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Local Government

Monday, April 6, 2020

Riot threatened at El Paso County jail to virus restrictions

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 6:02 PM

The intake area at the Criminal Justice Center where a deputy worked before being infected. He died last week. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • The intake area at the Criminal Justice Center where a deputy worked before being infected. He died last week.
After Criminal Justice Center inmates were told of changes designed to quell the spread of COVID-19, a near riot unfolded on April 2, requiring an all-hands callout for help and, in a related matter, the activation of the Special Response Team, the jail's version of SWAT, according to El Paso County Sheriff's Office reports obtained by the Indy.

The Sheriff's Office says no deputies or inmates were injured during the incident, which spanned several hours in a facility where despite close living conditions, no inmates have yet tested positive. The virus last week, though, claimed the life of, Deputy Jeff Hopkins, a 41-year-old deputy who worked in the jail.

The threat of rioting — signaled by inmates covering their faces with towels and wrapping their hands in sheets — triggered in-house disciplinary charges of attempted riot and deviant or delinquent behavior against nine people who allegedly were instigators.

Meantime, El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly says the county's public health department secured coronavirus tests for the jail from the state just over a week ago.

"They currently have them at the facility and can be performed by the Medical staff and submitted through the CDPHE [the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment] lab which now has about a 24-48 hour turn around time," Kelly tells the Indy via email.

Kelly says no inmates have tested positive, adding, "We are in communication constantly concerning possible exposures, isolations, and quarantines of inmates as well as EPSO staff."

He also says all law enforcement officials can be tested at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) testing center without a doctor's referral if they show symptoms, which include a temperature over 100 degrees, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

The FEMA testing center is located on International Circle east of Union Boulevard and is expecting a visit from White House officials April 7 to document the first responder FEMA testing site.

"The purpose of their visit is to tell the story of successful local, state, and federal partner coordination," according to a written update provided to the local COVID-19 Policy Team. "They will be doing a tour of the site, getting b-roll of cars at the site, and interviewing 4-5 individuals connected to the site (a Public Health representative, hospital spokesperson, elected official, a nurse/law enforcement personnel that has gone through the site, etc.)."

"The jail does have access to as many kits as they need currently and I am working with UCHealth [which operates the city's Memorial Hospitals] to ensure the jail also has access to the medical providers and increased testing capacity there moving forward as the inmates represent a very at-risk population," Kelly says. "All this is really good news and significant progress from where we all started."

More on testing of inmates later.
Unlike the ward where inmates threatened to riot, this ward has lock down cells.
  • Unlike the ward where inmates threatened to riot, this ward has lock down cells.
Sheriff's reports show that at about 9:30 p.m. April 2, a sergeant advised the jail deputy overseeing one ward of changes in restrictions due to the virus, which included forcing inmates to eat meals on their bunks instead of a common area. That particular ward has no cells but rather bays with eight beds each.

When Deputy Brenden Koehlinger told inmates of the change, inmates began shouting profanities and refused his order to return to their bunks. He called for assistance and a sergeant responded. But inmates refused to quiet down, and Koehlinger called for Lt. Otis Habert.

From the deputy's report:
As he [Lt. Habert] entered, he got the same response and the Inmates started to walk out of there [sic] bays with towels around there faces, as well as bed sheets wrapped around their hands, this indicated that [sic] were going to start a riot. Lt Habert called for responding Deputies, all assists, and all available Intake Deputies to report to my ward.

Once more Deputies came into the ward, three deputies went to each bay to address them individually. This went on for about two and a half hours until the ward finally calmed down. All Deputies left the ward except for two, who stayed and helped me maintain checks, and med pass, while I was talking to the bays. Lt. Habert advised against moving people out of the ward since that is what they all wanted.

Multiple Inmates stated their displeasure with the rule about eating in their bays if they are locked down, and that [they] would riot if they had to. 
When Deputy Kevin Cross arrived for duty that morning, he wrote in a report, "I could visually see the tension in the ward."

"The common consensus between the inmates was they felt they were being punished for doing nothing wrong and felt disrespected for being told they need to eat on their bunks, and they would 'turn up' [acting disruptive] if they had to eat on their beds," Cross wrote.

Cross said the plan, starting with breakfast on April 3, was to serve the top tier the meal and allow the lower tier to eat in the day room, then rotate on subsequent days.

In a related incident, an inmate became combative when not being accommodated his special diet, prompting deputies to call for the 11-member Special Response Team.

Nine inmates were moved to different ward.

Sheriff's spokesperson Deb Mynatt says one inmate has been tested, with negative results, and gave this description of testing in the jail:
Testing has already begun as of March 30 there were 100 tests provided that we have arranged and from CDPHE. When they come into our facility medical staff will perform a temperature scan and screen with medical-related- COVID-19 questions, and if they fit the parameters they isolate the inmate immediately.

If they start showing signs and symptoms and if they answer yes to any of the questions we put them in isolation and observe them. If they are asymptomatic and a low grade fever and even if they do not fit the COVID parameters we would still put them in isolation for approximately 72 hours, to err on caution.

If they do not show any symptoms within that time frame we can release them into general population. If they begin showing symptoms during that time frame we can conduct tests to rule out flu, strep, etc. If it is ruled out, medical would consult with other medical staff and then determine based on their observations and tests to conduct a COVID-19 test. We cannot test everyone that has a simple cough as an example, because as everyone else nationwide, we are limited in supplies.

We err on the side of caution and observe very closely, every inmate and staff member coming into our facility.

