Local News

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Denver Post must be owned by Coloradans, local leaders say

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 12:05 PM

  • Shutterstock.com
Community leaders in Colorado Springs want to join the effort to rescue The Denver Post from the grips of hedge fund Alden [Global Capital], which owns Digital First Media, which has continually gutted the state's largest newspaper's newsroom. The most recent layoff slashed 30 people from the newsroom.

In the Post's heyday, it had 250 journalists in its newsroom; now it has fewer than 75.

In a news release, Together for Colorado Springs, a civic and activist organization, announced that local leaders have pledged at least $10 million to purchase the newspaper.

T4CS is "rallying residents from across Colorado to join with us to purchase the Denver Post,"  says T4CS chair John Weiss, who is the owner of the Colorado Springs Independent and its sister publications that include the Colorado Springs Business Journal, the Pikes Peak Bulletin and The Transcript. He also holds the contract to publish three local military newspapers under the Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group.

“According to industry reports, the Denver Post is currently profitable,” Weiss said in the release. “But it is not making enough money to satisfy its current, out-of-state, hedge fund owners. Cutting core staff — not just in the newsroom, but in circulation, marketing, accounting, and throughout the paper — will never lead to the journalism Colorado deserves.”

A growing list of advisors is helping T4CS connect to allies across Colorado. “The Denver Post’s new owners must reflect our state’s diversity — geographically, politically, and demographically,” health care executive Jennifer Furda, a member of the committee and former Business Journal publisher, said in the release.

Attorney and hotelier Perry Sanders and hotel owner John Goede have committed to helping facilitate the purchase of the Post to ensure "open-minded, journalist-driven print and digital news for decades to come," the release said.

“Colorado needs a great statewide paper to keep both elected officials and citizens informed,”  Marcy Morrison said. “When I served as El Paso County Commissioner, State Legislator, Manitou Springs Mayor and Colorado State Insurance Commissioner, my first priority every morning was to read the Denver Post.”

Weiss will speak on the impact of newspaper ownership on newspaper content at the opening session of the Colorado Press Association's meetings this week in Colorado Springs. The panel featuring Weiss and others will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the Antlers Hotel.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who recently told Rolling Stone magazine he wished the hedge fund would sell the Post, will give the Friday keynote address at the press association's convention.

If you're interested in helping with the effort, email ResurrectTheDenverPost@gmail.com.

Among those serving on an exploratory committee are Alan Gottlieb, former Post reporter and co-founder of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit digital news source covering education; former editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal and Indy and current editor emeritus Ralph Routon;  Morrison; Furda; Deborah Mahan, a bank vice president; contractor Chuck Murphy, Sanders; Jim Stewart, founder of the Springs Black Chamber of Commerce; John Street, founder of Telephone Express and other businesses, and Weiss.
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PPCC Black Student Union to host community discussion

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 11:59 AM

Black Lives Matter protests have been held throughout the country since the movement began around 2013. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
  • Black Lives Matter protests have been held throughout the country since the movement began around 2013.

The subject of police brutality, especially against people of color, has been much in the news in recent years. Since the uprising in Ferguson after the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in 2014, the public has begun paying more attention to institutionalized racism within police departments across the country, and recognizing the disproportionate amount of black people killed by police for minor or even perceived infractions.

Our local community has its concerns, too, as the whole nation has watched the same stories play out in cities of all sizes, in every region. Tensions are high everywhere, and no one wants to see them reach a boiling point.

In order to facilitate dialogue between law enforcement and activists, the Pikes Peak Community College Black Student Union has organized a panel to facilitate a community discussion about police brutality and racism.

Panelists will include a sheriff deputy, a Black Lives Matter representative, a CSPD officer, two PPCC sociology professors and a local activist.

In a press release, the Black Student Union said: “This will be an opportunity for the community to have an uncensored conversation regarding police brutality and address any questions or concerns with community policing and activism.”

Attendees are encouraged to bring questions to the Pikes Peak Community College Centennial Atrium, 5675 S. Academy Blvd. on Friday, April 13, 6 p.m.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Colorado Springs rockets to No. 2 on "best places to live" list

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 6:00 AM

  • Bob Falcone
Colorado Springs ranked No. 2 in U.S. News & World Report's best places to live, climbing from No. 11 last year and bumping Denver from No. 2 to No. 3.

Topping the list was Austin, Texas, its second year in the No. 1 slot.

The news was to be lauded by Mayor John Suthers at a news conference April 10 at America the Beautiful Park.

The Olympic Museum, under construction, is set to open in late 2019. - COURTESY OLYMPIC MUSEUM
  • Courtesy Olympic Museum
  • The Olympic Museum, under construction, is set to open in late 2019.
The publication ranks cities to help readers make informed decisions when choosing where to live.
The rankings evaluate data from the Census Bureau, the FBI, Department of Labor and U.S. News' internal resources. Five indexes are used. They are job market, 20 percent; Value Index, 25 percent, which considers median annual household income and cost of living; quality of life, 30 percent, which includes crime rates, health care quality and availability and education; "desirability," 15 percent; and net migration, 10 percent.

