Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hickenlooper leads in Democratic Senate primary, Waller trailing Allen in DA race

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 7:48 PM

Tuesday, voters appeared to opt for Hickenlooper to face off with Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race. - STATE OF COLORADO
  • State of Colorado
  • Tuesday, voters appeared to opt for Hickenlooper to face off with Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race.
Based on early returns, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was defeating former Colorado State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by 19 points (59 percent to 40 percent for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. Senate race. At 7:20 p.m., 19 of 64 counties had reported, and both candidates together tallied less than 500,000 votes. But that deficit would be difficult for Romanoff to overcome.

In El Paso County, Hickenlooper was capturing 64 percent of the vote to Romanoff's 36 percent with only 64,000 votes counted.

If Hickenlooper pulls out a victory, he'll face incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who political pundits have labeled as occupying one of the most vulnerable seats in the nation as the Dems try to take control of the upper chamber.

Meantime, Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen was running an advantage of 54 percent to 46 percent over El Paso County Commission Chairperson Mark Waller in the Republican primary for district attorney in the 4th Judicial District. Because no Democrat is running, the primary winner will take the seat. Only 77,000 votes had been counted.

Both candidates had issues leading up to their political careers, as we previously reported. And then there was the residency controversy involving Waller, who was later cleared of allegations that he had moved out of his commission district and responded by lashing out at his opponent and those who stirred the waters over the residency issue.

Regardless, Waller leaves his commission seat in January, while Allen would take a step up to DA that same month if his lead held through final results.

In the interest of disclosure, the Indy endorsed Romanoff and Allen.

In early returns, Rep. Scott Tipton, Republican congressman in District 3, was trailing in a primary with Lauren Boebert. On the Dem side, Diane Mitsch Bush was defeating James Iacino. Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, didn't have primary competition.

In State House District 20, the Democratic primary saw Meg Fossinger defeating Susan Crutchfield by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent. The winner takes on Rep. Terri Carver in November.

As for who made their voices heard, 796,467 Democrats statewide had cast ballots by noon, compared to 511,789 Republicans. Unaffiliated voters casting Democratic ballots outnumbered Republicans 275,015 to 104,033, according to the Secretary of State's website.

Far and away the biggest voting bloc were ages 55 to 74, with females age 65 to 74 tallying the highest number, 170,503, and males 18 to 24 turning in only about 25,000 ballots.
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Friday, June 19, 2020

Trump administration proposes new obstacles for asylum seekers

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 9:04 AM

This photo shows the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego. - TONY WEBSTER VIA FLICKR
  • Tony Webster via Flickr
  • This photo shows the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego.

People who come to the U.S. seeking to prove they're being persecuted based on race, religion or social group in their country of nationality could soon face new challenges to obtaining protection, under a new rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Some people apply for asylum at a border checkpoint, while others apply from within the U.S. In order to qualify for asylum, an individual has to prove a "credible fear of persecution or torture" in the country from which they fled.

The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on June 15, would (among other measures) allow for a more "streamlined" process in which immigration judges could deny someone protection from deportation without first holding a hearing, in some circumstances.

Asylum would be more difficult to obtain for people who had failed to file taxes, missed an asylum interview or been convicted of a crime. If someone had stopped in another country on the way to the U.S., that could also count against them.

The proposed changes would also redefine the standard for "credible fear of persecution of torture" such that those fleeing domestic or gang-related violence, or gender-based discrimination, would not be able to obtain safe harbor in the U.S. on those grounds alone.

"The proposed rule violates U.S. and international human rights law, effectively ending asylum," Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said in a statement. "It targets and casts aside some of the most vulnerable people in the world, who need and deserve safety and to be treated with human dignity. The administration's actions represent some of the most egregious human rights violations in our nation's immigration history."

Immigration judges decided a record number of asylum cases in 2019, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research organization at Syracuse University.

More than 67,400 asylum cases were decided by immigration judges last year, and the number of immigrants receiving asylum more than doubled from 2014 to 2019, from 9,684 to 19,831. However, TRAC notes, the number of immigrants who were denied asylum or other relief grew even faster — from 9,716 immigrants to 46,735 over the same time period. In 2019, 69 percent of asylum cases heard by judges were denied.

The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comment on the proposed rule during a 30-day period that ends July 15. Normally, the public has 60 days to comment on proposed rules once they've been published in the Federal Register.

Instructions for submitting comments are available on the Federal Register's website.
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Friday, June 12, 2020

City Council expresses support for police advisory committee

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2020 at 10:13 AM

Protesters set up a memorial for Black men killed by police outside City Hall. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • Protesters set up a memorial for Black men killed by police outside City Hall.
As a crowd gathered outside City Hall to protest police brutality against Black people — with coffins laid on the building steps — City Council met inside for a special work session to discuss the possibility of a citizen advisory committee for the Colorado Springs Police Department.

The project has been in the works since a panel discussion in February, where community members aired grievances against CSPD. After that meeting, Councilor Wayne Williams, Rev. Promise Lee, members of CSPD and several community members attended a conference in Austin to help them research possibilities.

The conference was organized by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), a nonprofit that supports independent civilian oversight of police departments around the country.

Police Chief Vince Niski has said he opposes creating a civilian oversight board to review police use of force. Some community members have pushed for such oversight since De'Von Bailey, a Black 19-year-old, was shot and killed while running from police in August (and even before that particular incident).

A grand jury ultimately ruled that the officers who shot Bailey, who had a gun in his shorts, were justified. But more and more people in the community are demanding more accountability from the police department.

In Colorado Springs and across the nation, protests have continued since George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Protesters mourn Floyd, Bailey and other Black people who've died at the hands of law enforcement.

Before the protests began, the group that went to Austin had been meeting with Williams to discuss plans for a committee to help develop recommendations for local police. The committee's aim, according to Williams, would be to "advance public safety and community trust in the highest purposes of law enforcement and to recommend positive, evidence-based police transparency and accountability practices."

Williams presented on some of the group's progress in developing plans for the committee at an April City Council work session, but another presentation was scheduled for June 22 to lay out the proposal in more detail.

That presentation was moved up slightly in hopes of easing tensions.

On June 11, some of those tensions were on display not only outside City Hall, but also inside the building.

Lee, the pastor of Relevant Word Ministries in the Hillside neighborhood south of downtown, bemoaned delays and pushback in the process of installing a committee.

"The tragedy with Mr. Floyd has simply illuminated what goes on in cities and states and counties across the globe," Lee told Council. "And the protests that we are seeing is an indication and an illustration of how tired people are of the systemic racism and the systemic oppression that continues to perpetuate itself over and over and over again."

In recent days, new voices have been added to the conversation.

Several young protest organizers who call themselves "The People" have met with council members separately and with the group that went to Austin earlier in the year. Their proposal for police accountability differs from what the Austin group has been planning, though neither plan was pitched at the work session.

Instead, Jody Alyn, a local diversity consultant who went to the Austin conference and has been involved in the process as a volunteer for several months, and Renee Alexander, a leader of The People, both asked Council for another week so that the two groups could merge their proposals.

"We had the opportunity to meet a group of young people who are earnest, who have done their homework and want to be part of the process," Alyn said.

But she added that the Austin group wants the board or committee to be completely independent from city infrastructure to ensure that it's not controlled by members of government. This type of group wouldn't need approval from Council; rather, Alyn said, it could exist with officials' endorsement and support.

As an example of an independent committee, Williams pointed to the Trails, Parks and Open Space Coalition, which doesn't have support from city staff or have members appointed by Council.

An alternative option would be a formal, City Council-appointed committee similar to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Mayor John Suthers spoke at the work session in favor of a formal committee, which he said The People had proposed.

Suthers said it would be important for the committee to use that structure in order to have a fair application process for members, the support of the city attorney's office, and the help of city staff in completing extensive research on current policing practices.

All Council members spoke in favor of creating some sort of committee, and some — including Councilors Andy Pico and Jill Gaebler — suggested they preferred The People's plan to the Austin group's, praising the young people's thorough research and willingness to bring a variety of voices to the table.

Councilor Yolanda Avila, however, voiced her concern that this supposed preference was really a sign that the mayor and City Council would try to "co-opt" The People's plan, and were mainly supporting it because they wanted a Council-appointed committee.

