Friday, August 17, 2018

DA to brief "innocent bystander" Thomas Villanueva in fatal deputy shooting

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 2:43 PM

Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest.

The 28-year-old man who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet in a Feb. 5 shootout that killed a deputy will meet with District Attorney Dan May on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Thomas Villanueva, described by Sheriff Bill Elder as an "innocent bystander," posted on Facebook that his meeting will cover "if the cops were unlawfully wrong in some way."

Villanueva also tells the Independent the DA's Office plans to publicly release its finding about whether the shooting was justified that same day, Aug. 21.

A DA's Office spokesperson said via email, "We’re still coordinating meetings, so I can’t confirm a day, but it’ll likely be next week. And the report from our office is being finalized."

Thomas, his parents and other relatives and a witness to the shooting, Michael DeRossett, staged a protest on Aug. 15 in front of the El Paso County Coroner's Office to urge release of the autopsy reports of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, who were killed in the attempted arrest of Zetina by a multi-agency task force.

They also appeared outside the courthouse that same day.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the District Court to have the autopsies sealed, citing grief of the Flick family, including Flick's widow, Rachael. There's no mention in Bux's petition of Zetina's family's grief. The Independent and Gazette have joined to oppose Bux's maneuver. A hearing is slated for Aug. 24.

Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police.
Meantime, DeRossett's wife, Heather, tells the Indy that what she saw that day at Murray Hill Apartments, at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road, conflicts with official statements made by local law enforcement regarding the task force operation.

Both Sheriff Elder and Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Howard Black have said all officers were wearing clearly visible police insignia at the time.

But DeRossett backs up the Indy's June 20 report that at least six police officers from the CSPD, Sheriff's Office and State Patrol participating in the mission didn't have on visible police insignia or give verbal warnings they were cops when attempting to arrest Zetina.
"It looked like a gang fight in the beginning," she says. "I saw a group of guys in plaid shirts. They didn’t yell out 'police' or anything. I saw them go after that one kid, and they were surrounding him. They threw him down on the ground, handcuffed him, and I saw five or six of them in a circle around him and [they] started shooting and shooting. They looked like they were holding him down, with his hands behind his back. I seen them fire. Like I said, I thought it was a gang fight, so I grabbed my kids."

DeRossett observed the shooting from her second-story apartment window about two car lengths from the action, she says. She also says a neighbor told her that Zetina had pounded on a woman's door just before the shooting happened, saying, "Somebody's after me. Somebody's after me." DeRossett says she didn't see Zetina pull a gun or fire any shots.

"He thought it was a gang, too, because they weren't wearing anything that says they were officers," Heather DeRossett says.

Heather DeRossett says the first officer insignia she saw was worn by SWAT officers who arrived two to three minutes after the shooting started.

Her husband, Michael, provided the Indy a photograph taken that day of Flick lying on the ground, wearing a plaid shirt, and another officer in a plaid shirt standing over him. Two other officers in uniform were knelt beside the fallen officer.

Heather DeRossett says she didn't know Thomas had been shot until after she returned to her apartment several minutes later after having grabbed her kids and fled into the hall because "bullets were flying everywhere." Then she noticed he was lying in the street.

Villanueva tells the Indy he was returning from a restaurant on the east side of Murray when he saw about six people, but no police uniforms. "They kept looking my way," he says in a Facebook message. He proceeded westbound in the parking lot where the lot makes an L turn. "Right away, shots fired," he says.
Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed.
Villanueva has filed a notice of claim with the county and other agencies, a required step that preceeds a lawsuit. No other notices of claim have been filed with the county regarding the Feb. 5 shooting incident.

There's no word if or when the police investigative report will be released to the public. Although the CSPD and Sheriff's Office participated in the shooting, both agencies had a hand in investigating the incident and submitted a report to the DA's Office on April 13.

The Indy's June 20 investigative story and subsequent story about officer-involved shootings, based on interviews with witnesses and officers at the scene and those familiar with the shooting, reported there's no evidence the task force trained together on auto-theft operations, that higher-ups in all three departments were concerned with officers pointing guns at people and that that led to officers not having their guns drawn when they approached Zetina.