If people are leaving and have shown symptoms, we advise them to contact CDC and to self-isolate.
As of April 6, Mynatt says, 17 inmates are in isolation out of precaution but none have tested positive for COVID-19. Eight deputies have tested positive for the virus, including Deputy  Hopkins, who worked in the jail's intake area. Two others also work in the jail and five others work in other assignments outside the jail.

The jail's medical contractor is Wellpath LLC, based in Nashville, Tennessee, which announced on April 3 it would increase pay and issue bonuses, increase paid time off and other benefits "to help the thousands of frontline team members in sites providing clinical care during the coronavirus crisis." Wellpath was hired after the county had difficulties with compliance by previous contractors.

The jail's normal population tops 1,500 but as of April 6 held 1,087 inmates due to releases made to provide for greater social distancing between inmates and staff while preserving public safety, a sheriff's spokesperson says.
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Look for that masked man — Mayor John Suthers — this week

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 9:30 AM

The city's Olympic City logo might show up on face masks Mayor John Suthers says he'll "model" to the public next week. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The city's Olympic City logo might show up on face masks Mayor John Suthers says he'll "model" to the public next week.
Mayor John Suthers told Colorado Springs City Council on Friday, April 3 that the city should "model" Polis' recommendation that everyone wear face masks when they leave their homes to deter the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"I think you'll see me modeling that in public appearances," Suthers said last week, adding that someone is working on making face masks imprinted with "Olympic City USA," the city's brand.

Councilor David Geislinger noted that while some residents resist the restrictions imposed by officials to discourage spread of the virus, "This is a moral requirement. Follow the underlying moral law, not only to protect themselves but to protect others."

Suthers also said El Paso County has 16.5 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the state, while representing 13 percent of the population. He said based on numbers shared by the governor El Paso County likely has up to 4,000 infections, although the confirmed number is only 435.

The city is taking bids from health care providers to operate a homeless isolation center at the City Auditorium, which will contain 100 beds for homeless people who show symptoms, test positive or are recovering and are ready to be discharged from a hospital.

Other high points:

• A $1.3 million local fund to help small businesses has drawn 500 applicants.

• 80 percent of nonsworn city personnel are working from home.

• The city plans to apply for federal funds to help Colorado Springs Airport, which saw traffic drop from 2,500 passengers a day before the virus took root to 250 on April 2.

• The mayor will recommend Council ask voters in November for permission to keep $1.4 million in excess revenue collected in 2019 above caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

• The bond market's volatility meant the Air Force Academy Visitors Center project was unable to issue bonds, but state officials extended the timeframe until Dec. 31 to enable the developer to secure funding. The project is part of the city's City for Champions tourism package.
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Friday, April 3, 2020

Fire inspectors not billing for permits, yet, amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 4:10 PM

Fire Marshal Brett Lacey - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • Fire Marshal Brett Lacey
Colorado Springs Fire Department inspectors remain on the job, but they're not lowering the boom on some businesses like they normally would and it's unclear if all the permit fees they impose will be waived or merely postponed.

Reached by phone, Fire Marshall Brett Lacey tells the Indy his inspectors understand the trauma local businesses, many of which have shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, are experiencing, but the public's welfare is of primary concern.

"The fire and life safety of buildings, businesses and service providers in this community is more important now than maybe ever before," he says, "because we're in a worldwide crisis where people have had to shut things down rapidly and do things in a totally different way.

"What we don't want to see is, people making decisions that may [negatively] impact fire and life safety. We want businesses to remain open. We also recognize nationally if a business closes as result of a fire, 51 percent of those businesses don't reopen," he says."We want to make sure we are taking care of our community the best way we can. We appreciate the burden on everyone right now, so we want to collaborate with them, but we want to maintain a safe environment in our community. When we kick start everything [after the virus threat subsides] we want to make sure we are as safe as we were and can recover as fast as possible."

That means that permits charged for certain inspections may be reduced or postponed, which could have a significant impact on the city's budget.

Such fees range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand and, in a normal year, exceed $500,000, Lacey says. (Mayor John Suthers has said he expects to see sales tax collections plummet by millions of dollars this year due shutdowns caused by the virus.)

Some businesses that have closed abruptly are difficult( if not impossible) to inspect, but crews remain busy inspecting those that remain open, including auto repair shops and businesses that store hazardous materials.

"We're still going to those locations," he says. "We have a number of permits we put on annual inspections, such as restaurants and assembly occupancies. They require an annual inspection to operate. But because of all the closings, we can't get in."
Norris-Penrose Events Center has been inspected as a possible shelter amid the COVID-19 pandemic. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Norris-Penrose Events Center has been inspected as a possible shelter amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lacey's division also is charged with inspecting potential sites to house the sick, including City Auditorium, which is being converted for use to house homeless people who are symptomatic, and Norris-Penrose Events Center.

City-owned City Auditorium, he says, does not have sprinkler or fire alarm systems, while the Norris-Penrose Event Center, owned by the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation, has a sprinkler system in place and is currently installing alarms.

While Lacey is willing to give business owners time to correct code violations, "What I don't want is a tragedy upon a tragedy," he says. "Our job is to identify problems or issues. We're going to  try to work more as an advocate or a consultant. Let's do something to mitigate things until there's a budget flexibility to where it can be fixed the right way.

"I've told staff to hold on to permits, don't invoice, until the city decides how to deal with that," he says.

Despite a raft of closed businesses, he says his inspectors are busy inspecting those that are open, as well as lending a hand with investigating fires' origin and cause.