In a news release, U.S. News reported that a booming job market and high quality of life scores pushed Colorado Springs to the No. 2 spot.

See all the rankings here.

Here's what the magazine said about Colorado Springs:

Colorado Springs might not jump off the map as an economic or cultural hub the way larger metro areas like Denver do. But in a quieter, gentler way, Colorado Springs has much to offer, including a low cost of living, a low unemployment rate and a variety of recreation and entertainment options.

Colorado Springs attracts students, professionals and military personnel to the area with a cache of military bases and nationally ranked colleges. Plus, construction in Colorado Springs is booming, with new residences popping up alongside quality schools, parks and cultural attractions.

This area, which is filled with natural wonders of its own, has the additional allure of proximity to ski resorts like Aspen and Vail without the associated steep costs of living and high levels of traffic. And even though its quaint downtown doesn't have a Bloomingdale's or Lord & Taylor, Denver's lineup of storefronts is just an hour's drive away.
Of course, locals know that the Springs has its share of problems to: a lack of affordable housing, skyrocketing housing costs, heavy reliance on military spending, a high suicide rate, a lot of child abuse and domestic violence calls, one of the highest sales tax rates in the state and what some consider an ineffective transit system that doesn't serve the entire city.
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Monday, April 9, 2018

UPDATE: Ex-Memorial Hospital employee wins nearly $1 million jury verdict

Posted By on Mon, Apr 9, 2018 at 2:10 PM

Memorial Hospital, part of the UCHealth system, was found liable by a jury in a lawsuit filed by a former employee. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Memorial Hospital, part of the UCHealth system, was found liable by a jury in a lawsuit filed by a former employee.
UCHealth spokesperson Dan Weaver provided this statement via email:

UCHealth Memorial is obviously disappointed in the jury’s decision. We maintain that we had an appropriate and legal reason for terminating the employee. UCHealth Memorial is now considering filing an appeal of the verdict or a motion for a new trial.
—-ORIGINAL POST 2:10 P.M. MON., APRIL 9, 2018—

This blog has been updated to correct Beth Falcone's job title.

An El Paso County jury returned the biggest monetary award for compensatory damages in a case of its kind when it awarded nearly $1 million to a former Memorial Hospital nurse sonographer, according to the woman's nurse's attorney, Gary Kramer.

The verdict in favor of Beth Falcone was $148,000 for lost wages and about $800,00 for compensatory damages.

Falcone sued city-owned Memorial Hospital in 2016 after she was fired following complaints she made about how use of and care for medical equipment compromised patient safety.

Read our story at the time found here.

As stated by the lawsuit: "Falcone made multiple good faith reports and disclosures regarding potential threats to patient safety due to improper and/or inconsistent performance and documentation of HLD [high level disinfection] of vaginal ultrasound probes at UCH-MHS." After that, she was terminated.

In a news release, Kramer says, "The jury clearly believed Beth. This verdict sends a strong message to UCHealth and all other health care employees in Colorado. It is rare for an employee's lawsuit to proceed to trial. This case proves that the system works. We believe justice was served."

Read the release here:
We've asked Memorial for a comment and will update if and when we hear something.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Air Force Academy unveils new Visitors Center concept

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 5:25 PM

  • Photos courtesy Air Force Academy
The Air Force Academy hosted a meeting Friday, April 6, in which it unveiled some artist's renderings of the proposed Air Force Academy Visitors Center, part of the Springs' City for Champions tourism initiative.

Here's an Academy post from Facebook about it:
A major community partnership was announced during today's State of USAFA address. The Air Force is in negotiations to begin development on approximately 57 acres by the Academy's North Gate. The new Visitor's Center will be 35,000 sq ft and is slated to include a theater, exhibits, a merchandise shop, and meeting and support space.
As we reported recently, the Academy had sought bids from contractors to build and run the center.

Responding to Facebook questions, the Academy says the new center will incorporate a Santa Fe Trailhead Center into the project. In response to a critic who questioned spending millions of dollars for the center, the Academy wrote, "These are very valid concerns that the Academy took a hard look at. Respectively, the development itself is a public/private venture. In exchange for the Academy leasing the land, the developer is constructing the Visitor Center at no cost to the Academy."

The proposed lease agreement is between the Air Force and Blue and Silver Development Partners LLC, which got some help from the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners with its proposal. Minutes from the Nov. 30, 2017, BOCC meeting show a unanimous vote to approve a "Comment Letter to Accompany Response to Proposal as requested by Blue and Silver Development Partners, LLC, for a proposal for development of an Air Force Academy Visitor’s Center and surrounding commercial development."