In the past, Council has ignored some recommendations from other advisory committees, Avila pointed out, mentioning affordable housing proposals from the Human Relations Commission that weren't implemented.

"I applaud our young people, but they have not been betrayed over and over," Avila said.

Neither group's proposal for the committee was presented in full to City Council on June 11. Council President Richard Skorman suggested scheduling another meeting for June 16 to hear the two groups' plans, which Alyn and Alexander said they wanted to discuss and hopefully merge.

"If we give the community something that not only they can trust, but they can put their belief in, this will bridge the gap between government and community, which is something that is very, very difficult to do," Alexander said. "...We could work better as a unit than separated."
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Thursday, June 11, 2020

City Council approves ordinances for accessory dwelling units

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2020 at 8:38 AM

A new ordinance allows homeowners in single-family zones to apply for a conditional use permit to build an attached unit. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • A new ordinance allows homeowners in single-family zones to apply for a conditional use permit to build an attached unit.

On first reading June 9, City Council approved a trio of ordinances aimed at increasing the city's supply of affordable housing.

The ordinances, which have been in the works for years and debated in what Councilor Andy Pico called "excruciating detail," make it easier for homeowners to add attached accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — also known as in-law units or granny flats — plus "accessory dwelling suites" to accommodate family members.

The first ordinance, which passed unanimously, defines an "accessory dwelling suite" as a unit within a main residence that has interior access to the main home as well as separate exterior access, and permits them in all zone districts (except where prohibited by homeowners' associations).

These "accessory dwelling suites" are permitted to include their own appliances such as a stove, washer and dryer, but cannot be occupied by a separate household.

This ordinance requires the property owner to occupy either the main residence or the suite in single-family zone districts. Before adding a suite, the property owner must file a declaration with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office affirming they do intend to occupy one of the residences.

The owner-occupancy requirement may be waived for two years "upon a determination that failure to waive the requirement would create an unreasonable hardship."

Homeowners wishing to add an accessory dwelling suite must be able to provide an additional off-street parking space. Floor area can't exceed 50 percent of the main home's floor area.

The second ordinance passed on a 5-3 vote, with Councilor Yolanda Avila excused. Councilors Don Knight, Andy Pico and Tom Strand were opposed.

The ordinance allows property owners to add attached accessory dwelling units — which don't necessarily have interior access to the main residence, but share a wall — in all residential zone districts except where prohibited by homeowners associations. These ADUs could be occupied by a separate household.

Currently, city code allows ADUs only in two-family, multi-family and “special use” zone districts.

This ordinance doesn't allow detached ADUs to be built in single-family zone districts, and in existing single-family neighborhoods, the property owner will only be allowed to add an attached ADU after obtaining a conditional use permit.

Such permits are approved on a case-by-case basis by the Planning Commission. They require the property owner to notify neighbors, who have the ability to go through a City Council appeal process to stop an ADU from being built.

This ordinance includes the same requirement of owner occupancy as the ordinance governing accessory dwelling suites. It also requires an additional off-street parking space for each attached ADU, and the ADU's floor area can't exceed 50 percent of the main home's floor area.

Knight said the "subjectivity" of the conditional use approval process concerned him.

"If we had some sort of objective [criteria] that, you know, the person has to get [the approval of] 51 percent of the neighbors...then that's simple cut and dried," Knight said. Rather, the Planning Commission and City Council will be evaluating neighbors' specific concerns, not tallying neighbors who support or oppose an ADU.

The third ordinance passed on an 8-0 vote with Avila excused.

It creates an accessory dwelling unit overlay district that can be used when adding new residential neighborhoods. Homeowners in the overlay district won't have to go through the conditional use process when adding an ADU.

"I feel betrayed, angry, disappointed, as well as very sad," Mary Sue Wildman, who spoke in opposition to the ordinance, told City Council. "I feel betrayed by the ordinance being one that takes away qualities of living in the R1 zone that was guaranteed to us when we bought our houses."

"I think there is a lot of miscommunication out there," Councilor David Geislinger responded. "...This overlay zone is for new neighborhoods, so existing neighborhoods would be kept intact and not changed without significant process."

Max Kronstadt, who spoke on behalf of the Colorado Springs Pro-Housing Partnership, said his organization supported the changes.

"We are a local coalition made up of a wide array of stakeholder groups who believe that we need to ease restrictive zoning to address our affordable housing crisis," Kronstadt said, adding that ADUs represent one part of what should be a comprehensive approach to affordable housing.

Councilor Jill Gaebler, who supported all three ordinances, said she wished to eventually see more allowances for ADUs (a previous proposed ordinance would have also allowed detached units in single-family zones, for example), but said she acknowledged that "this is what this Council can bear right now."

Council will vote on the ordinances a second and final time at the meeting scheduled for June 23. If approved, all three will take effect July 3.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Local officials' statements on George Floyd's death, protests

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 11:32 AM

At a June 2 news conference, Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski called George Floyd's death "not only tragic..but it was wrong [and] unjustified." - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • At a June 2 news conference, Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski called George Floyd's death "not only tragic..but it was wrong [and] unjustified."

Below, we've provided statements from local law enforcement and public officials regarding the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black security guard in Minneapolis, and subsequent protests against police brutality. Some of these statements were provided to the Indy, while others were issued directly to the public.

District Attorney Dan May

Statement provided to Indy on June 9:

I offer my deepest condolences to George Floyd, his children, loved ones and friends. His tragic death has sickened and horrified people around the world and I stand with all who call for justice to be done. Police officers take an oath to protect and serve and I believe most do so honorably.

Our mission as prosecutors is to seek truth and justice – a mission we share with peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets. In the days ahead, my hope is that we may work together and listen to each other in order to make changes that will benefit all people in our community, regardless of race or class. There is much work to be done, but we are grateful for – and support those – who are fighting against inequality and racial injustice and whose voices are being heard by an anguished nation.

Mayor John Suthers

Public statement June 3, when announcing curfew order:

First, I again want to recognize the people of Colorado Springs who, for the most part, have exercised their first Amendment rights peacefully and effectively in daily protests. We all feel the weight and the tragedy of the death of George Floyd, and we hear the calls for change from protesters. Our police department continues to engage with members of the community to further understand their viewpoints and experiences and conduct ongoing productive conversation.

Unfortunately, as darkness falls, we have seen these protests deteriorate into violence and damage, and this poses a risk to both the public and to our Police Officers. We had hoped not to get to this point, but in the interest of public safety, we are implementing a temporary curfew. Our city will continue to diligently protect citizens’ rights to free speech, but it will in no way tolerate unlawful, violent or destructive behavior.

Public statement June 8, when announcing that he would let the curfew order expire:

A tremendous amount of credit belongs to our citizens who have engaged in speech and assembly in Colorado Springs in the highest traditions of social action in America. They have been vocal and passionate about their worthy cause, but respectful of their fellow citizens and public and private property. My sincere gratitude to leaders of the protest who have steered those protesting police brutality away from other groups who do not share their message and their commitment to nonviolent methods.

Police Chief Vince Niski

Public statement May 29:

This week has been filled with pain and anger; and as the ripple effects of Minneapolis reach our city, I wanted to reach out directly to our community. Over the last few days, I have thought deeply about what are the right words to say, but nothing could amount to the frustrations we all feel. I recognize that our nation — for all its strengths and promises — has an unresolved divide, especially when it comes to police and community relations. Videos such as the one involving Mr. Floyd have only caused a deeper rift here at home as we continue to build bridges in our own community.

The most honest and transparent thing I can say to all of you is that incidents that happen 1,000 miles away do not represent your police department or your community. Our officers are committed to upholding the law, protecting and serving our community, and most importantly, strengthening the trust of those who grant us the privilege to serve them. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and will hold ourselves accountable when we fall short.

Despite uncertainty and discomfort, I find hope in the progress we are making every day and in the strength of the community we serve. We know there is room to grow and more work to be done. We accept that with open arms and will stay steadfast in our belief that compassion, understanding and unity are what will bring us closer together.

Public statement May 31:

Over the past few days, I have thought deeply about what I can say as your City’s Chief of Police that would make a difference following the events that transpired in Minneapolis. As I reflected, I came to understand that there are no words that could fully provide stability after the video has caused so much strife, pain, anger, and a negative perception of law enforcement across our entire nation. Instead, I want to give you my honest outlook.