"We have got such a horrendous backlog of work between establishing training manuals, because we were so busy the last few years," he says. "Currently we're catching up on a lot of critical and needed paperwork and training."
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

COVID-19 update for April 1: Suthers announces isolation shelter

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 6:26 PM

The City Auditorium is being considered as an isolation shelter. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The City Auditorium is being considered as an isolation shelter.

At a news conference April 1, the city of Colorado Springs announced plans for an isolation shelter at the City Auditorium, where people experiencing homelessness who have COVID-19 symptoms will be separated from others in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"This shelter is absolutely vital," Mayor John Suthers said.

Notably, at a City Council meeting on March 27, Council members were told that the Colorado Springs Fire Department had said the City Auditorium wasn't appropriate for an isolation shelter. It's not clear what changed, as Suthers said April 1 that the city had the support of the fire department in creating the shelter there.

The original time the shelter had been scheduled to open, 4 p.m. on April 1, has been delayed, according to a joint statement from the city and Community Health Partnership, the lead agency of the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, which is partnering with the city on this project along with Springs Rescue Mission.

The state Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 3,342 cases of COVID-19, with 620 people hospitalized and 80 deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. That data is current through March 31.

"The better the compliance with the stay-at-home order, the sooner we can squash the threat," Gov. Jared Polis said at an April 1 news conference, where he also announced that schools would be required to remain closed through at least April 30 — past the original date of April 17.

Polis also signed an executive order expanding the use of telehealth services in the state.

Drawing anger from environmental advocates, and without providing an end date, the Environmental Protection Agency said it does not expect compliance on routine monitoring of pollution for the time being.

"The EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request," a March 26 letter reads.

Small businesses that want to apply for relief in the form of an Economic Injury Disaster Loan or the Paycheck Protection Program — as provided to the state under the federal $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — should apply now, as "the funds are expected to go quickly," according to a statement from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC.

During the temporary closure of county clerk and recorder offices, El Paso County residents can request marriage licenses remotely per an executive order from Polis.

"Couples will be required to sign an affidavit and submit this to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in addition to the online marriage application, license fee and any other required supporting documentation," according to a statement from the county clerk and recorder's office. "The license is valid immediately and may be used anywhere in the State of Colorado. Couples have until May 31, 2020 in which to use this license before it expires, which is thirty-five (35) days following the expiration of Executive Order D 2020 014, unless further amended by the Governor. For information contact Recording 719-520-6200 or"

When emotions are high and needs are great, everyone's vulnerable to scams — even the state government. At a news conference April 1, Gov. Jared Polis said the state has been carefully vetting suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves for health care employees. Some offers, he said, have turned out to be scams.

To help prevent small businesses and community members from falling for scammers, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is hosting a virtual roundtable April 17, titled "Financial and Legal Scams: COVID-19 Cybersecurity Scams & The Impact on Small Business."

In partnership with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, SBDC Techsource: Cyber CYA (Cybersecurity to Cover Your Assets), will educate businesses on the latest scams and cyberthreats to watch out for. The free webinar will take place online from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 17. Register online.
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Friday, March 20, 2020

Human remains found in Florida linked to Gannon Stauch

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 1:20 PM

Letecia Stauch: Charged with murder in the disappearance of her step-son. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Letecia Stauch: Charged with murder in the disappearance of her step-son.
Human remains found in Santa Rosa County, Florida, have tentatively been identified as those of Gannon Stauch, the 11-year-old reported missing Jan. 27.

Letecia Stauch, Gannon's stepmother, was arrested March 2 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in connection with his disappearance and presumed death.

Here's the release:

On March 18, 2020, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office was contacted by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office stating they responded to a call of a deceased juvenile male in Pace, Florida.

An autopsy was performed by the District One Medical Examiner and the deceased male has been tentatively identified as Gannon Stauch. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of Gannon.

If anyone saw Letecia Stauch in Pace or Pensacola, Florida during the time frame of February 3-5, 2020, we are asking you call the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Tip Line at 719-520-6666 or email

There is a gag order in effect for this case and has been attached to this media release along with a mug shot of Letecia Stauch.

We would like to thank the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office and the District One Medical Examiner for their invaluable assistance with this case.
A spokesperson for the District One Medical Examiner's office in Pensacola, Florida, tells the Indy the autopsy report is not yet public record and won't be released for "quite some time," pending the medical examiner signing off on it. The spokesperson didn't say when the report would be available.

In a related story, members of the media, including the Indy, are seeking disclosure of the arrest affidavit in the case.
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Local elected officials mull ways to jump-start economy following COVID-19 devastation

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 1:14 PM

Mayor Suthers: No direct aid to businesses but supports finding ways to accommodate state and federal aid. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: No direct aid to businesses but supports finding ways to accommodate state and federal aid.
Colorado Springs won't be immediately following Denver's lead in coughing up cash to help small businesses weather the COVID-19 storm.

But El Paso County is still considering some kind of relief, though talks are just getting started.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's administration announced March 19 the city and county of Denver will seek to identify, develop and implement local programs to support Denver business owners and their employees affected by the city's response to the virus.

The city is creating an initial $4 million relief fund to bolster small businesses with the goal of helping those most directly impacted by COVID-19 disruptions. The idea is to help businesses so they can support their employees. To that end:

• Denver Economic Development and Opportunity (DEDO) is setting up an emergency relief program to provide cash grants up to $7,500 to qualifying small businesses. The highest priority will be the industries most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, such as the food industry. These businesses may have had to temporarily close, are struggling with paying their rent and utilities, or have had to lay off staff.

• An existing micro-loan program will be refocused to support small businesses’ stabilization efforts. Current recipients of loans from DEDO will have the ability to temporarily defer loan payments, should they need to.