Blue & Silver had been created two days before that, according to Colorado Secretary of State records. It's located at 2435 Research Parkway, and its registered agent is Daniel Schnepf, who is president and CEO of Matrix Design Group.

Here's a blurb from the Academy's website:
The Air Force is in negotiations with a privately-owned company to begin development on approximately 57 acres by the Academy's North Gate.

The proposed lease includes an agreement between the Air Force and Blue and Silver, LLC, to construct a new visitor's center. The new center will increase the visibility and accessibility for the local community and tourists to the Academy.

The development proposal also includes hotels, office and retail space, an indoor skydiving facility, and a Santa Fe Trailhead Center as part of the City for Champions initiative in Colorado Springs.

Construction could begin as early as 2019 if lease negotiations are successful.


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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Transit Mix announces plan for mountain bike park in Colorado Springs in midst of controversial quarry fight

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 11:54 AM

Graphic renderings of the proposed mountain bike park were produced "at the direction of the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, which financed the renderings with funds Transit Mix donated to the City for the purpose." - FLOWRIDE CONCEPTS
  • Flowride Concepts
  • Graphic renderings of the proposed mountain bike park were produced "at the direction of the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, which financed the renderings with funds Transit Mix donated to the City for the purpose."
In the midst of a controversial fight over a proposed new quarry, Transit Mix has announced plans to make an older quarry off West Woodmen Road (that would close if the new one is approved) a world-class mountain biking park. The Springs currently lacks such an amenity, and this would be the largest such park in the state.

Transit Mix, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Continental Materials, has long been trying to establish a quarry on a portion of the 1,200-acre historic Hitch Rack Ranch, just outside Colorado Springs to the south on Highway 115. The beautiful property is known to be home to a great variety of wildlife, and is surrounded by a scattering of homes.

Not surprisingly, the idea of a quarry in the area has been met with resistance. Many homeowners certainly don't want it (and many say they did not suspect they'd end up next to a quarry when they built their homes). Some environmental groups oppose it. And, perhaps most damagingly, the powerful El Pomar Foundation, which owns land in the area, vocally opposes the proposal.

  • Flowride Concepts
In a unusual move, the state Mined Land Reclamation Board initially denied a permit for the quarry, in spite of staff recommendations to approve it. Transit Mix is shooting for approval a second time. The proposal will be considered by MLRB on April 25 and 26. If approved, the proposal would next go to the El Paso County Commissioners, which would consider a special use permit.

In the meantime, Transit Mix has been wooing leaders and citizens in Colorado Springs to latch onto the idea of a new quarry. Many City Councilors and state legislators have come out in support of Transit Mix's offer to close and move two batch plants (on Costilla Street and North Nevada Avenue) and accelerate the closure of two existing quarries (Black Canyon near Manitou Springs and Pikeview in northwest Colorado Springs) if granted a permit to open a quarry at Hitch Rack Ranch. (Opponents have claimed that Black Canyon and Pike View have been closed for some time and that they are marked as "open" only to avoid required restoration. Although Daniel Cole, speaking on behalf of Transit Mix, says Pikeview produced 300,000 tons of limestone in 2017.)
  • Flowride Concepts
Now, Transit Mix has announced yet another goodie: A mountain bike park that would be the largest in the state on the Pikeview quarry site — again, only if Hitch Rack is approved. The city's parks system would be given control of the property and would be responsible for building the park.

A Transit Mix release notes:

A mountain bike park in Colorado Springs has been a community vision for a number of years. In 2013, the Colorado Springs Parks Department led an extensive community planning process to update the Parks System Master Plan. The approved 2014 Parks System Master Plan recommends broadening recreational opportunities within Colorado Springs, to include a destination mountain bike park. The master plan, viewable here, mentions the need for a bike park on pages 136 and 141.

When Transit Mix informed the City of Colorado Springs of the potential accelerated closure of Pikeview, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department shared its vision for a community mountain bike park on the property.

Subsequently, Transit Mix, the Colorado Springs Parks Department and area cycling advocates and organizations engaged in a series of conversations about what the Pikeview Mountain Bike Park should look like. The ideas generated from these conversations shaped the concept plan released today.
Transit Mix notes that the plan has the support of local cycling advocate groups including USA Cycling. The Indy has also spoken to Cory Sutela of Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, who expressed great excitement for the plan.
  • Flowride Concepts
Transit Mix details the plan:

The concept plan for a mountain bike park at Pikeview envisions an extensive variety of trails, loops and features that cater to all types and styles of riders. Projected amenities include mountain, downhill and slopestyle tracks, a BMX and pump track, a youth learning area, flow trails, a cyclocross course and a bike polo field. The plan allows for trail networks that could be utilized for organized races and events. It also provides space for facilities and amenities that are compatible with the bike park, including family picnic areas, a playground and a large dog park.