I am not in a position to sit in judgment of another law enforcement organization or their employees. From what I have seen and what I know about use of force procedures the actions of the police in Minneapolis were questionable and tragic. In being transparent with everyone, I am saddened. I am saddened by Mr. Floyd’s death, as every life is precious. I am saddened watching videos of communities being burned in protest, as violence is never the answer. And lastly, I am saddened to see trust in law enforcement diminish, as the actions of a few do not represent us all.

News conference June 2:

I can tell you that what I saw in the video was not only tragic, but it was wrong, unjustified, and was not in service to the people those officers swore to protect.

Sheriff Bill Elder

Statement provided to Indy on June 4:

Like many law enforcement leaders across the nation, I am outraged at the senseless death of George Floyd. Those responsible are a disgrace to those who wear the badge and took an oath to serve and protect. The actions of these men have been an absolute betrayal of the most essential piece we need to be effective in public safety, community trust.

Standing proudly in peaceful protest against the actions that cost George Floyd his life is your right. It is expected, and we in public safety will protect those who do. But you must do so peacefully. Mr. Floyd’s murder does not justify the mayhem, the damage, and assaultive behavior this community is experiencing nightly in the streets of Colorado Springs and across this country. Assault, murder, looting and vandalism are not protest. They are criminal actions that cannot and will not be tolerated.

Police officers are not perfect, but the overwhelming majority are professional, respectful and selfless human beings who live in the communities they serve. On a daily basis, they run towards gunfire, as normal people run away. All too often, they lay down their own lives to protect people they have never met.

It is my expectation is that every member of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office needs to be a willing and enthusiastic ambassador of peace and information to the community we pledge to serve.
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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Footage shows vehicle hitting protester in downtown Colorado Springs

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2020 at 5:20 PM

A woman protesting downtown was hit by a Jeep. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • A woman protesting downtown was hit by a Jeep.

Conflicting accounts about a Jeep hitting a woman during a protest against police brutality abounded on social media.

The incident occurred around 8 p.m. June 3, when some people were lying on the ground near Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues. They were protesting the May 25 death of 46-year-old George Floyd, who died after two Minneapolis Police Department officers pinned him to the ground, and another pressed a knee against Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video from KKTV 11 News and Fox21 News shows a Jeep hitting a woman as other protesters lay on the ground.

The Jeep appears to bowl through the crowd and continue moving after hitting the woman.

Eventually, the driver was arrested and the woman was transported from the scene in an ambulance.

The Colorado Springs Police Department did not respond to the Indy's multiple requests for more information, but tweeted at the time:

"(Our) initial information is driver was stopped in traffic and assaulted by protesters and when a protester jumped on the hood of the jeep, it drove off, injuring the protester."

That's not what the video appears to show.

Police also tweeted that "Protestors prevented Law Enforcement from quickly providing aid to the pedestrian and driver or fully investigating the incident."

Protesters took to social media to dispute police accounts.

"The police stood around while medics [protesters who wore clothing to designate them as people able to provide medical assistance] rendered aid - protesters were not hindering anything - we were begging them to help her," local actor Sammy Gleason wrote in a Facebook post.

"The driver drove through The intersection and onto the sidewalk to bypass the protesters, putting their lives in danger," Gleason wrote.

In a video posted on Facebook showing the woman lying on the ground, Gleason said the driver ran over her on purpose.

"We're going to follow up with that person who tried to kill innocent protesters to break the cycle of slavery and racism in this country, and make sure that he fucking rots in jail," Lord Young Wavvy, a local hip-hop artist and organizer, told protesters following the incident.

A KKTV reporter tweeted that police set off smoke bombs following the collision "to get space," but police replied that they did so after being "pelted with rocks" — a statement that also drew anger from protesters.

"I was right there when they started throwing the smoke bombs...there was no rocks thrown," says Sarah Marreel-Alley, who posted a video of the incident to YouTube. "There was yelling but no rocks."

Her friend, David Burke, tells the Indy he was also standing nearby and did not see rocks thrown at police.

Marreel-Alley's video appears to show protesters' medics attempting to help the woman, while police stand by and the driver sits in the vehicle before the ambulance shows up. Then police set off smoke bombs.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" a person can be heard screaming.

Later that night, a speaker told the crowd that the victim, Nichole, was "OK."

The rest of the protest remained peaceful.

June 3 was the first night the city was under a curfew, ordered earlier that day by Mayor John Suthers.

After the curfew, speakers encouraged the crowd to remain peaceful and refrain from chanting or holding signs. They walked around the downtown area, some people splitting off to go to their cars, until about 11:30 p.m.

The following afternoon, June 4, protesters walked to UC Health Memorial Hospital in honor of the victim.

We will update this story with more information on the arrested driver and the victim's condition, when we receive it.

Editor's note: The creator of the video we originally embedded with this article has asked us to remove it. We've instead linked to videos from KKTV and Fox21.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

George Floyd's death reverberates in Colorado

Posted By and on Tue, Jun 2, 2020 at 7:37 PM

Protesters gathered outside City Hall midday on June 2, eight days after George Floyd died while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Protesters gathered outside City Hall midday on June 2, eight days after George Floyd died while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer.

In remarks delivered June 2, Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski addressed mostly peaceful local protests against police brutality against black people.

Protests kicked off nationally when Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department pressed his knee against the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old security guard, for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers also pinned down Floyd, The New York Times reports.

The incident, which was captured on video, sparked national anger against Floyd's death and the deaths of other people of color at the hands of law enforcement.

(We'll have more coverage of Colorado Springs protests in tomorrow's issue of the Indy, which you can read in print or online at csindy.com.)

Niski, who released a statement on the killing of Floyd on May 29 and then on May 31, apologized for not addressing the incident earlier.

"I can tell you that what I saw in the video was not only tragic, but it was wrong, unjustified, and was not in service to the people those officers swore to protect," he said at a news conference June 2.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski apologized for not addressing George Floyd's death earlier. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski apologized for not addressing George Floyd's death earlier.

Niski said he hesitated at first to condemn the Minneapolis police officers' actions because it was based on a short video clip — which recalled, for him, memories of other police departments judging CSPD based on footage of the August killing of De'Von Bailey, who was was armed with a concealed handgun and was shot while running from police.

Eventually, he arrived at the conclusion that these were "two different instances."

Niski hopes to improve communication to better understand the needs of people of color, he said. Part of that, he said, has been having regular conversations with community members.

The plan is eventually to create a more formal group, he suggested.

"We were having discussions before the De'Von Bailey incident, about creating a community group that would be kind of our liaison to the community, and the community's liaison back to us," Niski said. "I think what we're really looking for is two-way communication with our community...We're looking for people to ask questions on what we're doing and why we're doing it. We're still in the development stages of that."

While the protests have been "overwhelmingly peaceful," Niski defended the department's use of tear gas and rubber bullets when some people were throwing large rocks at police officers and firing at an armored vehicle late on May 30.

"Saturday was the worst night we had," he said. "I can tell you as a police department and as a staff, we were concerned. We were concerned for our city, because in my 31-year career, I have not seen that type of disorder in Colorado Springs."

A video circulating on social media appears to show CSPD officers hitting a protester and pinning him on the ground during an arrest at a Colorado Springs demonstration.

After the news conference June 2, Niski watched the video and provided the following statement through a spokesperson:

I am aware of the video circulating around social media of our officers using force to effect an arrest during the recent protest. This incident will be reviewed to determine if any laws or department policies were broken.

Preliminary, the video appears to show officers attempting to take a suspect into custody after protestors were given a lawful order to disperse. The suspect seems to be resisting, which is when officers use force to gain compliance and take him into custody.

This video shows a small snapshot of that arrest. The full review will reveal all the events that occurred leading up to this incident, during this incident, and what happened after the video stops. Once that is complete, if the officers have been found to have violated our policies or the law, the appropriate action will be taken.

While protests in Colorado Springs have been overwhelmingly peaceful, we have seen violent and unlawful acts take place, especially during the night. We stand in solidarity with our community and we will continue to protect our community’s right to protest, but when a crime occurs we have to take action to ensure an escalation of violence does not continue.