• The city will work in partnership with Mile High United Way and Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) to distribute the cash grants and micro-loan funds. The city and DDP are also working together on expanding business relief funding and will be reaching out to the business community to amplify the impact of the small business support through donations.

• Grants of up to $1,000 will be made to individual artists who live in Denver whose incomes are taking a hit due to cancellations of events and classes. The mechanism will be the existing IMAGINE 2020 Artist Assistance Fund and Denver Arts & Venues.

• The Denver Department of Finance will waive the 15 percent penalty for late payment of February and March sales, use, and occupational privilege taxes due March 20 and April 20. The return must be filed and funds remitted within 30 days of the due date. DOF will evaluate extension of the waiver on a month-by-month basis.

Mayor John Suthers' spokesperson Jamie Fabos says the city is facing challenges in dealing with expected downturns in sales tax revenues, on which the city relies almost exclusively for its general fund operating budget. That budget funds police and fire, public works, parks and other basic services.

"While we are committed to first making budgetary adjustments that will have the least impact on the public, we fully expect to have to make significant budget reductions this year," she tells the Indy via email. "Of course restricted revenues – Stormwater and 2C, for example – will and must remain dedicated exclusively to those efforts. The general fund, however will need to be adjusted based on an anticipated downturn in sales tax revenues."

That said, Fabos notes the city has been in contact with state and federal governments "and are doing all we can to ensure that Colorado Springs and its local small businesses are prepared and eligible for the dedication of the federal relief package and/or any state resources."
Waller: No silver bullet for supporting an economic recovery. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Waller: No silver bullet for supporting an economic recovery.
She also says the city is partnering with Support The Springs — a campaign started by several local creative organizations/industry professionals.

"The website is launching fully soon - it's meant to encourage people to support local businesses in non-traditional ways," she says.

Board of County Commissioners Chairman Mark Waller says "everything is on the table" for assisting in an economic recovery from the COVID-19 impacts.

He notes the county has a "pretty robust reserve right now," but stopped short of proposing grants to small businesses. Rather, he noted the Small Business Administration has declared Colorado an emergency disaster zone, which qualifies businesses to seek low-interest loans.

"In these circumstances," he says, "there will be no silver bullet." Rather, he predicted a combination of efforts will coalesce around propping up those most devastated by the mandatory closures caused by the virus.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf says he's putting together a coalition that will find ways to support businesses and their employees during an economic recovery. (A meeting was held March 20.)

Players include the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, the county and the city of Colorado Springs.

"We have got to get the economy kickstarted and up and running," he says.

While more formal programs are pending, he says the initial message is for people who have the means to buy local, "so we can produce demand that signals to companies to hire people back."

VanderWerf: No plans for county layoffs. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • VanderWerf: No plans for county layoffs.
The county plans to ask voters in November to allow the county to retain $3.5 million in excess funds collected in 2019 under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. While that money wouldn't be freed up until after the election, it could be a source of relief funding, VanderWerf says.

Of course, the county also foresees a reduction in its own revenue from the economic devastation caused by sequestering due to the virus, and he says the county finance department is running various scenarios for future spending. But VanderWerf emphasized the county has "absolutely [no plans] whatsoever right now" to lay off workers, and county services remain fully functional, though some services have been largely moved online.

One way to help people financially, he notes, comes via the waiving of penalties for late payment of taxes and fees.

"We need to do everything we can to reassure the public that the county is trying to do everything we can," he says.
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Monday, March 16, 2020

City announces new closures to help prevent spread of coronavirus

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 4:03 PM

Pioneers Museum: Closed indefinitely as a precaution due to the coronavirus. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Pioneers Museum: Closed indefinitely as a precaution due to the coronavirus.
The Colorado state lab has found 131 of the 758 people tested had positive results for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. (El Paso has four cases.) Those numbers are as of Sunday, March 15.

Within an hour of Denver announcing the closure of bars and restaurants except for carry-out orders, the city of Colorado Springs issued a release March16 outlining which programs and facilities are closed.

The closures and suspensions, the city said, are aligned with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The goal is to slow the spread of the disease.

From the city:

The following closures, postponements, cancellations and adjustments are effective starting Monday, March 16.

· The Pioneers Museum is closed until further notice.

· The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, operated by the Garden of the Gods Foundation, is closed until further notice.

· All programming offered in Garden of the Gods Park, the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center and the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site is suspended until further notice. Garden of the Gods Park, North Cheyenne Cañon Park and Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site remain open.

· All scheduled and reserved events are postponed or cancelled until further notice. This includes special events permitted through the City’s Office of Special Events as well as events booked in the City Auditorium, the three City-operated community centers (Deerfield Hills, Hillside and Meadows Park), Sertich Ice Center and the two municipal golf courses (Patty Jewett and Valley Hi). The City is working with permit and reservation holders to communicate these impacts.
o Although special events are cancelled, the municipal golf courses and their restaurants will continue normal operations at this time.

· The Deerfield Hills, Hillside and Meadows Park community centers are closed until further notice.

· All spring youth and adult recreation programs and activities, including the Therapeutic Recreation Program (TRP), are cancelled. Sport facilities and rentals are also closed until further notice.

· The City Auditorium is closed until further notice.

· Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain remains open to online reservations only. Visitors will not be able to pay via credit card or cash at the gate. Staff will encourage social distancing to all guests.