Pikeview offers several unique characteristics conducive to a bike park. The size of the parcel, approximately 150 acres, would provide significant space to create a variety of trail types, features and experiences. Other bike parks along the Front Range are much smaller in size, ranging from a few acres to 40 acres. The nearly 900 feet of vertical change in elevation at Pikeview would allow for longer, steeper and more challenging trails. Local rocks from the site could be used to create sustainable technical features in the trail as well. Transit Mix’s existing maintenance shop could serve as a small events center, offering rental space for parties, bike clinics, races, bike service and rentals and a small coffee shop or concessionaire.

Furthermore, Pikeview’s location adjacent to the Pike National Forest provides for possible trail connections to the national forest and an existing trail network atop Rampart Range. The views from the property are uninterrupted and expansive, further enhancing the users’ experience of the property. There are also opportunities for regional trail connectivity with the existing Foothills Trail, a tier II urban trail at the entrance to Pikeview.
John Hazlehurst contributed to this report. This post has been updated.
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Monday, March 26, 2018

March for Our Lives draws huge crowds

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 3:56 PM

Colorado Springs marchers - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Colorado Springs marchers

The March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., may be the largest single-day protest in the history of the nation’s capital, drawing some 800,000 people on March 24. The march also included one of the most memorable moments in recent activism: Parkland, Florida student Emma González’ marking of the 6 minutes and 20 seconds it took for 17 people to be killed in her high school on Valentine’s Day.

A large crowd in the Springs. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • A large crowd in the Springs.

Closer to home, tens of thousands protested at the state capitol in Denver, while the Gazette estimated that 2,000 showed up for the Colorado Springs protest. (The city police no longer offer crowd estimates, but the march wrapped a city block.)

The Colorado Springs marchers chanted “not one more!” as they marched out of Acacia Park and through downtown.
Kids joined parents at the march in the Springs. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Kids joined parents at the march in the Springs.

The 2017 Women’s March is the only action in recent Colorado Springs history to rival its size.
Multiple recent polls have shown a surge in support for stronger gun control laws, with a solid majority of Americans supporting them.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Opioid crisis: Drug distributors sound off

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2018 at 3:45 PM

  • Lightspring/Shutterstock.com
In this week's issue of the Independent, we report that counties, states and others across the nation are filing lawsuits against Big Pharma, accusing various companies of promoting opioid drugs they knew were highly addictive, among other allegations.

Huerfano County already has joined the lawsuit, which has been consolidated in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. El Paso County reportedly will consider filing a case.

After deadline, we heard from Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the national trade association representing distributors, including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, all of whom are named in the lawsuits.

Via email, the company reached out to "provide insight from our side of the issue."

Here's a statement from John Parker, HDA's senior vice president:
The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.
The company also provided these points to help people understand what role distributors play:
• Distributors are logistics experts, tasked with the primary responsibility of delivering all medicines to licensed pharmacies and healthcare providers.
• Distributors do not manufacture, prescribe, dispense or in any way, drive demand. Further, distributors cannot make medical determinations about patient care or provider prescribing.
• The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is responsible for setting the annual production of controlled substances in the market, approving and regulating the entities allowed to prescribe and handle opioids, and sharing data with entities in the supply chain regarding potential cases of diversion.
• Distributors report EVERY single opioid order to the DEA – whether it is suspicious or not. Greater communication and coordination with the DEA will help support real-time response against abuse and diversion where it occurs.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ACLU of Colorado wins ICE-related suit against El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, county appealing

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 3:45 PM

El Paso County has announced that it will appeal the district court decision in favor of the ACLU of Colorado. Notably, the county release states that Elder has "has stood steadfastly with ICE to assist in fulfilling ICE’s requests to detain individuals deemed removable from the country under federal law," a claim that seems odd given Elder's past statements.

The county's release is also critical of ICE. Here it is in full:

Commissioners Direct County Attorney to Appeal Ruling in ACLU Complaint Against Sheriff
Unsettled Area of Law Requires Further Judicial Review

El Paso County, CO, March 20, 2018 – The Board of El Paso County Commissioners (BoCC) has directed The El Paso County Attorney’s Office to appeal Judge Bentley’s Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction issued today in connection with 18CV30549 Cisneros vs. Sheriff Bill Elder.

This Order granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Sheriff Elder from relying on ICE immigration detainers or ICE administrative warrants as grounds for not releasing Plaintiffs from custody.

The issues considered by the Court are complex; the practice being enjoined requires additional judicial analysis by the Supreme Court of Colorado. Until that process is completed, the County Attorney has counseled Sheriff Elder not to comment on the pending lawsuit. As El Paso County’s chief law enforcement officer, Sheriff Elder respects the rule of law, and will comply accordingly. Sheriff Elder, believes, however, that the issues in this litigation have a tremendous impact pertaining to the safety of El Paso County citizens.

