Stories with legs 

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Over the years, the Independent has broken stories that have been widely reproduced, from the New York Times to the network news to the Colorado Springs Gazette, which -- at least in our case -- ignores the accepted journalistic standard of citing originating news sources. Here are a few of our favorites.

The governor's pot plant

On May 16, 2001 the Independent discovered a healthy, knee-high marijuana plant growing amid the bluebells and other foliage on the gated grounds of the Governor's Mansion in Denver.

The mansion's current occupant, Republican Gov. Bill Owens, has claimed to be an ardent supporter of the war on drugs and has underscored a tough-on-crime stance to enforce laws and "vigorously prosecute" lawbreakers. Those, presumably, include federal, state and local forfeiture and public nuisance laws that allow police to seize properties where unlawful activities are occurring -- including cultivation of marijuana, an illicit drug. Under current law, the landlord is held responsible for illegal acts, whether he knows about them or not.

Alerted to the plant, the Denver Post confirmed it to be cannabis sativa. But the State Patrol declined to question Owens, and his spokesman Dick Wadhams joked it off, calling it a conspiracy to "discredit the governor." The story was widely circulated, from Governing Magazine to High Times.

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Officials claim school witch hunt OK

Accused of casting spells on their fellow classmates, eight Panorama Middle School sixth-grade girls were pulled from class on May 11, 1999, and lectured for nearly two hours by a vice principal on the evils of witchcraft.

The girls were seen reading a book, Salem's Trial -- which they had checked out of the school library -- during recess. Vice Principal Joan Abrahamson later warned them that the incident would go on their permanent records and asked one of them if she planned to "zap her," presumably with supernatural powers. Several of the girls were reduced to tears.

The girls' parents' demands for an apology were rejected. "I feel like it was handled professionally and ethically," said principal Rich Hayes. The multitudes that responded disagreed.

The Coke Dude

On Oct. 7, 1998 the Independent exposed School District 11's mandate to up Coke sales in the schools. Two weeks earlier, the district's executive director of school leadership, John Bushey, had issued a memo to principals warning that they were not making their quota and were at risk of losing Coca-Cola revenues. He instructed them to allow students virtually unlimited access to pop machines, to move them where they are accessible to the students all day, and to consider allowing students to consume Coke products in class.

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"Research shows that vendor purchases are closely linked to availability," wrote Bushey. "Location, location, location is the key." Bushey signed the memo "The Coke Dude."

The story splashed its way across the globe and eventually made its way into the pages of Fast Food Nation, journalist Eric Schlosser's best-selling book.

The Lemon Drop Kid

On Oct. 29, 1997, first-grader Seamus Morris shared some of his organic lemon drops from their clearly identified tin with a buddy on the playground at his school.

For this, District 11 administrators called the boys' parents, as well as the fire department and paramedics. Despite Seamus' mother's assurances that the St. Claire's brand lemon drops were just candy, the boys' parents were urged to take their children to the hospital for tests. Morris, 6, was suspended for a half-day for distributing an unknown substance. D-11 executive John Bushey defended the action, but the boy's mother called the incident "complete hysteria" and was further infuriated when administrators compared her son sharing candy with 16-year-olds bringing guns to school.

When the nation's press descended -- from the Denver dailies to the Washington Post to National Public Radio and the Leeza! show -- district officials angrily denied they had overreacted.

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  • Charlie Duke

Charlie Duke fingers Newt Gingrich in break-in

Convinced that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former drug czar Bill Bennett were out to get him, then-state Sen. Charlie Duke accused the high-power politicians of breaking into his Monument townhome during the weekend of April 12, 1997, and stealing his 1996 tax file, his lucky pocket knife and a tie-clip microphone.

El Paso County Sheriff deputies found no sign of forced break-in, however the senator claimed a voice-activated tape recorder placed near his front door had captured what sounded like someone entering his house, shuffling around, grunting briefly and exiting. The senator targeted Gingrich and Bennett, claiming both had opposed the state sovereignty movement, of which Duke was a recognized leader. Duke also implicated U.S. West Communications in the bizarre break-in, and claimed his phone had been tapped for years.

Gingrich's press secretary in Washington, D.C., offered an alibi for his boss. The story kept tongues wagging on the airwaves and in the nation's capital for months.

Johnny Smith -- alive and well in Colorado Springs

On March 15, 2001, Independent reporter Bob Campbell updated the world on the whereabouts of guitar legend Johnny Smith, living in anonymity in Colorado Springs.

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  • Johnny Smith

The jazz great's endearing unpretentiousness belies the fact that he has been a featured soloist with the Count Basie and Stan Kenton bands, that he was a top draw at the jazz mecca Birdland, that Charlie Parker was one of his biggest fans and that his 1952 recording of "Moonlight in Vermont" was one of the top selling jazz records of all time.

Jazz fans across the globe responded in droves, delighted to learn what had become of their hero, who moved from New York City to Colorado Springs in 1958 and never looked back.

Cussing in the park

In an effort to crack down on boisterous crowds in downtown's Acacia Park during the 1997 Christmas shopping season, Colorado Springs cops dusted off an obscure ordinance that makes swearing in city parks illegal and began handing out $25 tickets to violators.

Then-city attorney Jim Colvin said the city's no-cussing ordinance was probably written in the 1920s and had stayed on the books. And, though there was no official list of illegal profane words, Colvin admitted he personally was in violation. "My wife will tell you I should be cited," he said.

Resident Richard Bogan was ticketed twice for saying the word "bullshit," once while describing how he felt about the ordinance. "That law is the same level as animal excrement," he said.

Others, including the American Civil Liberties of Colorado agreed, and amid public ridicule, the city rescinded the unconstitutional ordinance.


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