman.
The prison will be operated under a shared administration with Centennial Correctional Facility which is adjacent to the new prison. Susan Jones will be warden of the combined prisons.
Because the new prison will share not only administrators and other amenities such as food service operations, they will be jointly referred to as Centennial.
"We will rededicate CSPII as Centennial at a ceremony August 25," Sanguinetti explained.
 All food will be made at the new prison cafeteria and shared with the existing Centennial prison. All totaled the combined Centennial prisons will house 652 inmates.
The current high-security Centennial houses 317 inmates and has a capacity of 336. The new prison has a capacity of 967 inmates but will only house 316 to start.
Sanguinetti said the 316 new beds will be filled quickly because of the state's pressing need for additional administrative-maximum security beds.
As the state finds more money in its budget to open the remainder of the new prison, it can house an additional 651 inmates, which will require another 270 employees to operate.
The state currently houses a total of 22,860 inmates at both state and private prisons.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More Grand Junction police in trouble over allegations involving homeless - The Denver Post

More Grand Junction police in trouble over allegations involving homeless - The Denver Post

GRAND JUNCTION — Three officers have been fired, one has resigned and another remains on paid leave as an investigation of police officers mistreating the homeless wraps up in Grand Junction.

Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said he does not expect any more firings in the 110-officer department after some officers slashed tents and bicycle tires belonging to the homeless, and in separate incidents, sprayed sleeping bags and rooms at abandoned buildings with pepper spray.

The ongoing investigation of these incidents began in May when an advocacy group for the homeless reported that officers went into a camp near downtown and damaged property left there by homeless people. Officers Justin Roberts, Phillip Van Why and Joseph Mulcahy were fired for causing the damage.

During interviews, the three fired officers gave information about other officers using pepper spray to deter the homeless from gathering at certain places. That resulted in the resignation of the unnamed officer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Staying Behind Bars On A Claim Of Innocence

The New York Times

He is either innocent or a madman. Whichever one he is, Everton Wagstaffe will not go quietly.
Locked up nearly 19 years for a crime that he says he did not do, Mr. Wagstaffe could have gotten out of prison long ago by expressing remorse for being involved in the killing of a teenage girl in Brooklyn on New Year’s Day 1992. He and another man, Reginald Connor, were convicted of kidnapping the girl largely on the testimony of a single witness.

Instead, in thousands of letters and volumes of legal briefs he wrote himself, Mr. Wagstaffe has declared his innocence. This is free speech with a twist: he can say whatever he wants, as long as he’s willing to stay in prison until 2017.

“I would rather die here behind bars than live behind the lie that I had anything to do with this terrible crime,” said Mr. Wagstaffe, 41.

Now, after his long and successful battle to get DNA tests and previously undisclosed records, a new team of lawyers has persuaded Acting Justice Sheryl Parker of State Supreme Court to hold a hearing on Mr. Wagstaffe’s claims that he is innocent and that his trial was ruinously flawed by official misconduct and poor legal representation. It will be held this fall. Lawyers for Mr. Connor, 42, are also arguing that his conviction should be overturned on the same grounds.

Last October, the authorities disclosed for the first time that the main prosecution witness — and the only one to directly tie Mr. Wagstaffe and Mr. Connor to the crime — had been a police informant for several years before the trial. The witness, who was addicted to drugs and supported herself as a prostitute, has since died.

Although the defense had asked in 1992 if informants had been used in the case, the prosecution did not reveal that its central and very troubled witness had a history of working with the police.
The failure to disclose that relationship before the trial “provides an overriding reason why the convictions should be set aside,” Myron Beldock, the lawyer who is leading Mr. Wagstaffe’s appeal, wrote in a court filing earlier this year.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which brought the charges and is now defending the conviction, said in its court papers that the witness’s history showed that she “had a track record of providing accurate information to police in other cases.” Joyce Slevin, an assistant district attorney, argued that the information would not have helped the defense anyway. She also said the witness, Brunhilda Capella, got no favors from the authorities.

The trial was delayed for three days while detectives hunted for Ms. Capella, who was going through heroin withdrawal. When she was found, she was held as a material witness.