It is important to note that since taking Office, Sheriff Elder has stood steadfastly with ICE to assist in fulfilling ICE’s requests to detain individuals deemed removable from the country under federal law. Notwithstanding his unwavering cooperation with ICE, the federal agency has proven to be a less than reliable partner regarding pursuing its own mission. Indeed, despite the Sheriff entering into a formal written agreement with ICE to house federal detainees, ICE has chosen not to honor its obligations to defend or stand in the place of the Sheriff in the current litigation. This is troubling but not entirely surprising, based on a consistent pattern by ICE to act in this manner.

Additionally, this is an unsettled area of law. As noted by Judge Bentley himself, “…the courts universally acknowledge that it is legitimate for state and local officials to communicate and cooperate with immigration authorities but courts have disagreed about the scope of such permissible cooperation.” His ruling further notes, “that El Paso County is one of only two counties in Colorado that currently honor ICE detainer requests. (The other is apparently Adams County.) The fact that El Paso County is willing to take this stand means that ultimately all counties in Colorado will reap the benefit of having the Colorado courts address this issue.”

With that in mind, Sheriff Elder, through the County Attorney’s Office will immediately appeal Judge Bentley’s Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to the Colorado Supreme Court.
——- ORIGINAL POST, MARCH 20, 2:36 P.M. ——-
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado won its suit in district court against El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, and the judge ordered Elder to refrain from using ICE immigration detainers or ICE administrative warrants as grounds for keeping the ACLU's plaintiffs in jail after they post bind, complete their sentence or otherwise resolve their cases. The ACLU had filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of dozens of plaintiffs who said they were held at the county's jail solely based on suspicion they were in the country illegally.

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder
The ruling comes after a confusing series of decisions from Elder in regards to the immigration status of inmates at the county's jail. In 2015, Elder claimed that his department had exited a federal program that allowed the jail to hold inmates for ICE. (That was around the time that the ACLU of Colorado had warned counties not to hold inmates only on federal immigration charges, as that was illegal and would invite a lawsuit from the organization. El Paso County was one of a list of Colorado counties that changed its practices in light of the warning.)

Once again, in 2017, Elder told the Indy he didn't have room to house such inmates. But in February, when asked to comment on the ACLU's lawsuit, the Indy was emailed a response from Elder that read, in part:

The Sheriff’s Office will not speak about pending litigation. What I can say is that since 2007, we have not changed any of our practices as it relates to the arrest and housing of inmates to include foreign born nationals. We arrest and house criminals where probable cause exists for a state crime. If the criminal is unlawfully present, EPSO honors the detainer filed by ICE and requires ICE to pick up the inmate within a reasonable period of time.
For the full background, go here.

The Indy has asked the Sheriff's Office to respond to the ruling, and to indicate whether an appeal is planned. We will update this blog when and if we hear back.

This is what the ACLU had to say about the ruling:

Judge Rules El Paso County Sheriff Must Stop Illegally Holding Prisoners for ICE

DENVER – State District Court Judge Eric Bentley has ordered El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder to immediately stop relying on ICE immigration detainers or ICE administrative warrants as grounds for refusing to release ACLU of Colorado plaintiffs from custody when they post bond, complete their sentences, or otherwise resolve their criminal cases.

ACLU of Colorado filed a class action lawsuit on February 27 alleging that Sheriff Elder had unlawfully imprisoned dozens of individuals for days, weeks, and even months without legal authority, solely on the ground that ICE suspected that they were subject to deportation for civil immigration violations.

At a hearing held yesterday morning, ACLU attorneys requested a preliminary injunction to stop the practice, arguing that the Sheriff’s policy violated Colorado law and that the prisoners held by Sheriff Elder would suffer irreparable harm by continuing to forfeit their liberty while the case proceeded. In a ruling issued late last night, Judge Bentley granted the injunction.

ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein issued the following statement:

“Judge Bentley’s ruling confirmed that Colorado sheriffs have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law and that when individuals have posted bond or resolved their criminal case, Colorado law requires that they be released.

“Colorado law authorizes sheriffs to deprive someone of their liberty only when there is probable cause of a crime, not for suspected civil violations of federal immigration law. As the Judge’s ruling confirms, when sheriffs hold an individual for ICE for any amount of time past their release date, they make a new arrest for which they have no legal authority under Colorado law.

“Federal immigration authorities are attempting to co-opt sheriffs’ limited resources for their aggressive deportation agenda, but they cannot do so at the expense of individual liberties or Colorado law. When they do, the ACLU will fight them at every turn.

“Colorado sheriffs swear an oath to the Constitution, not to ICE.” 

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County pension plan updated to pay if an officer is killed on duty

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 2:39 PM

Detective Micah Flick was killed Feb. 5. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Detective Micah Flick was killed Feb. 5.
On March 19, the El Paso County Retirement Plan board approved a change in benefits stemming from the shooting death of Sheriff's Detective Micah Flick.