· The following public meetings and park department events have been either cancelled or postponed. Additional details on postponement will be shared at a later date.

o March 18: Urban Forest Management Plan community meeting – postponed; will also offer an online presentation and survey
o March 31: E-Bike stakeholder meeting – postponed
o April 1: Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Working Committee – cancelled
o April 6: Downtown Historic Parks community meeting – postponed
o April 9: Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board Meeting – cancelled
o April 18: Earth Day at Garden of the Gods Park – cancelled
o April 26: Motorless Morning in Garden of the Gods Park – cancelled
o May 2: Great American Cleanup – anticipate cancellation; coordinating with co-organizers

Additionally, the Colorado Springs Senior Center, operated by the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, closed starting March 15 and will remain closed through March 29. More information about its programs, including Silver Key food pantry distribution, is available at

Updates will be made as the situation progresses and communicated on

During the closures, facilities will undergo additional deep cleanings.

For facilities that remain open, which includes, but is not limited to, all parks, trails and open spaces as well as the City-owned cemeteries (Evergreen and Fairview), visitors are highly encouraged to practice social distancing and personal hygiene practices and should stay home if they are sick.
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COVID-19: Mayor Suthers declares local emergency

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 12:33 PM

  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Mayor John Suthers.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado continued to climb, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers declared a local state of emergency March 16.

"The declaration does two things; first, it makes the City eligible for federal relief funding as it becomes available; second, it provides authority for Mayoral regulations that can be put in to place rapidly to address the situation as needed," Suthers said in a statement. "This should not be cause for further alarm, but a signal that our city continues to monitor the situation and respond in a prudent, efficient and effective manner in constant coordination with our partners at El Paso County Health and El Paso County."

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was counting 160 positive cases of COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. March 16, including at least four cases in El Paso County.

The state's first death tied to the novel coronavirus occurred March 13, when an El Paso County woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions passed away.

According to El Paso County Public Health, the woman attended bridge games at the Colorado Springs Bridge Center between Feb. 27 and March 3. The county health department is asking people who attended games at the bridge center during that time to call a health provider if they're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 virus is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Some coronaviruses lead to the common cold, while others — such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and the virus that causes COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. For most people, the symptoms are mild, but older people and those with medical complications are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms such as pneumonia.

Health officials ask that people having symptoms call a provider, clinic or hospital before visiting a facility in person.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has added protocols to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the Criminal Justice Center. Although the sheriff's office did not explicitly say whether it was implementing measures to reduce the number of admissions to the county jail (as some advocates have recommended), spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby said transports of inmates outside of the facility will be minimized.

In addition, "courtesy holds" (people being held on behalf of another jurisdiction) and transports to and from other jails will be accepted on a case-by-case basis, Kirby said in an email.

"Any inmates being released from the facility with symptoms will be advised to contact their primary care physician and educated on ways of preventing the spread of their illness," she added.

Criminal Justice Center employees who are experiencing symptoms, or have a household member who is experiencing symptoms, will be directed to stay at home (or go home), Kirby wrote. The same goes for employees who are members of high-risk groups, such as older people and those with underlying medical conditions.

The jail has also stepped up the frequency of cleaning its facility, as well as items handled by inmates and staff, Sgt. Deborah Mynatt said in an email. 

A COVID-19 screening tool at intake involves questions about travel, recent contact with someone that has traveled, and vital signs measurements, Mynatt explained. Depending on the results of the screening, an individual could be placed in isolation and monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

Even if someone isn't yet showing symptoms, but they meet other criteria based on the screening, they could be placed in the jail's medical unit for monitoring, Mynatt wrote.

If all the chaos surrounding COVID-19 is affecting your mental health, you're not alone. Here's some suggestions from nonprofit Mental Health Colorado:

Stay busy and engaged in the necessary activities of life. Make a conscious effort to be present to your immediate tasks and surroundings.

Avoid consuming toxic amounts of information about things over which you have no control.

Be physically active, preferably outside, where the sounds and sights of the natural world, and the sunshine, can help put the drama of our human world in a healthier perspective.

Help someone who may feel alone. As immunocompromised and high-risk patients are being advised to stay home as much as possible, some of us may experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. Offer to run an errand for someone who is at higher risk of getting sick.

Take this time to call a longtime friend, chat outside with your neighbors, or send a care package.

As always, to speak confidentially with a trained counselor, you can call the Colorado Crisis Services line at 1-844-493-8255 or text "TALK" to 38255.

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, health experts urge people to:
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid directly touching frequently contacted surfaces, such as elevator buttons or door handles, in public spaces. (Use a tissue to cover your hand or finger if you have to touch something.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.

Helpful resources:

For the latest COVID-19 information from CDPHE, visit

For updated case totals, visit CDPHE's Fast Facts page.

If you have general questions about COVID-19, call the CO-HELP call line at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, for answers in many languages, or email for answers in English.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the case total as of 3 p.m. March 16.
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Thursday, March 12, 2020

25 trees tagged for removal, replacement in America the Beautiful Park

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2020 at 8:45 AM

A sharp-eyed citizen dialed in this week to let us know the city is planning to rip out a bunch of trees as well as a fountain from America the Beautiful Park to make way for the new $18.7 million pedestrian bridge.

Well, it's true. The city plans to remove 25 mature trees in the park and along Cimino Drive and a fountain the city says hasn't worked for a decade to accommodate installation of the bridge.

Below is an illustration the city provided for how the bridge will be swung into place.

