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Springs Police Spied on Local Activists 

Denver 'spy files' include information furnished by CSPD

Colorado Springs police spied on local peace activists, kept records on them and shared the information with the Denver Police Department -- which in turn included the records in its controversial "spy files," the Independent has learned.

Moreover, Denver police conducted their own direct surveillance of individuals and groups participating in lawful activities in Colorado Springs.

Official intelligence files obtained this week by the Independent show that Denver police kept records on at least two Springs-based groups, Citizens for Peace in Space and the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. The files, compiled between 1997 and 1999, include descriptions of the groups and lists of known members, as well as the identities of numerous people who have attended local peace demonstrations. There are also individual files on at least two local activists, Loring Wirbel and Bill Sulzman.

Some of the information is identified as having been collected by Colorado Springs police, contradicting previous public statements in which local police have denied monitoring people "involved in a peaceful activity."

The files are the first publicly disclosed evidence showing that police surveillance of peaceful activists took place not only in Denver -- where the disclosure of similar files in March created a furor and led to a federal lawsuit against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado -- but elsewhere as well.

Colorado ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein declined to say whether, in light of the new information, the organization will pursue a lawsuit against the City of Colorado Springs. "We will be looking at the information and considering options," he said.

And presented with the information, at least one member of the Colorado Springs City Council said this week he wants an explanation.

Past spying acknowledged

Springs police, meanwhile, refuse to say whether they currently maintain intelligence files on any local peace groups or activists.

"If we did, I couldn't tell you," said Cmdr. Kurt Pillard, who heads the police department's intelligence division. "All of our files are confidential."

Pillard said he was not aware of the Denver intelligence files on local groups and activists, or the surveillance documented in the files, which took place before he took charge of the intelligence division in December 2001.

Pillard also said he's not aware of any collaboration between Denver and Colorado Springs police to monitor local peace activists during his tenure.

However, "I'm sure it's happened in the past," Pillard said.

The existence of Denver's "spy files" became publicly known in March, when it was revealed that detectives had kept extensive records on organizations and individuals engaged in social activism in the Denver area. The files labeled some of the groups as "criminal extremists."

The Denver City Council and the city's mayor, Wellington Webb, have since publicly denounced the practice of spying on peaceful, law-abiding groups and people. Webb has ordered a review of the practice, and people whose names are in the files have been allowed to access them.

The ACLU has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the City of Denver, arguing that keeping intelligence files on people who engage in legal activism has a chilling effect on their First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

Shortly after the files' existence was revealed, Cmdr. Pillard told the Colorado Springs Gazette that Springs police don't keep similar files.

"Our policy is we don't maintain files on anyone that has not shown a propensity for violence or have violence in their backgrounds," Pillard was quoted as saying. "We don't follow anyone who we suspect is involved in a peaceful activity."

License plates recorded

But Denver Police Department intelligence files, obtained by local activists Sulzman and Wirbel, suggest otherwise.

The two obtained their files last week after contacting the Denver Police Department as part of the agency's release of the information that it kept on 3,200 groups and individuals. Wirbel also received files on Citizens for Peace in Space, which is headed by Sulzman, and on the Justice and Peace Commission.

One of the documents describes a peaceful protest at Peterson Air Force Base, in southeast Colorado Springs, on March 27, 1999. According to the file, Springs police recorded the license-plate numbers of about 30 people at the protest and provided them to Denver police.

In another documented instance, Denver police traveled to Colorado Springs to monitor an activist event. On April 7, 1998, according to one file, Denver Det. Jim Wattles attended a seminar at Colorado College, sponsored by Citizens for Peace in Space, and took extensive notes.

A file on the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission lists numerous people identified as being associated with the group, along with their addresses.

Courtesy call

A spokeswoman for Denver police said she didn't know any specifics about the files on Springs activists. However, she didn't dispute the suggestion that Denver police spied on activists far beyond their local jurisdiction.

"I'm not challenging that at all," said Lt. Judith Will.

Asked why Denver police would spy on activists in Colorado Springs, Will replied, "My guess is that those activists have also been present at events here in Denver."

She also said Springs police were likely aware that Denver detectives came here to gather intelligence.

"When we go into another jurisdiction ... we advise the other jurisdiction that we're going to be there," Will said.

While professing to have no knowledge of the specific surveillance documented in the Denver files, Colorado Springs police Cmdr. Pillard said monitoring local peace activists could be justified and might have occurred "if there was criminal activity that was suspected."

And if police believe one person in a crowd is worth monitoring, it might justify gathering information on everybody in that crowd, he argued.

"You can pick pretty much any group that you would like -- if there were 90 peaceful protesters as part of that group, but one person who is extremely violent, and we knew that person to be extremely violent, we might have information on that group," Pillard said.

But none of the Colorado Springs events documented in the intelligence files appears to have included any criminal or violent activity. And although some of the Springs activists in question have been convicted of misdemeanors in connection with civil-disobedience actions, none of them has been convicted of any violent crimes, Sulzman said.

'What purpose does it serve?'

City Manager Lorne Kramer, who was the Springs police chief when the intelligence in question was gathered, and Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace were both out of town and couldn't be reached for comment as of press time. City Councilman Jim Null, who is running for mayor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Councilman Ted Eastburn, meanwhile, said he would like to ask local police for an explanation.

"I don't see the need" to monitor local peace activists, Eastburn said. "To my knowledge, they're pretty harmless. ... I guess I would ask, what purpose does it serve?"

Silverstein, of the ACLU, said the intelligence files "create a strong inference that the Colorado Springs Police Department is keeping similar files."

That, he said, is a troubling prospect. "People should have the right to be able to go to a demonstration without fear that their name is going to end up in a police file."

Sulzman, who has been arrested in connection with numerous civil-disobedience actions, said anyone who interacts with him is now evidently "guilty by association."

"All the people that attended anything that I attended are automatically swept up in the net," he said. "It's very scary."

-- tlangeland@csindy.com

  • Denver 'spy files' include information furnished by CSPD

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