Now, if a vested member is killed in the line of duty as the result of a "criminal or wrongful activity of a third party," there are these options:

1) The member will be deemed to have retired on the first day of the month in which the member died, and a 100 percent payout will be made that shall not be less than 25 percent of the deceased member's final average monthly compensation if that member had at least 10 years of service. Payment will be made to the designated beneficiary.

2) The member's benefit will be paid out starting on the member's normal retirement date or the date the member would have become eligible for special early retirement. The amount of the payments will be calculated using the greater of his or her final average monthly compensation or the final compensation computed using the member's current monthly pay at the date of death, indexed at a rate of 3 percent per year to project the member's monthly compensation through their retirement date.

3) A single lump sum payable in annual installments for up to four years that's equal to two times the member's contributions as of the date of death and two times the additional contributions that would have been made by the member through the earliest retirement date, assuming an increase in pay of 3 percent per year.

The change, the pension board decided, became effective Jan. 1, 2018, meaning Flick's family is eligible for benefits.

———————ORIGINAL POST 4:43 P.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 14, 2018———————-

This blog has been updated from the original, posted at 4:43 p.m. on Feb. 14, to reflect the latest information about benefits available to Deputy Micah Flick's family.

The grieving family of fallen El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick will need more then a shoulder to cry on in the coming years. With a breadwinner gone, Flick’s wife and 7-year-old twins will need money. But some government programs are more generous than others with the survivors of fallen officers.

Let’s start with the El Paso County Retirement Plan. Its death benefit — a relative pittance at $3,000 — is only paid to survivors of retirees. In addition, the plan doesn’t pay pension benefits to survivors until the beneficiary’s 55th birthday at the earliest (regardless of whether the beneficiary is alive), which means Flick’s family has to wait 21 years to collect monthly benefits. Notably, nothing in the plan’s rules makes a special consideration, or even a mention, of those killed on the job.

Flick was shot and killed on Feb. 5 while trying to tackle a suspected vehicle thief in a parking lot at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road as other officers closed in. Flick, 34, had been with the Sheriff’s Office for 11 years.

Asked why fallen officers couldn’t receive benefits, the retirement plan board’s chair, County Treasurer Mark Lowderman, says the issue hasn’t come up. The last sheriff’s deputy to die in the line of duty was Hugh Martin, who was killed by a gunshot in the chest in April 1992 during a raid on the home of a drug dealer.

But Lowderman says the board will discuss amending the rules for its plan, which covers employees of the county, El Paso County Public Health, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Pikes Peak Library District, at its Feb. 26 meeting. “It’s a conversation we need to have,” Lowderman says, noting the death benefit amount has remained unchanged for at least 23 years.

“It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like that (Flick’s death) to spur the conversation, but it’s not something you think about in day-to-day business,” he says. “It would be my hope if that’s the way the board wants to go, we could certainly do something retroactive and include Deputy Flick’s family.”

A sheriff's cruiser was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in honor of Flick. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • A sheriff's cruiser was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in honor of Flick.
Under existing policies, Flick's family will be paid $40,000 under a life insurance policy carried on all county employees, and another $40,000 because his death was accidental, county officials say.

(Survivors of a Colorado Springs Police Officer killed on the job would receive 70 percent of the officer’s base pay through the Fire and Police Pension Association, as well as tuition and room and board for an officer’s dependents to obtain a bachelor’s degree at a state school.)

The Flick family also will likely get help from another government program. Workers’ Compensation, compulsory in Colorado, generally pays a benefit of 66 2/3 percent of the deceased employee’s average weekly wages to beneficiaries. The spouse receives benefits for life, unless she remarries, in which case a two-year lump sum is payable upon remarriage. Children also receive some compensation until age 18, or beyond age 18 if physically or mentally disabled, or until age 21 if full-time students. Burial expenses of up to $7,000 also are paid by Workers’ Compensation.

The Flicks are also likely eligible for a federal program that pays survivors of fallen law enforcement officers and other first responders killed in the line of duty a one-time benefit of $350,079. The Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program provides death and education benefits to survivors, as well as disability benefits to officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

The program dates to 1976 when Congress enacted the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act to ease economic burdens of families who lost an officer in the line of duty. The act has since been amended to cover rescue squads, ambulance crews, firefighters and chaplains. The payment, which is adjusted for inflation annually, is not subject to federal tax.

In 2012, the House Committee on the Judiciary reaffirmed the act’s purpose, noting families of fallen public safety workers “would potentially face financial disaster because of the death or incapacitation of the public safety officer,” according to the Federal Register.

As of February 2016, there were 761 initial claims for benefits pending at the PSOB office, 123 appeals of PSOB Office determinations pending a hearing, and 47 appeals of Hearing Officer determinations pending with the Bureau of Justice Assistance director. That year, the benefit was $339,881 and the program budgeted $71.3 million for death benefits.