City spokesperson Vanessa Zink provides this description of bridge assembly and placement:
The pedestrian bridge contractor will assemble the pedestrian bridge in the gravel parking lot opposite of the entrance to America the Beautiful Park. Due to the structure type and the railroad requirement to limit the impact to their operations, the bridge will more or less be finished in the gravel parking lot. Once complete, tractors will lift each end of the bridge and rotate it from a north/south configuration to an east/west configuration, then drive it across the railroad tracks and place it on the abutments. The bridge will weigh well over a million pounds when it’s moved, and the tractors will need a level and stable pad to rotate the bridge and drive it into place.
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
The 250-foot-long bridge will link the Olympic and Paralympic Museum, due to open in late May, with the park, and construction is to get under way this spring and summer.

Trees and even light poles are marked with blue ribbons, meaning they're tagged for removal.
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Pam Zubeck
City spokesperson Vanessa Zink says the deciduous trees on the earthen mound are pear trees, and the others are white oak. Evergreen trees marked for removal are blue spruce.

The fountains in question flank the entry point to the park, as illustrated here:
The one on the left will be removed and not replaced, while the one on the right will remain, Zink says. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • The one on the left will be removed and not replaced, while the one on the right will remain, Zink says.

Construction, she notes in an email, "will not affect the Julie Penrose fountain."

Once construction is completed, the trees and landscaping will be replaced.

"Unfortunately," Zink notes, "the trees are not suitable for being preserved for replanting, so they will be replaced with younger trees of the same species. The fountain on the southern entrance mound has not been operational for more than a decade. The mound will be replaced and trees and shrubs replanted, but the non-functioning fountain will not be replaced."

Other information about the bridge project can be found on the project webpage.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell did business with campaign donor

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 1:44 PM

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell stays busy with his sheriff's job and a gaggle of businesses on the side. - COURTESY JASON MIKESELL
  • Courtesy Jason Mikesell
  • Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell stays busy with his sheriff's job and a gaggle of businesses on the side.
Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell told the Indy several times there's no connection between his taxpayer funded office and his stable of side businesses, a topic explored in this week's cover story you can find here.

But there is one thread of commonality that's worth noting.

iXero LLC — Mikesell's company that billed $3.5 million to a California school district for a security project — lists several companies on its website as "trusted partners."

Two of those are MainNerve and Blue Light, both of which appear to be run by Bruce Parkman. Bruce Parkman made a $500 donation in March 2018 to Mikesell's sheriff's campaign.

Then, he benefitted from Mikesell's contract with the Beverly Hills Unified School District. One invoice, dated June 5, 2019, and submitted to the district by Mikesell, showed a bill for $79,600 for "Blue Light Special Bundle Packaging-Enterprise Insight Analysis (EIA) - Commercial Pricing - (BL-BF-ELA-CMRCL)."
MainNerve has an office on Aeroplaza Drive. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • MainNerve has an office on Aeroplaza Drive.
We attempted to reach Parkman through the Blue Light website but haven't heard back. We also went to the address shown on Secretary of State business records for the company, but it's accessible by keypad only and we didn't spot a buzzer to ask to be admitted.

The history of Main Nerve is worth noting as well. It used to be called NEK Cyber Operations Group LLC and was run from 110 W. Sierra Madre Street.
The office building where one of Mikesell's business partners and campaign contributors works.
  • The office building where one of Mikesell's business partners and campaign contributors works.
NEK, if you recall, paid a state fine for setting off explosives without a permit in Teller County in 2012, which we reported on here. (This was at a time When Mikesell served as a Teller County deputy. He became sheriff in 2017 by appointment and was elected to his first term in November 2018.)

In 2013, NEK changed its name to MainNerve. It's also changed its address twice to two different locations on Mark Dabling Road, state records show.

More recently, it gives an address of 2005 Aeroplaza. On his LinkedIn page, Parkman describes himself as CEO/founder of NEK Advanced Securities Group, Inc., from 2010 to 2012. He also notes he served in the Army Special Forces from 1980 to 2001.

We offered Mikesell an opportunity to comment about the intersection of his private business with his sheriff job by way of Parkman's campaign contribution and subsequent contract with iXero but haven't heard back.

We initially sent an email to Mikesell's commander and public information officer Greg Couch asking him to pass on our question to Mikesell. Couch also works for Mikesell's private companies. Here's what Couch said in response: "This should go to either Jason Mikesell personally or his company website. It isn’t appropriate for the Sheriff’s PIO to respond to questions about personal business matters."

He didn't explain why Mikesell wouldn't think it appropriate to comment on a donation to his sheriff's campaign during a time he served as sheriff, accepted the donation and was elected sheriff.

In any event, when we hear something from Mikesell, we'll update.

(The owner of the NEK entity when the explosions were set off was Tony Porterfield of Woodland Park. He doesn't appear to be associated with the company today. He and his wife contributed a total of $800 to Mikesell's 2018 campaign.)
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Monday, March 2, 2020

11-year-old's step-mom arrested in South Carolina, faces murder charges

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 12:55 PM

Landen Hiott, Gannon Stach's mother, speaks to reporters on March 2 after authorities announced the child's stepmother has been arrested in connection with his death. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Landen Hiott, Gannon Stach's mother, speaks to reporters on March 2 after authorities announced the child's stepmother has been arrested in connection with his death.
Letecia Stauch, stepmother of 11-year-old Gannon Stauch, was arrested in Horry County, South Carolina at 8 a.m. Monday, March 2, in connection with his disappearance.

Authorities held a news conference at Centennial Hall at noon March 2 to announce the pending charges against Stauch, which include murder in the first degree of a child under 12 by a person in a position of trust, child abuse resulting in death, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence.

While the widespread investigation that involved dozens of agencies and thousands of hours have yet to find the child's body, authorities said they're confident Gannon was killed.