While Niski unequivocally denounced Floyd's killing, County Commissioner Holly Williams suggested there might be a reason Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck until he passed out.

"I watched the video but there's something that happened in the hour or two hours beforehand," she said during the Board of County Commissioners' June 2 meeting. "So often in the ... video, we don't get the whole story."

She noted deputies and officers face the difficult task of making spur-of-the-moment decisions that must endure analysis by lawyers, judges and the public.

"I'm not going to say this George Floyd [incident] wasn't a mistake," she said. "It was upsetting to watch that."

She asked protestors to follow the lead of the late Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated for peaceful demonstrations. Other commissioners also urged protesters to do so safely and without violence.

During a news briefing June 2, Gov. Jared Polis said, "What happened to George Floyd was not only wrong, brutal and inhumane, it was murder."

Polis noted that one reason the nation's focus is trained on the Floyd incident stems from knowing "in our heart of hearts this is not an isolated incident. This is a pattern. We see it starkly. It's something many Americans of color live in fear of."

"We need to listen to those crying out for reform and take action," Polis said. "I hear you. I see you. I grieve with you. I want to work with you to make Colorado better and America better."

Those who demand a violent crackdown on demonstrators drew Polis' ire.

"This is not China, Tiananmen Square. It's not leadership. It's creating more division."

Asked to respond to President Donald Trump's accusation that governors are weak, Polis said a threat to deploy federal troops is counterproductive and "would only stoke worse violence and destruction."

He also said Trump is isolated in the White House and "doesn't know what's going on on our streets."

He said he would work with the Black Caucus, the Legislature, cities and counties to "promote equal treatment under the law." But he didn't name specifics.

The County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police also called for change.

“We are shocked and disgusted by the indefensible use of force that led to George Floyd's recent death in Minneapolis," Broomfield Police Chief Gary Creager, chair of the state police chiefs association, said in a joint statement from the three organizations. "We are equally appalled, however, by the lack of intervention displayed by the other officers who were on the scene."

The three organizations jointly urged state lawmakers to pass a state law requiring officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses force unreasonably, and to report such instances to a superior.

The "Duty to Intervene" is already expected in most Colorado law enforcement agencies, they said, but passing a state law would mean officers could face criminal prosecution in cases like the Minneapolis killing.

In a June 2 statement, a coalition of activist groups condemned "the appalling violence and use of force perpetrated at the hands of law enforcement in Colorado," and called on state lawmakers to hold officers accountable for their actions.

The coalition — including groups such as the NAACP CO–MT–WY State Conference, ProgressNow Colorado and the ACLU of Colorado — accused law enforcement of using aggressive tactics against people gathered peacefully to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other murdered black people.

"On several occasions, these officers met nonviolent congregations of Coloradans and clearly-identified members of the press with volleys of tear gas, pepper balls, and flash bangs," the statement says.  "This is more than just an egregious misuse of force. It is a serious public health concern, especially during an ongoing pandemic."

The statement notes that tear gas "h
as a long history of being utilized to silence communities of color," and is known to cause chemical burns, respiratory problems, miscarriages and stillbirths.

Other organizations signing the statement included the ACLU of Colorado, Women's Lobby of Colorado, The Marigold Project, New Era Colorado, The Bell Policy Center, Cobalt, Denver Young Democrats, Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable, The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, One Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

"There is no excuse for using tear gas on nonviolent protesters, let alone those blameless citizens who’ve found themselves in the crossfire," they wrote. "...Our organizations stand together in calling on our lawmakers to pass effective legislation right now to hold law enforcement accountable and to ensure the public is kept safe from police violence."

Stephen Meswarb, interim executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, also voiced anger.

“The protests happening all over the country are an outpouring of rage and grief at the endless, relentless examples of unarmed Black people being brutalized and murdered at the hands of police," Meswarb said in a statement. "George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just the latest deaths. Here in Colorado in 2016, Michael Marshall was killed by jail deputies who held him down until he aspirated. In August 2019, Elijah McClain, 23, died after a prolonged encounter with Aurora police officers. That same month, De’Von Bailey, 19, was shot in the back while running away and killed by Colorado Springs police. ACLU of Colorado is united in solidarity with protestors across the country demanding an end to violent, racist policing."

Meswarb condemned Denver police for “shooting rubber bullets and pepper balls indiscriminately into peaceful crowds and using tear gas and other chemical irritants to disperse protesters."

Also on June 2, state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, introduced a bill to increase police transparency and accountability in Colorado.

The legislation appoints the state's attorney general as an "independent investigator of all instances where law enforcement’s use of force results in death or serious bodily injury," according to a statement from Herod.

It also would remove "immunity for prosecution from law enforcement found to have acted unlawfully, allowing peace officers to be sued in their individual capacity" and "require all law enforcement to use body cameras and to collect and report data on the individuals that are stopped and searched."

“Of course, the great percentage of police officers operate with the utmost integrity," Herod said in the statement. "They need not fear. This legislation isn’t about them. It is about holding accountable those that take for granted the public trust; those that need policing.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article implied that Niski had not released a statement on George Floyd's death until May 31. In fact, he had issued two statements on Facebook, one May 29 and one May 31.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Waller accuses his DA race opponent of abuse of office, collusion

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 5:46 PM

Mark Waller: He's angry. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mark Waller: He's angry.
The campaign of Michael Allen, Republican candidate for district attorney, abused his office and violated attorneys' ethical standards by calling attention to questions surrounding the residency of El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.

That was a portion of a campaign message from Waller to supporters.

Waller is running against Allen for the Republican nomination in the June 30 primary election. No Democrat is running, so the primary will decide the race.

Waller also lashed out at Colorado Springs City Councilor Jill Gaebler, saying she tried to derail his campaign.

At issue is where Waller lives. He says he lives on Mustang Rim Drive, within his district, while his political foes contend he lives in a home in Palmer Lake outside his district that he bought last fall using a Veterans Affairs-backed loan, which requires he occupy the house within 60 days of closing.

After Douglas Bruce filed a complaint when asked to do so by former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, the 10th Judicial District DA's Office concluded there was insufficient evidence he had moved outside his district, which could have caused him to step down from that office. (The 10th District was referred the case after 4th Judicial District DA Dan May bowed out due to his support of Allen, a chief deputy DA in his office.)

In the message, Waller, who didn't respond to the Indy's request for comment last week when the 10th Judicial District DA's Office released the finding, says he's "angry because Michael Allen's campaign recklessly put my family at risk for political gain."

He also wrote:
I'm angry because Michael Allen's campaign decided attacking me personally is a better campaign strategy than debating qualifications. But most of all, I'm angry because a sitting senior deputy district attorney and a sitting Colorado Springs Council member so callously and without regard to oaths they've taken thought it appropriate to abuse the office of the District Attorney and the criminal justice system for political gain. This is a clear violation of the ethical standards attorneys swear to uphold, but it's also a breech of the trust the public puts in people in positions of authority.

Here's the story. Michael Allen's campaign colluded with Jill Gaebler and Jim Bensberg to file a complaint with the DA's office for the purpose of derailing my campaign. Since Gaebler and Bensberg are two of Allen's biggest supporters, they didn't want their names associated with the complaint, so they solicited Doug Bruce to file the complaint. Bruce filed the complaint with the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office, who sent it to the 10th Judicial District Attorney's office. Gaebler, who was staking out my house herself, was collaborating with Allen's campaign and pushed the Gazette to write a story. I found out a complaint had been filed, not by an official source, but by a reporter. To be clear, the complaint was rejected without merit.
The email contained these quotes lifted from the report:
Tenth Judicial District DA Jeff Chostner's report states that although Waller bought property in Palmer Lake and spends time there, the investigation revealed he resides on Mustang Rim Drive within his commissioner district, based on a lease agreement, copies of checks for rent, mail addressed to him there and his driver's license and vehicle registration address.

Chostner wrote, "there is not a showing that Mr. Waller abandoned his residence" on Mustang Rim Drive." Hence, he added, "There is insufficient evidence to support that Mr. Waller vacated his County Commissioner seat."

Chostner didn't address the VA loan.

