Most of us remember the photo.
Gray-haired, 65-year-old Elizabeth Fineron, a former nun with disabilities, lay on the Tejon Street pavement, her pants pulled down where the police had dragged her body across the asphalt. A large, bloody wound could be seen on her hip.
Back in March 2007, police used force to remove peace marchers from Colorado Springs' St. Patrick's Day parade. The show of force — including choke holds and forcible removal — struck many as excessive, especially since many marchers were elderly.
Seven marchers were arrested. All cases were eventually dropped.
Fineron died in April 2008, shortly after undergoing surgery. Her friend, legal assistant Rita Ague, says Fineron suffered physically, mentally and emotionally after the parade. Fineron could barely handle the trial, Ague remembers, let alone the hate mail that people sent her. Ague believes the stress from the incident hastened her friend's death.
Maybe that's part of why it's hard for Ague to bury that day. Or maybe it's just that St. Paddy's wasn't an isolated incident. From arrests and tear-gassing at a peace protest in 2003 to more arrests outside the 2008 Colorado Democratic Convention, Colorado Springs police have developed a reputation for run-ins with peace activists.
"Bring it all together," Ague says, "and it establishes a pattern, and the one commonality is no true investigation."
Ague says the police are guilty of civil rights violations. She wants justice. And now, she hopes she's found a way to get it.
The U.S. Department of Justice investigates violations of federal civil rights statutes, often those involving use of excessive force or sexual abuse by law officers. According to a letter obtained by the Independent, the department showed some preliminary interest in Springs police's treatment of peace activists, particularly the dragging of Fineron, after being informed of the incidents by Ague and others. But the DOJ indicated they'd need more evidence before deciding whether to look further into the incidents. The department wanted to see police reports, court documents, medical records and statements from eyewitnesses.
Some of this has been easy for Ague to come by. Some has not.
All charges from the parade trial were dropped by November 2007. In December 2008, some of the evidence from the municipal court case was destroyed. That revelation raised the eyebrows of Ague and some of the defendants in the case. But it's hard to say whether there were any ulterior motives for the move.
"[The courts] don't have any duty to maintain records on a case that's been dismissed," defense attorney Lloyd Kordick explains.
Ague has turned to individual witnesses for copies of photos and video from the trial. Luckily, so far it appears most witnesses — including two key photographers — have held onto their stuff. Once the evidence is re-gathered, Ague hopes the DOJ will take a closer look.
And she's not alone. St. Patrick's Day defendant Eric Verlo says he'd like to see some acknowledgment that the police went too far on that day in 2007.
"It's been kind of insulting when I've come before the City Council, and whenever any kind of statements are made by compatriots of mine that the police acted kind of roughly or maybe in excess of what they should have been, [Mayor Lionel] Rivera makes a point to say, 'No, they acted in complete accordance,'" Verlo says. "[He's] kind of taking advantage of the fact that Elizabeth didn't live and that I didn't choose to pursue a civil case."
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