He was reported missing on Jan. 27 via a 911 phone call from his step-mother who reported the child had not returned from a friend's house. Major crimes took control of the case on Jan. 28.

Sheriff Bill Elder noted that five weeks to the day of the report that he was missing marked the arrest of his stepmom, who told a KKTV reporter in the early days of the investigation that she would never harm the child.
Gannon was reported missing Jan. 27. Five weeks later, authorities arrested his stepmom, who's facing murder charges.
  • Gannon was reported missing Jan. 27. Five weeks later, authorities arrested his stepmom, who's facing murder charges.
Elder expressed condolences to the family, some members of whom attended the news conference, including his mom Landen Hiott and his father Al Stauch.

"There's no way we can express the depth of our sympathy," Elder said.

He also noted the exhaustive effort to search for Gannon "underscores the significance of team work." Dozens of agencies, including neighboring departments, the FBI and others aided in the investigation.

But Elder also stressed that the investigation "has only begun," because Gannon's body has not been found.

No clues were revealed at the news conference that leads investigators to believe Gannon was killed and that his stepmother is responsible.

Rather, Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen said the affidavit will be sealed to protect information surrounding the case and added that investigators "want to bring Gannon home" and hold the person charged accountable.

Hiott gave a tearful speech to a bank of news cameras and reporters, saying she wants justice to be served "100 percent for the pain she caused." She also thanked all the agencies who have been involved in the search.

Letecia Stauch is being held without bail in South Carolina from which she will be extradited to face the charges in El Paso County. 
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Friday, February 28, 2020

CSFD adds four engines and a ladder truck

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 9:40 AM

The city added five pieces of heavy apparatus this week, reducing the age of its fleet. - PHOTOS COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Photos Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • The city added five pieces of heavy apparatus this week, reducing the age of its fleet.
It goes to show you how much of a difference just one year can make.

A year ago, we reported the average age of the Colorado Springs Fire Department's fleet was older than it should have been and how old equipment can place firefighters at risk.

In 2018, the average overall age of the fleet was over 14 years, while engines averages more than 12 years and trucks, over 16 years.

Starting in 2017, the city has been switching out the old stuff for new equipment and by this year's end will have replaced 10 engines and three trucks at a cost of $8.5 million. That's nearly half of the CSFD's heavy equipment fleet.

The latest replacement, celebrated by Mayor John Suthers and firefighters this week, includes four engines and a ladder truck. The engines will be assigned to Station 2 (Weber and San Miguel streets), Station 3 (Colorado Avenue and Limit Street), Station 11 (Jetwing Drive and Academy Boulevard), and Station 14 (Dublin Boulevard and Academy). The ladder truck will serve the city from Station 10 (Meadowland Boulevard and Academy).
Mayor John Suthers speaks at a Feb. 26 dedication of the new equipment.
  • Mayor John Suthers speaks at a Feb. 26 dedication of the new equipment.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hairstyle discrimination ban passes in Colorado House

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:45 AM

Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048. - COURTESY REP. LESLIE HEROD
  • Courtesy Rep. Leslie Herod
  • Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048.
Over the objections of five Republicans from El Paso County, a bill aiming to ban hairstyle discrimination passed the Colorado House on Feb. 12.

House Bill 1048, also known as the "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act" or CROWN Act, clarifies that protection from discrimination in state law extends to people choosing to wear certain hairstyles in the context of public schools, employment, housing, public accommodations and advertising.

This would include protection from discrimination regarding hair texture, hair type, and hairstyles "commonly or historically associated with race," such as "braids, locs, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and headwraps."

The bill — sponsored by Democratic Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Janet Buckner of Aurora — passed the Colorado House by a vote of 42 to 21, with two legislators excused (including Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain). Included among those who voted against the bill were El Paso County Republicans Terri Carver, Tim Geitner, Larry Liston, Shane Sandridge and Dave Williams.

Before the bill's second reading Feb. 10, Williams spoke on the House floor and urged legislators to oppose it.

"I wholeheartedly agree that racial discrimination is unacceptable... [but] I would encourage everyone here to at least vote your conscience and realize that perhaps there is a need for this, but also recognizing at the same time that this might be redundant or duplicitous," Williams said, suggesting that laws already exist to prevent such discrimination.

Rep. Herod argued the bill was, in fact, needed.

"I want to be clear that we're not just adding something to law just for the fun of it," she said in response, referencing a federal appeals court's decision in a case that was brought by the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission on behalf of an Alabama woman whose job offer was rescinded because she would not cut off her natural locs. The court ruled in 2016 that the company had not violated the Civil Rights Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 declined to hear the woman's case.

"In order to have protection for women and men and people living outside of the gender binary who are of color, who have hair growing ... a certain way and not be asked to cut it or straighten it, we need these protections in law," Herod said.

On Feb. 13, the CROWN Act was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Affairs Committee, where it's scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 24.

In his Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew Cherry, the director of Academy Award-winning short film "Hair Love," called attention to state bills banning hairstyle discrimination. New York, New Jersey and California have passed similar laws already, with additional bans under consideration in 22 states including Colorado.

"The CROWN Coalition, co-founded by Dove in partnership with the National Urban League, Color Of Change and the Western Center on Law, has taken a leading role in organizing support for the bill around the country," a statement on HB1048's passage notes.
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Colorado Springs park "protectors" strategize next move

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:43 AM

Kent Obee, a long time parks supporter, on a hike in the Stratton Open Space. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Kent Obee, a long time parks supporter, on a hike in the Stratton Open Space.
A band of citizens dedicated to preserving city parkland continues to mull what its next step might be after a defeat last summer for a bid to require voter approval for disposal of parks.