But the Federal Register notes that an audit by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General found the program processed only 56 percent of claims within one year of filing, and an independent review in late 2015 found that significant changes were needed to deal with a growing backlog of claims.

PSOB spokesperson Greg Robinson tells the Independent the average time to process a claim is about a year. “The most important thing is to make sure you apply,” Robinson says, adding the death or disability has to have taken place in the line of duty or within 24 hours of duty or driving home from work.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Colorado Springs has three years worth of water, Utilities says

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 4:22 PM

North Catamount Reservoir as of March 16, 2018. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • North Catamount Reservoir as of March 16, 2018.
Colorado Springs Utilities says that despite the dry weather of late, its water storage system is at 80 percent capacity, which translates to three years worth of water.

That's pretty amazing, considering the city doesn't sit anywhere near a major river, but rather relies on snowpack on Pikes Peak and transmountain water sources.

Here's a report from Water Resources Manager Abby Ortega, sent to the Independent in an email:

• In June 2015 our storage was at 95 percent of capacity and last year our storage peaked at 93 percent of capacity. It is fairly typical for storage to fluctuate between 15 and 20 percent.

• Our water system storage is above average capacity despite dry conditions locally.

We are always planning for the future to meet our customers' demand.
We currently have three years of demand in storage.

We are monitoring streamflow, demand and storage to maximize the available water supply.

While an average or better snowpack is always ideal, our system will withstand the current projected drier conditions without any impact to our customers this year.

Our system-wide storage is currently at about 80 percent of capacity.

The Drought Monitor shows areas with dry conditions have continued to increase across Colorado; however, due to our thoughtful planning, we do not anticipate mandatory water restrictions this year.

This year the biggest threat to our water supply is wildland fire. Springs Utilities’ has a volunteer wildland fire team representing all four services, to protect utilities property (pipes, equipment, watershed/reservoirs, etc.).

Please use water wisely. (Officially, the Water Shortage Ordinance is set at Stage 1 Voluntary Restrictions).

March and April are the most critical months for winter watering as this is when new roots are forming in your landscape. Water a couple of times this month and next on days 40 degrees or warmer.

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Carson Midway Fire out, County, Manitou announce fire bans

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 12:43 PM

The Orchard Canyon Fire, also on Fort Carson, ignited earlier this month. - J. ADRIAN STANELY
  • J. Adrian Stanely
  • The Orchard Canyon Fire, also on Fort Carson, ignited earlier this month.

A fire on Fort Carson Army Base merged with a second fire over the weekend of March 17-18, burning around 3,300 acres; destroying three homes and several outbuildings; and leading to the evacuation of around 250 homes. The Carson Midway Fire was out, with the exception some burning trash and tire fires, on March 19.

The fire should not be confused with the Orchard Canyon Fire, which started on Fort Carson on March 8 and burned some 1,800 acres before being fully contained days later.

The Army has been criticized for holding training, that may or may not include live fire, on days with extreme fire danger due to dryness and high winds. (Some are even collecting signatures to encourage the base to stop the practice.) Both recent fires ignited on dry, windy days.

Meanwhile, on March 16, El Paso County announced Stage I fire restrictions, meaning those in the unincorporated county must abide by restrictions on open fires and outdoor smoking. The use or sale of fireworks is forbidden under the ban.

El Paso County is under Stage I Fire Restrictions for all unincorporated areas of El Paso County

Due to the continued dry conditions and the National Weather Service forecast for continued dry and warmer than normal conditions, resulting in very high to extreme fire danger ratings, Deputy Fire Warden John Padgett has ordered Stage I Fire Restrictions for all of the unincorporated areas of El Paso County. The Stage I Fire Restrictions shall go into effect immediately and the following are prohibited:

1. Open burning, excepting fires and campfires within permanently constructed fire grates in developed
campgrounds and picnic grounds; charcoal grills and wood burning stoves at private residences in areas
cleared of all flammable materials.
2. The sale or use of fireworks.
3. Outdoor smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped
in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

The Stage I Restrictions shall remain in effect until such time the restrictions are modified pursuant to El Paso County Ordinance #15-001.

Manitou Springs also instituted fire restrictions which include limitations on outdoor fires and an outdoor smoking ban:

Mr. Mayor and Members of City Council,

Effective immediately, and in an effort to remain consistent with regional partners, I am ordering the following Fire Restrictions for the City of Manitou Springs:

1. Open Burning Ban, defined as the prohibited use of any outside fire, including camp fires and warming fires.

This current ban excludes fires in permanently constructed fire rings within the city’s RV and Camping Parks; and charcoal grills, and wood burning fire places, (chiminia) or fire pits with proper fitting screen covers and with a minimum of 15’ separation from structures or other combustible material at private residences. None of these exclusions permit a total fuel area greater than 3 feet in diameter, and all must have a flame height of less than 2 feet.