Allen has previously said he didn't have anything to do with the complaint about Waller's residency and it's not appropriate to politicize the issue. He didn't respond to a request for comment about Waller's email message.

Gaebler, who was attending a City Council meeting May 26, didn't respond. But last week she said in an email, "... no matter where Mark Waller is living, he is either defrauding the [Veterans Affairs] or the citizens living in his commission district. He isn’t an ethical person, and should not be our next district attorney.”
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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

COVID-19 update for May 19: Polis allocates $1.6 billion in federal relief

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2020 at 5:31 PM

El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health
  • El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen.

Starting May 15, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began reporting COVID-19 deaths in two ways: the number of people who died with COVID-19, and the number of people whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 on a death certificate.

CDPHE was reporting 1,257 deaths of people who had COVID-19 when they died, and 968 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 through May 18.

The state has had 22,482 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and 3,955 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

Meanwhile, El Paso County has had 1,376 cases, 235 hospitalizations and 85 deaths, according to El Paso County Public Health.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution May 19 supporting the Senior and Disabled Homestead Exemption, a property tax break for seniors and veterans with disabilities.

Legislative staff had recommended eliminating the exemption due to a projected $3.3 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Read more about the exemption here.

To the frustration of Republicans (including several county commissioners), Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order allocating $1.674 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding.

"I am grateful for the support we have received from the federal government, but there will still be hardship ahead," Polis said in a May 18 statement. "This immediate disbursement ensures that no Coloradan has to go without a hospital bed when they need one, that the state can continue to scale up testing and containment, and protect our most vulnerable.

Through an executive order, Polis authorized transfers of:

• $48 million for the current fiscal year, which lasts through June, and $157 million for fiscal year 2020-2021, to the state's Disaster Emergency Fund for medical and public health expenses (including distributions to local public health agencies) due to the COVID-19 crisis;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $7 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Corrections for expenditures to comply with public health measures, such as sanitation and implementation of social distancing measures;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $1 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Human Services for expenditures related to compliance with public health measures veterans living facilities and other long-term care facilities;
• $2 million for FY 2019-20 and $20 million for FY 2020-21 to DHS for increased caseload in benefit programs;
• $37 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Education to respond to increased numbers of at-risk students and other effects of COVID-19;
• $10 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Local Affairs for emergency rental and mortgage assistance, as well as direct assistance, to individuals impacted by COVID-19;
• $510 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Education for expenditures related to remote learning, mitigating lost student progress and increasing free instructional hours;
• $450 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Higher Education to promote policies for retaining students without large increases in tuition;
• $28.9 million for FY 2019-20 and $55.9 million for FY 2020-21 for payroll expenses and other expenditures for public safety, health care and human services employees;
• $275 million for FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21 for local governments that didn't receive direct allocations through the coronavirus relief package;
• and $70 million to the state general fund for eligible expenditures related to COVID-19.

Colorado Senate Republicans promptly issued a statement protesting Polis' decision to "unilaterally" allocate the money.

"In a violation of longstanding tradition that gives the people the authority of their tax dollars, the Governor has distributed these funds unilaterally, largely ignoring the needs of Coloradans who reside outside of the Denver metro area," Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said. "The Governor's power grab makes it critical that we return to the Capitol now.”

Help Colorado Now, the state's COVID-19 fund, issued a third round of grants totaling $2.7 million to organizations supporting relief efforts. The fund has awarded a total of $11.1 million to 505 nonprofits, businesses and local governments across the state.

Among local awardees:

• Cheyenne Village received $10,000 to provide support for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
• Gateway to Success, which serves domestic violence victims and provides mental health and substance use in El Paso, Fremont, and Pueblo counties, received $25,000.
• Partners in Housing received $25,000 to help families experiencing homelessness.

El Paso County Public Health announced three new outbreaks of COVID-19. They include:

• McDonald’s at 535 Airport Creek Point (three employees tested positive);
• Springs Fabrication at 850 Aeroplaza Drive (two employees tested positive); and
• Cheyenne Mountain Care Center at 835 Tenderfoot Hill Road (two employees tested positive).

The health department also reports that one additional employee of the Walmart on 1575 Space Center Drive, and one new employee of the Discover Goodwill store at 4158 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases for each of those outbreaks to four.

Due to an increase in the availability of supplies, state and local health officials encourage anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (such as cough, fever and shortness of breath) to get tested.

"We are now encouraging you to get tested to see if it is COVID, if you have flu-like symptoms," Polis said at a May 18 news conference. "...Keep in mind that flu is mostly gone from our state."

Local, no-cost testing sites include:

• the UCHealth drive-thru testing site at 175 S. Union Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
• the Peak Vista Community Health Centers drive-thru testing site at 3205 N. Academy Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and
• the Pueblo County testing site at 1001 Beulah Ave. (enter through Gate 4 off Mesa Avenue and Gaylord Avenue), open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also has an online symptom tracker where you can report symptoms of COVID-19 to assist the state's ability to track outbreaks.

Up to 20 percent of staff who had been working remotely returned to work in city facilities this week, according to a May 18 statement from the city.

"This staff returns to join many essential employees and public safety workers who have necessarily continued to work on-site through the crisis," the statement says.

At the City Administration Building and City Hall, employees and visitors are required to undergo temperature and symptom checks upon entering, according to the statement. People with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater must return home and can't return for at least 72 hours.

"The City continues to do business during this time, but in-person services will continue to be extremely limited at administrative locations," the statement says. "The public is encouraged to use the GoCOS app, the city website and no-contact drop-box services to conduct business with the City."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct amount of federal relief money allocated to the Colorado Department of Education.
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Friday, May 15, 2020

Hickenlooper, Romanoff share Senate platforms in first forum featuring both

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 9:32 AM

Andrew Romanoff sought to distinguish his more progressive platform from Hickenlooper's. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Andrew Romanoff sought to distinguish his more progressive platform from Hickenlooper's.

Andrew Romanoff, Colorado's former House speaker, has repeatedly criticized former Gov. John Hickenlooper for skipping forums and debates among candidates for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's U.S. Senate seat.

On May 14 — one week after the Secretary of State's Office finalized Colorado's June non-presidential primary ballot — Romanoff finally had his way, as Indivisible NOCO, a progressive activist group, staged a Zoom forum where both candidates could share their views in real time.

Romanoff made clear, though, that he would have preferred an actual debate between candidates. The ground rules of the forum dictated that the two men couldn't attack one another's viewpoints, but rather answer questions one at a time, so voters could "hear both candidates out on their positions," as moderator Gordon McLaughlin explained.

It was a somewhat anticlimactic meeting for the two remaining candidates in one of the most closely watched races outside of the presidential election. Both had an opportunity to review the moderator's questions ahead of time, with a few audience questions added at the tail end.

Around 800 people were tuned in to the forum, according to Indivisible NOCO.

Romanoff's answers included some thinly veiled jabs at his opponent for not participating in earlier debates and for his more moderate platform. Romanoff, the former director of nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, has made the Green New Deal and Medicare for All central to his own campaign, which has relied on grassroots support mostly from within the state.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, appeared to be trying to emphasize his support for clean energy and gun safety, both areas in which his policy while governor has been criticized by progressives.

The candidates' answers to a question on health care policy provided one of the most dramatic moments. In his response to a question asking how he'd implement universal health care, Hickenlooper said he'd start with a public option that "would be a version of ... something like Medicare or Medicare Advantage."

"If it's done well and it's successful, it'll grow," he said. "It'll attract more people, it'll get larger, the costs will come down, the quality will increase...you'll end up with an evolution that allows people ultimately to get to a single-payer system — but it'll be an evolution, not a revolution."

It was Romanoff's turn to answer the question next.

"I support Medicare for All," he said. "I don't believe this is a time for timidity, and telling folks they have to wait for a slow evolution is heartless."

As he has in the past, Hickenlooper frequently mentioned the state's first-in-the-nation move to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry during his time in the governor's office. (Critics of Hickenlooper's record on fracking say those methane rules cut down on a fraction of the state's emissions, Westword reported last year.)

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper touted his business experience. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper touted his business experience.

He also frequently mentioned his desire to transition the country from coal to renewable energy such as wind and solar.

"We've got to be willing to go to Washington and treat climate change like — well, it's an existential threat to the entire planet," he said. 