Protect Our Parks, a movement born from the city's 2016 deal to trade its 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor for wooded acreage and trail easements, might yet pose a ballot measure. Go here for background on the issue.

Or, the group might try an end run around a local process by seeking a change in the state Constitution which could prove equally daunting.

Kent Obee, a leader of Protect Our Parks (POPs), writes in a briefing to members that member Donna Strom suggested appealing to state lawmakers to refer a measure to voters statewide that would "require voter protection of parklands in home rule municipalities as is already the case with our statutory municipalities." Colorado Springs is a home-rule city and, as such, asserts that it can dispose of parkland and open space by City Council vote. But Strom acknowledged the research for that possible avenue is incomplete.

As POPs supporters have previously noted, nearly all cities of significant size in Colorado have adopted a similar measure to Protect Our Parks, including most major cities on the Front Range — Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, Boulder, Greeley, Parker, Castle Rock. But over the past several decades, only one or two elections have taken place regarding a land sale or swap.

Two other options outlined by Obee:

• Collect thousands of signatures to petition a measure onto the city ballot in April 2021. (Twice as many signatures would be needed to force a measure onto the November 2020 ballot.)
• Try once again to work with Council.

"We did not achieve unanimity," he advised in an email to supporters. "The majority view (with varying levels of optimism/enthusiasm) was to give the Council option one more try within real limits. These limits included getting things resolved in the next couple of months to avoid the kind of photo-finish disaster we experienced last summer, getting clarity in the [ballot] referral that the list of parks being protected was the one developed and approved by the City POPS Committee and to firmly resist further Wayne Williams attempts to subvert POPS. On this latter point, it was agreed that his super majority requirement would only be acceptable as a part of a referral as long as the final decision on any parkland conveyance remained in the hands of the voters — in other words, the requirement of a Council super majority vote to refer a parkland conveyance to a vote of the people was okay as long as the final say remained with the voters."

(Williams injected a proposal into the process last year that would allow Council to dispose of parkland but require a 6-3 majority to do so. This morphed into a second ballot measure, which lost favor and ultimately wasn't referred to the ballot.)

The POPs meeting ended with general agreement to give Council another try while also gathering more information about the state constitutional change option.

Obee also called attention to two other parks issues he says are deserving of residents' attention:

• The city will consider changing the Park Land Dedication Ordinance to reduce the required amount of parkland set aside in new developments from the current 7.5 acres per 1,000 residents to 5.5 acres per 1,000. Says Obee, "This is the wrong way to be going — particularly for a city that smugly bills itself as the 'second best place' (or whatever) to live in the country."
He was referring to U.S. News & World Report naming Colorado Springs the most desirable place to live  2019.

• The city's attempt to "activate" three of the city's oldest and most historic downtown parks: Acacia Park, Antlers Park and Alamo Park, which Obee refers to as the "Disneyfication" of those parks, and encourage citizens to participate in the city's process. Find information about that here.

The city's report shows that less than 40 percent of those surveyed expressed support for holding more events and entertainment in those parks, whereas more than 70 percent supported more "cleanliness and maintenance" and "greater safety and security."
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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Colorado bill would close 'loophole' allowing sex offenders to skip treatment

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:01 AM

Currently, a so-called "loophole" in state law allows certain high-level sex offenders to enter community corrections before participating in behavioral treatment.

Colorado lawmakers aim to close that loophole with Senate Bill 85, which was approved by the state Senate (32 aye votes, 0 no votes, 3 excused) on Feb. 13 and heads to the House for consideration.

The legislation would make certain requirements for being released into community corrections the same as those for being released on parole.

Thus, an offender would have to have "successfully progressed in treatment" and be considered neither a threat to the community, nor likely to commit another crime, before they're sent to community corrections. The bill also requires the executive director of the state's Sex Offender Management Board to review the relevant criteria and give final approval before releasing someone into community corrections.

Community corrections, an alternative to incarceration in prison, combines residential supervision with special privileges. Offenders in community corrections programs may be employed and required to attend classes.

The loophole in the law applies to those who've committed so-called "indeterminate" sex crimes, which include: felony sexual assault, including drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault; felony unlawful sexual contact by force; sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist or sexual misconduct by a police officer; incest and aggravated incest; sexual assault on a child, including sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; enticement of a child; and felony internet luring or internet exploitation of a child.

While those with "determinate" sentences have a maximum number of years in prison, those with "indeterminate" do not. Instead, they must remain incarcerated or supervised until they meet certain requirements.

More than three-quarters of indeterminate sex crimes are crimes against a child, according to a fact sheet (see below) in support of the bill released by the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

But while these individuals must have progressed in behavioral treatment in order to be released on parole, they don't currently have to meet the same requirements before being released into community corrections, where offenders reside in a supervised facility but may be allowed to leave for work or when they're granted privileges.

"We tell victims of these crimes that the indeterminate sentence will be at least four years, and otherwise lifetime supervision and indeterminate, but in reality, these individuals may be released into the community in 16 months," bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, testified at a Feb. 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Over the past 20 years or so — since the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act was passed — close to 150 sex offenders who received indeterminate sentences have transitioned into community corrections through the loophole, testified Amanda Gall, sexual assault resource prosecutor at the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Among those, Gall said, "there are folks ... who have gone on to commit new felony sex offenses."

"Allowing high-level sex offenders to return to a community setting without treatment is dangerous and unacceptable," bill sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, testified to the Judiciary Committee.
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