2. Outdoor Smoking Ban, defined as the prohibited use of any tobacco product or similar material in cigarettes, cigars, or pipes outdoors. This excludes smoking in enclosed buildings or structures, and along Manitou Avenue. Discarding of a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe tobacco products is strictly prohibited.

These restrictions do not apply to gas-fueled grills used out-of-doors, or to fires within liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves. Additionally, compliant fireplaces and wood-burning stoves within private residences are not included in the ban.

If weather patterns change the local outlook significantly one way or the other, Fire Restrictions will be adjusted accordingly.

Respectfully Submitted,

John K. Forsett, Fire Chief, City of Manitou Springs

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Students walked out against gun violence. Let's honor them.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 6:12 PM

Palmer High School walk-out - ASHLEY PERRY
  • Ashley Perry
  • Palmer High School walk-out

Wednesday, at 10 a.m., students across the country walked out to demand action against gun violence. They spent 17 minutes outside, one for each person killed in the Valentine's Day massacre in Parkland, Florida this year.

A lot of people have said that this isn't appropriate action for students. Of course, people said the same thing about protesters during the Civil Rights movement, or during the Vietnam War.

The Gazette editorial page, in particular, has run several opinion pieces in recent days claiming that, by supporting their students' First Amendment rights (yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled this is within a student's constitutional rights), school administrators were putting kids in harm's way. They said that liberals are enticing kids to protest, ignoring the fact that the students who survived the Parkland shooting have sparked this movement out of a place of deep trauma and a need for change. They've claimed that so-called "walk-ins" would be a better option for kids, or that schools wouldn't allow kids to walk out for Jesus.


Children across the country left their classrooms, often with their teachers and parents meeting them on their schools' lawn. They came out to say that they're tired of lawmakers stalling on a problem that is claiming so many young lives. They came out to say that they're scared to go to school. They came out to exercise their right to speak — a right that Americans, even young Americans, cherish. They came out to protect their fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Let's not forget that every kid gunned down in our schools is robbed of that fundamental right.

Americans are all over the place when it comes to gun control. But the students that walked out today make a fair point: This issue has been so polarizing that lawmakers have, in most cases, deadlocked, doing nothing to prevent the next school shooting. By speaking out, our country's children are telling us that isn't enough. Something must be done.

We shouldn't be ashamed of these kids. We should honor them. They're brave, they're bold, and in making their voices heard, they are 100 percent American.
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Bookman finds new location ahead of planned closure

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 1:58 PM

The Bookman will be moving. - STACIE GONZALEZ
  • Stacie Gonzalez
  • The Bookman will be moving.

The owners of the Bookman say they won't need to close their business due to a lease hike after all. While the current location will still close at the end of May, as we previously reported, a new location,  at 631 W. Colorado Ave., will open on June 1.

Co-owner Kelly Klipple says she was delighted to find a new home for the store. "I think just remaining calm allowed for it to happen honestly," she says, adding that the store's  "amazing customer base" helped with the search.

The Bookman, currently located at 3163 W. Colorado Ave., has been around for three decades, but the Kelly and co-owner and husband Arthur say that pressure on the industry combined with a rent hike was too much to bear.

The new three-year lease will allow the Klipples to pay the bills while keeping the community fixture open. The new location will, however, be smaller (about 2,000 square feet compared to the current 3,000), so Kelly says the store will be having out a lot of sales leading up to the move.

"I mean there's stuff we probably don't even know we have," Kelly says of the store's packed inventory.

The original version of this blog mistakenly featured a photo from a different local book shop. We regret the error.
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Air Force Academy: Two proposals for new visitors center

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 12:57 PM

When we put together our story about the City for Champions projects and their status, which appears in this week's Independent, we hadn't heard from the Air Force Academy.

But on March 13, we received answers to a couple of our questions about the Academy Visitors Center, to be built outside the north gate.

The Academy reports that it issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) in 2016 to build the new Visitors Center. Although the Academy received three responses, it later cancelled the RFQ "after determining the proposals did not meet all the project requirements."

The Academy then issued a second RFQ in July 2017. Proposals were due Dec. 8, 2017. Two responses were submitted. The Academy offered no additional information, including which proposal was chosen or a timeline of construction.

Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director Jariah Walker says he's heard two proposals were submitted and that an office at the Pentagon will choose. "I believe we’re going to be shortly finding out what one that is," he said in an interview last week. "Last I checked, they had selected one. But I don’t have the full details."

The Urban Renewal Authority is the financial vehicle for $120.5 million in state sales tax money over 30 years that will be provided to the city for City for Champions via the Regional Tourism Act.

The other projects are a downtown sports stadium, the U.S. Olympic Museum and the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

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