The case began around dawn on Jan. 1, 1992, with the discovery of the body of Jennifer Negron, 16, on a street in East New York, Brooklyn. Ms. Capella testified that at 3:15 a.m. she had seen Mr. Wagstaffe open a car door and throw Ms. Negron into the front seat, next to Mr. Connor. She did not report the abduction, but said that she later led detectives to the place where the car was parked.

Inside the car was a glove with a spot of blood and a headband that appeared similar to one that was worn by Ms. Negron. At the trial, the prosecution said that Ms. Capella’s identification of the car, and what appeared to be Ms. Negron’s headband, were proof that Ms. Capella was telling the truth.

Neither of the lawyers representing Mr. Wagstaffe or Mr. Connor spoke with the owner of the car, a middle-aged woman who years later said that on the night of the killing she had used her car to drive to a New Year’s church service, where it was blocked in by double parkers. Had the defense lawyers spoken with her, they might have argued that it could not have been used in the abduction, and therefore did not corroborate Ms. Capella’s testimony. Ultimately, a judge said there was no evidence connecting Mr. Wagstaffe and Mr. Connor to the murder of Ms. Negron, but both men were convicted of kidnapping.

The Cornerback and The Ex-Con

New York Times

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — The cornerback steered his custom truck through familiar streets. The ex-convict sat shotgun and pointed out landmarks, this “drug hole,” that “crack house,” the best routes for eluding the police.
The cornerback is Al Harris. He wears No. 31 for the Green Bay Packers. The ex-convict is Kevin Soto. He wore No. 693430 in the Florida Department of Corrections.
They met 25 years ago, two boys from the same neighborhood north of Miami, bonded by break dancing and back flips and music above all else. That was before Harris went to the N.F.L., before Soto went to prison, before either man had heard of Christian rap.
“All these years, music kept coming up, kept bringing us together,” Harris, 35, said. “It always came back to music, no matter what we did, or where we went.”
In August, Harris and Soto will release a Christian rap album, the culmination of two lives that veered in opposite directions and converged again recently.
The cornerback wore shoulder pads for the first time at age 2, already certain his future was in football. The local boys’ club produced a stunning number of elite athletes, including the N.B.A. guard Eddie Jones and the seven players from Harris’s Blanche Ely High School teams who have played in the N.F.L.
The ex-convict preferred hip-hop. Soto owned one of the first portable stereos in the neighborhood, and he wrote rhymes about street life and Burger King commercials and rapped over the latest beats.
The boys rode the same bus to different schools, with Soto three years older. They engaged in enough adolescent mischief — lobbing batteries at buses, breaking car windows with rocks — that the bus driver separated them by at least two rows, they said.
Soto protected Harris as if he were his brother, wary of the dangers. Their hometown once consisted entirely of fields; beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes lined the horizon. Eventually it filled with families, lower and middle class.
Then came crack cocaine, which produced the usual byproducts: gangs, drugs and crime. The worst centered in Grace Apartments, at the dead end of a one-way street. Soto lived there for years, his favorite memory the night when police officers, clad in helmets and carrying shields, refused to advance beyond a certain point.
“When they tore down those projects, people were upset,” Soto said. “And I was one of them. To a juvenile delinquent, that was like Disney World.”
Even while their paths diverged, the cornerback kept tabs on his friend. Harris heard that Soto carried a gun and experimented with marijuana and cocaine. Harris’s father, Johnny, worked at the high school and noticed Soto driving stolen cars.
“Your boy, he’s heading down the wrong path,” he told his son.
Florida court records show what happened: felony arrests for aggravated assault with a firearm, battery, cocaine possession, robbery with a deadly weapon and marijuana distribution, all between 1990 and 1996.
Soto, 38, estimated he was picked up by the police more than 100 times. Eventually he served three terms in prison, where he said he felt more comfortable than outside.
He outlined his criminal past with detail but not emotion. He stashed drugs in lockers and went high to school, eventually being kicked out. He hid several stolen cars around the neighborhood. He escaped from juvenile detention. On and on it went.
A typical story: “The cops came to the house, and I ran out back. I jumped off a seven-story balcony and broke my kneecap. I have a full cast on my leg. I’m on the run from the police. My wife is tired. I can’t go back home. And I’m still going out trying to keep my drug spot going.”
The ex-convict felt abandoned and rejected by the father he never knew. In Johnny Harris, Soto saw the effect of parental influence. Johnny Harris never cared how many friends his son hosted. Their house sometimes filled with 20 children, but all under his watch.
The cornerback went to junior college, then boosted his N.F.L. stock at Texas A.&M.-Kingsville. Harris started 175 straight games with Philadelphia and Green Bay and became a Pro Bowl regular.
There were chance meetings with the ex-convict over the years, at gas stations or neighborhood haunts. Sometimes, Soto looked muscular, buffed by prison workouts.
After Harris spent 1997 on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, he visited a music studio back home, and recognized Soto’s voice inside the booth as Soto rapped with the lights off. Afterward, Harris asked Soto if he would consider a career in music.
But Soto was not ready. As recently as 2008, behind on child support, depressed and an alcoholic, Soto said he considered suicide. His wife, the mother of five of his six children, initiated a divorce.
What happened next made even Harris skeptical. On April 2, 2008, Soto went to church. He went again. And again. He fixed his marriage and became an usher. Now, the ex-convict counsels prisoners on Wednesday nights.
Eventually, Harris formed 31 Entertainment and teamed with Soto for this project. Last August, they started to make the album they long envisioned, with a twist.
Soto still rhymes about the life he lived, but he also speaks to consequences and incorporates his faith. What results is music at once gritty and introspective, a cross between traditional and Christian rap. Soto calls himself Proof — of God’s work, of redemption, he cautiously hopes.
“No one paints the whole picture,” Harris said. “Mothers who lost sons. Kids who lost their dads. All to live up to some lifestyle that isn’t worth it.”
Harris admitted that even friends were skeptical of the new venture. For years, he had tightened his inner circle, and then he went out and hired an ex-con.
Producers worried that Soto would return and rob their studio, Harris said. Others wondered if he had really changed.
“Al always believed in Kevin,” Johnny Harris said. “Sometimes, that’s what it takes.”
Soto recently finished a mix tape and distributed it to build buzz for the album they plan to release in August. Soto’s appendix burst during production, and less than one month later, Harris sustained a gruesome and rare knee injury that threatened his career and still requires rehabilitation. His future with the Packers appears somewhat uncertain, but he said he thought he would play this season.
The album reflects those struggles, along with their friendship, now 25 years strong. In recent discussions, Harris and Soto talked less about music and more about family, about faith, about men sharpening men