In his own answers, Hickenlooper didn't appear to be overly focused on differentiating his platform from Romanoff's, instead aiming his rhetoric at beating Gardner and overcoming Republicans in the Senate.

Hickenlooper skirted a question about whether he supported the Green New Deal in favor of expressing support for "innovation" in the energy sector, citing his actions as governor to accommodate electric vehicles.

Romanoff, on the other hand, took advantage of several opportunities to state, or imply, ways in which the Democratic candidates differ.

"Republicans are going to attack us no matter what," he said in closing remarks. "They're not going to reward our timidity, so you can't triangulate your way out of this fight. You need to stand your ground. You need to defend your principles. You need to show up and answer questions."

A crowded field of Democrats running to challenge Gardner, including Romanoff, battled it out for months before Hickenlooper joined the race in August, after dropping his bid for president.

Originally, Hickenlooper had rejected calls to drop out of the presidential race and run for Senate — which he acknowledged during the May 14 forum.

"I spent 20 years in a small business, eight years as mayor, eight years as governor, learning how government should work in Washington," he said, "and you know, I did say [Washington] was a terrible place for someone like me, but I am more passionate about this campaign and about winning this office than anything I've ever done in my life."

Hickenlooper petitioned onto the ballot by collecting voter signatures, after an informal preference poll conducted at Democratic caucuses in early March showed Romanoff with a lead of more than 24 percentage points. (The Colorado Sun reports Hickenlooper's campaign paid a political firm more than $420,000 to collect those signatures.)

No other candidates collected enough signatures to successfully petition on to the ballot.

Romanoff was the sole candidate who qualified for the June primary through the caucus and assembly process, garnering 85.86 percent of delegate votes at the Democratic state assembly. State party rules require candidates to garner at least 30 percent of votes if they choose a path to the ballot through that process.

Stephany Rose Spaulding, chair of the Women's and Ethnic Studies program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, came in second with 9.02 percent of the votes.

So far, Hickenlooper's campaign has drawn in a great deal of support from outside the state, and he is the candidate favored by the party establishment. He raised more than $4 million in the first quarter of 2020, while Romanoff brought in $420,000 and Gardner $2.4 million.

Before June 30, the non-presidential primary election day, Colorado voters who are registered with a political party will receive that party's ballot. Unaffiliated voters can save paper by visiting GoVoteColorado.com to select their party preference for that election ahead of time.

Otherwise, unaffiliated voters will receive ballots for both major parties, but can only return one ballot. Gardner does not face a primary challenger.
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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Lamborn lashes out at Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2020 at 1:28 PM

Congressman Doug Lamborn: Standing up for Jesus. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Congressman Doug Lamborn: Standing up for Jesus.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, is leading a campaign to urge Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to "protect the religious liberty" of military members against demands by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to stop pushing Christianity as a condition of military service.

"Far too often, commanders react hastily to vocal anti-religion activists who attempt to obstruct our troops’ first amendment rights,” Lamborn said in a release. “These decisions are often overturned, but only after the intervention of Congress. These infringements on the constitutional rights of our service members must end."

At issue are several recent incidents in which military leaders advocated for Christianity to their troops from their military positions, which the MRFF contends violates the separation of church and state, and military instructions that one religion cannot be favored over another or suggested as a condition of serving in the military.

Some examples cited by Lamborn, which led to changes to that made clear to military members they're not expected to believe in Jesus in order to serve:

Col. Moon H. Kim who sent an email from his military address containing an unsolicited PDF copy of John Piper's new book Coronavirus and Christ to 35 other chaplains, according to Christianity Daily.
• Cpt. Amy Smith, Maj. Scott Ingram and Maj. Christian Goza posting Facebook videos about Christianity on official military pages, Fox News reports.
• Lt. Col. David McGraw hosting Sunday services on his military quarters balcony.

"These complaints show that this organization and its leaders refuse to see the difference between evangelizing and proselytization and wish to ruin the careers of the hardworking men and women who serve as military chaplains,” Lamborn and others said in a letter to Esper. “Unfortunately, the Department (of Defense) and the Army have been far too quick to restrict the religious freedom of chaplains and the service members they serve as a result of this group attacks.”

They note the 2013 and 2014 National Defense Authorization Acts provided protections of religious expression.

Mikey Weinstein: Opposes military favoring Christianity, or any religion, over other religions or no religion. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • Mikey Weinstein: Opposes military favoring Christianity, or any religion, over other religions or no religion.
But MRFF's founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein tells the Indy in an email, "Lamborn has the IQ at about the level of a garden rabbit." (MRFF has tangled numerous times with the Air Force Academy, accusing it of favoring Christianity over other religions, though the Academy denies the accusations.)

Lawrence Wilkerson, retired Army colonel and member of the MRFF advisory board who served as the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, issued this statement:
No fewer than twenty Members of Congress have just totally shamed themselves, proving why the U.S. Congress' rating in poll after poll is now so consistently low it can be declared single-digit.

Doug Collins, W. Gregory Steube, Doug Lamborn, Jim Banks, Ralph Norman, Mike Johnson, Louie Gohmert, Debbie Lesko, Steve King, Andy Harris, Kevin Brady, Brian Babin, Rick Allen, Tim Walberg, Glenn Grothman, Bill Flores, Andy Biggs, Austin Scott, Vicky Hartzler, and that gas-mask-wearing, certified lemon from the Sunshine State of Florida, Matt Gaetz, have penned a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper worthy of being filed with the worst to ever pass from Congress to the Department of Defense.

The letter illustrates each Member's rank ignorance of the U.S. Constitution, of the responsibilities of U.S. military chaplains, of the criticality of good order and discipline in the ranks of the military, and of their own responsibility to the secular law before whatever allegiance they might feel to fundamentalist Christian or other biblical, religious, or spiritual law.

If they believe the reverse — which clearly they must — they should resign immediately from Congress and join the ranks of those American taliban whom they obviously represent. In our country, that's their right. There are probably civilian pulpits aplenty from which they can spew their invectives. But not while in the government and not while using their influence to compel others in that government to "defy the Constitution for Jesus or whatever other diety". Next, these men will be demanding trials for the witches and devils that torment them. 
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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Supreme Court hears Colorado's 'faithless electors' case, by phone

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 5:02 PM

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser argued in a Supreme Court case. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser argued in a Supreme Court case.

Two sides in a high-profile case surrounding three would-be "faithless electors" from Colorado argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on May 13 — from a distance.

Rather than argue the state's case in Washington, D.C., Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sat in a Denver conference room with a "nice view of the Capitol," on the eighth floor of the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building with his wife and son.

Weiser admits he "did not focus so much on the exterior view during the argument," though.

And for good reason: Some scholars have said this case has the potential to completely upend the way the U.S. elects the president.

The case centers on the decision of a so-called "faithless elector," Colorado's Micheal Baca, to cast a vote for presidential candidate John Kasich in the 2016 election rather than Hillary Clinton, who won the state's popular vote. Two other Democratic electors, Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich, had also planned to cast their votes for Kasich but did not do so.

(The aim of all three was to deprive Donald Trump of enough votes to win the presidency as part of a national effort.)

In Colorado (as in most states), members of the Electoral College are required by law to cast their votes for the candidate who wins the popular vote in a given state. So, Baca was replaced by then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

The three electors took the case to court — and in August, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor.

In October, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. Their petition was granted in January, and 45 states plus the District of Columbia filed a brief in support of states' rights to impose requirements on electors.

Attorneys for the "faithless electors," on the other hand, argue that electors have autonomy to vote for whomever they choose.

The Supreme Court heard a similar case from Washington state, in which electors were fined for not voting for the winner of that state's popular vote, just before Colorado's case.

Recordings of the oral arguments will be available on the Supreme Court's website by the end of the week.

Until then, here's a recap:

• One of Weiser's central arguments, which was endorsed by Washington state, is that the Constitution allows state lawmakers to enact any limitations they choose for electors, as long as those limitations don't interfere with other constitutional requirements, such as those barring discrimination. (This argument appears to suggest that the National Popular Vote pact, a movement to require electors to vote for the national popular vote winner, would withstand merit.)

