Police Fighting to Keep 'Spy Files' Secret 

ACLU, City Council members want to see intelligence records

The American Civil Liberties Union has demanded in a federal court that the Colorado Springs Police Department turn over intelligence files it may be keeping on peaceful protesters -- but the police department is fighting to keep whatever files it has secret.

Meanwhile, at least two Colorado Springs City Council members are asking for a thorough accounting of the police department's actions after the Independent revealed last month that the department has spied on local peace activists and forwarded information about them to the Denver Police Department.

"I want to know exactly what happened and what policies were violated, and I'd like to see the list [of people who were spied on] myself," Councilman Jim Null said in an interview this week.

A chilling effect

The ACLU's Colorado chapter on Nov. 15 served a subpoena on the Colorado Springs Police Department, demanding to see any intelligence information the department may have on 21 individuals and 30 organizations that were identified by name. In addition, the ACLU is asking to see any intelligence information that local police may have received from, or provided to, the Denver Police Department.

The subpoena is part of a federal lawsuit that the ACLU filed against the City of Denver earlier this year, after it was revealed that the Denver Police Department's intelligence bureau was keeping "spy files" on 3,200 individuals and groups -- many of which had done nothing more than participate in political activism.

The lawsuit argues that keeping files on peaceful and law-abiding activists creates a "chilling effect" on the First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

Representatives from the ACLU declined to answer questions about the subpoena served on Colorado Springs police. However, the subpoena appears to be part of an effort to determine the extent to which Denver police collaborated with other law-enforcement agencies in compiling the intelligence files. Court records show the ACLU also filed similar subpoenas demanding information from the Aurora, Arvada and Golden police departments and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

The list of people that was included with the Colorado Springs subpoena includes a number of Denver-area residents, most of them involved in peace activism and American Indian and Latino civil-rights advocacy. It also includes at least one Colorado Springs resident, Bill Sulzman.

The list of organizations includes two Springs-based peace groups Citizens for Peace in Space, which is headed by Sulzman, and the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. The remaining groups span the political spectrum, from environmental organizations and AIDS activists, to the pro-gun Tyranny Response Team.

Bears no relevancy

The Colorado Springs Police Department, through City Attorney Patricia Kelly, has responded to the subpoena with a motion to quash it, arguing that police shouldn't have to surrender any intelligence files. Other law-enforcement agencies that received subpoenas have filed similar motions.

A spokesman for the police department, Lt. Skip Arms, referred questions to Kelly, who declined a request for an interview. Kelly did not respond to a written request for information by press time.

However, the motion filed by Kelly argues that the ACLU's request for information is "unreasonable, unduly burdensome and overbroad."

"The City of Colorado Springs is not a party to the [ACLU's lawsuit], nor is the Colorado Springs Police Department linked with the Denver Police Department," the motion states. "Therefore, intelligence information maintained by the Colorado Springs Police Department bears no relevancy to this action."

However, both the Denver and Colorado Springs police departments have acknowledged that they often help each other gather intelligence information and routinely share such information with each other.

In one documented instance, in March of 1999, Colorado Springs police monitored a peaceful protest at Peterson Air Force Base, recorded the vehicle license-plate numbers of at least 30 people who attended, and forwarded the information to the Denver Police Department -- which in turn included the list of license-plate numbers and matching names and addresses in their "spy files."

Councilman Null, who is running for mayor in April, says he thinks the police should hand over relevant information to the ACLU, to the extent it doesn't compromise legitimate criminal investigations.

"I think that they ought to give them as much information as they can," Null said.

Wants the information

Null, as well as fellow City Council members Charles Wingate, Richard Skorman and Ted Eastburn have all expressed unease with the idea that Colorado Springs police spied on peaceful activists. Last week, they requested that the police department give a public briefing on the matter before the Council. A date for the briefing had not been set by press time.

Null says he wants a thorough accounting, including specifics on what happened in connection with the 1999 protest at Peterson Air Force Base.

"I want to know all the information that the person in charge of this had when he made the decision to watch protesters," Null said.

Null also said he would favor following the example of Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who appointed an independent panel of judges to review the Denver Police Department's intelligence files. Upon the panel's recommendation, people who had been spied on were allowed to see their files, which are ultimately to be purged.

Wingate said he would support a similar review by an independent panel in Colorado Springs, "if we did something wrong."

Wingate also said that while he doesn't know the extent to which local police have kept intelligence files on law-abiding activists, "I definitely want to get to the bottom of it. ... I want to ask questions. I want to know, why did we do this?"

-- tlangeland@csindy.com


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