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Face Of America's Homeless Youth

Denver, Colorado (CNN) -- When the sun dips below the Rocky Mountains and the streets of Denver go dark, Lokki, his girlfriend Magic and their friend Tripp head home.
They climb in between the rafters of a highway overpass, crouching as they sit under the concrete structure that rumbles with every car that crosses overhead.
It is where they will sleep tonight. It is where they say they can live safely after escaping from abusive homes.
"It's pretty hard," says Magic, 18, when asked about living on the streets. "But most of the time it's just life, you know. Life's not going to be easy."
She refuses to talk about what caused her to leave home.
Her boyfriend Lokki has a different outlook: He says he enjoys the fun and freedom of life on the streets.
"I don't really have to worry about anything," says Lokki, 20. "I get some food and kick back with the homies."
Out of the three friends, Tripp seems to be the most concerned about the future. He says he began living on the streets two years ago, after escaping a violent relationship with his stepfather.
"If I defended myself against him, I always got looked at badly," he said. "So when I turned 18, I left."
He stops talking as he watches a homeless man walk by.
"I'd hate to think that's the way I'm going," says Tripp. "That I'm going to end up being 40 years old and on the streets."
Getting off the streets is a daunting challenge for these young adults and others like them, who have no address, no job, very little education, and many times drug addictions and mental health issues.

"We see a lot of kids really since age of 7 or 8 [who] haven't had any real roots to call their own," according to Tom Manning, spokesman for Covenant House, which helps those who are young and homeless. "Those are the 18-year-olds who [have] very limited education and really need to start from square one."