"The 14th Amendment quite notably means a state could not remove an elector based on race or religion," Weiser explained to Chief Justice John Roberts. "Also, the qualifications clause [of the Constitution] means you can't remove electors for the purpose of adding qualifications for who can be president."

• Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked a rather philosophical question: "What is the purpose of having electors?"

"When electors are set up in the constitutional design, that allows for states to make a choice," Weiser replied. "Electors can either vote as proxy voters on behalf of the public, as we do here in Colorado, or they can be free agents."

•Meanwhile, Jason Harrow, chief counsel at Equal Citizens, a Massachusetts-based firm that advocates for election reform, argued the opposite: that electors, as individuals, have nearly limitless discretion.

"Once the vote begins, that vote by ballot is the electors," said Harrow. He argued that Colorado's law binding electors to the popular vote allows no leeway, even if a presidential candidate was facing accusations of bribery, for example, or had passed away after the general population cast their votes.

• During a video conference after the oral arguments, Weiser suggested that lawyers for the faithless electors in Washington state's case implied that the chaos that could result from giving electors that ultimate discretion could lead to needed changes with the Electoral College system.

But Weiser told reporters that goes against Colorado's philosophy.

"I personally am not a fan of a chaos theory," he said. "I believe in working hard to make institutions work in a functional and pragmatic way. That's what we're doing here in Colorado."

• One highlight for Weiser? Justice Clarence Thomas' Lord of the Rings reference.

Thomas is famous for rarely speaking during oral arguments, but wasn't shy about grilling Weiser and Harrow during their remote presentations.

"The elector who has promised to vote for the winning candidate could suddenly say, 'I’m going to vote for Frodo Baggins ... I really like Frodo Baggins,'" he posed to Harrow, "and you’re saying under your system you can’t do anything about that."

"I think there is something to be done, because that would be a vote for a non-person," Harrow replied. (Harrow had earlier stated that case law dictates electors cannot vote for someone who is not a human.)

Weiser, a self-described "huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien," looped that reference back in to his closing argument.

"During the course of this entire litigation and this argument today, my friends on the other side have failed to offer any viable theory on how to address the spectacle of a bribed elector, an elector who votes for Frodo Baggins, or one who would perpetrate a bait-and-switch on the people of our state," he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in Colorado and Washington state's cases anytime between now and June.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

COVID-19 update for April 22: Hot air balloon rides for first responders

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 5:48 PM

Hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders is giving away free balloon rides to first responders and front-line workers. - COURTESY OF RAINBOW RYDERS
  • Courtesy of Rainbow Ryders
  • Hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders is giving away free balloon rides to first responders and front-line workers.

As of 4 p.m. April 22, the Colorado Department of Public Health was reporting 10,878 cases, 2,123 hospitalizations and 508 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That data is current through April 21.

In El Paso County, there have been 774 cases and 54 deaths.

The latest data on outbreaks at non-hospital health care facilities, such as nursing homes, shows 123 outbreaks statewide and seven in El Paso County.

New outbreaks in El Paso County include Apple Tree Assisted Living, which had two residents test positive for COVID-19, and Pikes Peak Care Center, which had two residents and one staff member test positive.

You can view more detailed data at covid19.colorado.gov or at elpasocountyhealth.org/covid19data-dashboard.

And if you haven't seen it yet, you may want to check out our cover story this week delving into El Paso County Public Health's response to the outbreak of COVID-19 that began at a local bridge club.

Gov. Jared Polis outlined more specific guidance for businesses that plan to reopen soon, when the stay-at-home order expires April 27 and the "Safer at Home" phase of Colorado's COVID-19 response kicks off.

The following guidelines, which apply starting April 27, come from Polis' office:

• Vulnerable populations and older adults must stay home unless absolutely necessary.
• No group gatherings of more than 10 people.
• Critical businesses will remain open with strict precautions (social distancing, masks for all employees, more frequent cleanings, etc.)
• Retail businesses may open for curbside delivery and phased-in public opening with strict precautions.
• Nightclubs, gyms and spas will remain closed.
• Elective medical and dental procedures begin, with strict precautions to ensure adequate personal protective equipment and the ability to meet critical care needs.
• Personal services (salons, tattoo parlors, dog grooming, personal training, etc.) will open with strict precautions.
• K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions will continue to suspend normal in-person instruction for the 2019-2020 school year.
• Telecommuting continues for offices. Starting on May 4, up to 50% of staff can work in person (with social distancing in place).
• The state is not changing requirements for nursing homes and other senior care facilities. There will continue to be restrictions on visiting residents.
For many industries in Colorado, Polis said April 22, "there's going to be specifics that are outlined by public health around these practices... As consumers, as individuals, you don't need to know them."

But Polis emphasized that all Coloradans need to wear face masks and practice good handwashing hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, will hold a telephone town hall April 23 to provide an update on the federal response to COVID-19 and to answer Coloradans' questions.

Bennet will be joined by Dr. Mark Learned from Kaiser Permanente Colorado, Greg Stasinos from the Colorado Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, and Mark Crisman from the Colorado Health Emergency Line for Public Information (COHELP). Those experts will provide information on Colorado's response and available resources.

Coloradans can RSVP online here, and are asked to call in at 12:55 p.m. to "ensure a prompt start to the discussion." The town hall is scheduled from 1-2 p.m.

Five community organizations helping support COVID-19 relief efforts will receive grants totaling $55,000, thanks to the Hillside neighborhood's Hillside Advisory Team and The Colorado Trust, a statewide foundation.

Among the recipients, chosen by the team for their impact on the Hillside community:

Pikes Peak Community Foundation received $25,000 "to support emergency relief efforts in southeast Colorado Springs," according to a statement from The Colorado Trust.

Colorado Springs Food Rescue received $10,000 "to support the emergency food relief program at the Helen Hunt Campus," a nonprofit campus on the site of a former elementary school.

Community Partnership for Child Development (CPCD) Giving Children a Head Start received $5,000 to "ensure family stability and continued educational opportunities for children enrolled at the Helen Hunt Campus."

Catholic Charities of Central Colorado received $5,000 to "support the Family Connections program at the Helen Hunt Campus."

Open Bible Medical Clinic & Pharmacy received $5,000 to "support their mobile food pantry."

PikeRide received $5,000 to "support provision of free rides for health care workers, small-business employees and community members."

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) sought to clarify that survivors of domestic violence are permitted to leave their homes — regardless of social distancing restrictions and public health orders — to call or text for help, or to find safe housing.

"The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority, and everyone who needs to leave their home to stay safe can and should do so," CDHS Executive Director Michelle Barnes said in a statement.

"We know that people who perpetrate violence in their relationship may use misinformation and lies to control their partners and create fear," Barnes continued. "It is acceptable to leave your home — and to take any dependents like children or parents with you — in order to ask for help or escape violence."

Here are some local resources for domestic violence survivors:

Haseya Advocate Program, which serves Native American survivors, can be reached at 719-600-3939.

TESSA Colorado Springs has several advocates working Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can be reached at the following numbers:

Outside of those hours, you can dial TESSA's 24-hour Safe Line at 719-633-3819.

Voces Unidas for Justice, which offers cultural and linguistic services for Latin@s, can be reached at 720-588-8219.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-800-799-7233 — can also connect people to a local provider. People who can't make a phone call can text loveis to 22522 or visit thehotline.org to chat with an advocate.

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office encourages voters to prepare for the June 30 non-presidential primary election by making sure their information is up-to-date online.

"Voters should use online services to avoid in-person contact once offices reopen," a statement from the Pikes Peak Regional Joint Information Center says.

Visit GoVoteColorado.gov to update your voter information, make changes to your party affiliation or party preference, or register to vote.

Voters affiliated with a major party will only receive that party's primary ballot.

Unaffiliated voters will receive mailed ballots for both the Republican and Democratic primaries unless they choose a party preference ahead of the election. (If you already chose a preference for the March election, you must choose one again for the June primary if you only want to receive one ballot.)

Even if you receive both ballots in the mail, keep in mind that you may only return one, or your vote won't count.

Voters with questions can contact the elections department at 719-575-VOTE (8683) or elections@elpasoco.com.

UCHealth, in coordination with El Paso County Public Health, is now conducting COVID-19 testing for all people with the ability to walk who have experienced fever, cough or shortness of breath within the last 3-5 days. No doctor’s note is required.

The drive-thru testing site is located at South Parkside Drive in KidsKare Point, one block east of Union Boulevard. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For a bit of levity (see what we did there), hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders is giving away free hot air balloon rides to first responders, medical professionals, grocery and pharmacy workers.

Nominate someone (including yourself) online, for the chance to win a hot air balloon ride for two, valued at $450.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

National Popular Vote to appear on the ballot this fall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 12:51 PM

Protesters hoped the Electoral College would opt against Trump in 2016. - RENA SCHILD / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com
  • Protesters hoped the Electoral College would opt against Trump in 2016.

The two sides in a battle over who gets to elect the president are coming into clearer focus ahead of the 2020 fall election.

The issue: whether the presidency should continue to go to the candidate with the most Electoral College delegates — the system that's been in place since the country's founding — or the person who garners the highest support among individual voters, thereby winning the popular vote.

The College has a total of 538 electors, including nine in Colorado. The number of a state’s electors is equal to its senators (two) plus the number of representatives, which is based on population. Under the current system, those electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who wins the state's popular vote.

The National Popular Vote movement, which started in 2006 but recently gained momentum, asks state legislatures to pass a law pledging their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. It doesn't go into effect until states that hold a total of 270 electoral votes (enough to win the election) have signed on.

So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia (representing 196 total electoral votes) have passed National Popular Vote laws.

Colorado’s popular vote law, Senate Bill 42, was signed by Gov. Jared Polis on March 15, 2019. But state legislators included a provision that, should someone file to place a referendum on the ballot in 2020, the law would not go into effect until voters had weighed in.

An opposition group — led by Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese and Monument Mayor Don Wilson — did just that, submitting enough petition signatures last August to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot.

On April 14, the Yes on National Popular Vote committee launched a campaign to get Coloradans to approve the law. But it's been raising money for a while now. The committee had raised more than $1.7 million as of Jan. 15, including a $330,000 contribution from Santa Monica, California, resident Josh Jones.

Opponents, including the Protect Colorado's Vote committee, argue that the National Popular Vote reduces the influence of less populous states by making every individual vote equal. (That committee had raised nearly $800,000 as of Jan. 15.)

Outrage over the idea of handing Colorado's electoral votes to New York and California has become a rallying cry against the change.

"Vote Democrat if you want to give your presidential vote to New York and to California," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, said at a February rally to re-elect President Donald Trump.

One counterargument to that viewpoint: The outsize influence of small states only benefits the residents of those states who are members of the state's majority party.

Under a winner-take-all model, a minority-party vote doesn’t get tabulated toward a total that ultimately decides the presidential race; it essentially disappears. (Colorado voted Democrat in the last presidential election, meaning all of the state's electoral votes were awarded to Hillary Clinton.)

"The National Popular Vote will make sure every voter across the country is relevant," state Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said during a conference call announcing the Yes on National Popular Vote campaign's launch. "Somebody wanting to vote for a Democratic candidate in a red state will have the same voice as someone wanting to vote for a Republican candidate in that state."

Foote, the National Popular Vote bill sponsor in Colorado, said the committee had grassroots support from communities across the state. Organizations that have endorsed a "yes" vote on the referendum include the League of Women Voters of Colorado; the NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference; and Common Cause Colorado.

"Colorado voters have a really great opportunity to show the rest of the country that the National Popular Vote is in fact a good idea and a good idea in our democracy by voting yes this fall," Foote said. "...If it doesn’t pass, then that just means that it’s off the books in Colorado ... but all you need is states with 270 electoral votes to pass the National Popular Vote agreement for it to go into effect."

The campaign hosted the first of several virtual town halls April 14, with more to come.
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Friday, April 10, 2020

COVID-19 update for April 10: Polis mourns death of 21-year-old athlete

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 5:46 PM

Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference outside the Colorado Convention Center, where construction is underway on an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients. - GOV. JARED POLIS FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Gov. Jared Polis Facebook page
  • Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference outside the Colorado Convention Center, where construction is underway on an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients.

As of 4 p.m. April 10, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 6,510 cases of COVID-19, along with 1,312 hospitalizations and 250 deaths. In El Paso County, there have been 550 cases and 33 deaths. (That data is current through April 9.)

Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference April 10 outside the Colorado Convention Center, where he said construction had been underway for the last 48 hours on an alternative care facility to house recovering COVID-19 patients who may need to be transferred from hospitals to accommodate more people.

Polis stressed that all Coloradans, even those who don't have preexisting medical conditions and younger people who are less at risk, should continue to take precautions against the coronavirus by staying at home except for essential travel and business, and wearing a mask outside.

"Of course we mourn victims of all ages, but to highlight how this virus can strike down anybody in their prime, we lost in the last couple of days 21-year-old Cody Lyster," Polis said. Lyster, a baseball player at Colorado Mesa University, is one of the youngest people to die from COVID-19 in Colorado.

Polis also promoted a website that was recently launched by the state, stayathomeco.colorado.gov. The website features free wellness, education and entertainment resources for people under self-quarantine.

"If you can provide [online] services for free to your fellow Coloradans in this crisis, you can sign up to do that" through the website, Polis added.

In El Paso County, 9,801 people filed for unemployment benefits the week ending March 28, according to new data released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. For comparison, 2,869 people filed the week ending March 21, and 328 people filed the week ending March 14.

For those out of work, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center is holding a virtual job fair through April 30. The workforce center also offers assistance to those filing for unemployment.

The El Paso County Economic Development Division launched a new program, the Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone (EZ) Business Relief Fund, aimed at assisting small businesses affected by COVID-19.

"Small businesses within the Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone will have access to grants up to $7,500," the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC explains the new program in a statement. "The funds will focus on critical assistance for needs such as rent or mortgage assistance, utility payments, employee payroll, accounts payable, etc. The grant funds will work in conjunction with both Federal and State assistance already available to small businesses."

More information about the program, including how to apply or donate funds for an income tax credit, is available online.

The Colorado Unified Command Group announced it has issued purchase orders for more than $46.2 million worth of medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment, for health care facilities and local government agencies.

"Once the supplies arrive and testing has verified quality, the state will begin distributing them throughout the state to fulfill resource requests from local emergency management and public health agencies, including hospitals," a statement from the Command Group says. "PPE will be distributed according to the state's PPE Allocation and Distribution guide, which prioritizes health care workers, first responders and critical infrastructure workers."

The Colorado Business Emergency Operations Center is coordinating requests for supplies and donations online.

People who wish to volunteer time or donate to statewide COVID-19 relief efforts can also visit helpcoloradonow.com. Or, donations to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation's COVID19 Emergency Relief Fund at ppcf.org/relief will assist local efforts.

The Air Force Academy announced details for the upcoming April 18 graduation of senior cadets, which was moved up earlier than usual and will be stripped of its usual fanfare.

"Cadets will be strictly adhering to social distancing guidelines for the ceremony, marching 6 feet apart and sitting 8 feet apart during the event," the Academy announced. "The Air Force Thunderbirds will conduct a flyover of the ceremony, but will not perform their traditional aerobatics demonstration at the conclusion of the ceremony."

Vice President Mike Pence will give the commencement address via video message, the statement adds, and spectators won't be allowed at the ceremony.

With the help of an $8 million donation from Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs plans to create the National Resilience Institute, which will "focus on the health and well-being of all trauma survivors with specialty expertise for those who put their lives on the line: veterans, military members, first responders and their family members," the university announced April 9.

"Beyond the targeted focus on these military and first responder groups, cross-disciplinary scientific exploration will focus on developing resilience more broadly for individuals, families and communities," adds the statement from UCCS.

The university needs to raise an additional $7.75 million to make the institute a reality. In the meantime, UCCS on April 10 announced the launch of the Greater Resilience Information Toolkit (GRIT), a website that  contains resources for mental health workers, first responders, medical providers and community members to help build resilience in the face of difficult circumstances — such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through that website, community members can also apply to become GRIT Coaches, who will go through a virtual training with "information and skills on general and COVID-19 stress, resilience, disaster recovery, skills, support and small interventions to enable a GRIT Coach to educate, support and motivate individuals and communities to be as resilient as they can be in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent precautions."
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