Officers, who didn't want to be named, told the Indy that Flick tried to grab Zetina from behind, prompting Zetina to produce a gun and fire behind him, striking Flick in the neck. Three other officers also were injured in the shooting.
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Air Force Academy dean of faculty announces retirement amid exodus of STEM professors

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 2:26 PM

Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost - U.S. AIR FORCE
  • U.S. Air Force
  • Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost
The Air Force Academy's dean of faculty Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost announced today, Aug. 17, he will retire effective Aug. 1, 2019. The announcement comes amid the departure of at least six permanent party professors — an unprecedented exodus all in one year of permanent professors, all of whom are from STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] departments, sources tell the Independent.

The Academy usually has about 20 permanent professors who head academic departments. They are military members assigned to the Academy to “provide continuity to academic programs, to increase stability in institutional governance through membership in Academy boards and committees, and to embody the quality standards of airman-scholar-citizen,” according to an Air Force instruction.

Armacost's successor has not been named.

Armacost took over as dean following the departure in summer 2013 of Dana Born, who drew controversy for her alleged promotion of fundamental Christianity via sponsoring an ad in the base newspaper favoring that faith, which led her to tangle with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group that fights for religious freedom in the military. She also was accused, but the allegation was never proven, of ordering a counter-insurgency against MRFF.

Also troubling, she was the focus of an Inspector General's investigation for allegedly misrepresenting faculty credentials to the academy's accreditation agency. That probe later concluded she was negligent.

But Armacost drew cheers from MRFF for his explanation of when it's appropriate for Academy personnel to talk about their faith.

The Indy caught wind that Armacost was leaving and asked the Academy about it on Aug. 14, saying our information was that he would retire in December.

Academy spokesperson Meade Warthen responded in an email, "You got some bad information. Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost, who has been Dean since the summer of 2013, is not retiring in December."

When we asked again, asking if he would step down next spring, Warthen replied, "We will be notifying the media on this topic soon, but suffice it to say Brig. Gen. Armacost is not retiring at the end of this academic year, next May or June."

In any event, now we know. Here's Armacost's parting shot in a message to faculty:

Colleagues,

This summer marks the completion of my fifth year as your Dean. When first taking this position, I thought, “How long should I expect to serve in this role?” That’s a particularly tough question to answer, as it depends upon many factors. But I’ve long felt that six years (or so) would offer stability to the institution, while opening an opportunity for another leader to build upon the successes we’ve had.

Last week the AF Chief of Staff accepted my request to retire effective 1 August 2019. This follows conversations with Lt Gen Silveria that began a year ago. I appreciate the SUPT’s support for this decision and his tremendous leadership of this institution. Though we are awaiting final approval from the SECAF, I wanted each of you hear the news directly from me first in order to avoid speculation.

This will be an exciting transition. In the aftermath of massive budget cuts in 2013 and 2014, we have made steady strides on restoring our resourcing while advancing the state of our outstanding educational programs. The 11th Dean of the Faculty will be in a position to lift the institution and our cadets to even greater heights, building upon the hard work and success of the 750 members of the DF team. The search for a new Dean will begin soon.

I’m honored to have spent nineteen years serving at the Academy in a variety of roles that support cadet education and development. Rest assured, you’ll have my complete focus until the day I leave.

With deep gratitude,

Andy Armacost

ANDREW P. ARMACOST, Brigadier General, USAF
Dean of the Faculty
Armacost could not be reached for comment.

Here's the Academy's news release:
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

I-25 toll lanes and town halls: Filling in the gaps about the expansion

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 3:14 PM

BEELGIN
  • beelgin

Most Colorado Springs drivers would agree: The most frustrating, anxiety-inducing section of any commute along the Interstate 25 corridor is the 18-mile "gap" between Monument and Castle Rock, where a quick 30-minute trip to the outlet mall can turn into a two-hour ordeal.

After voters approved two ballot measures that allotted money to widen that notorious portion of the highway, and the Colorado Department of Transportation gave the final go-ahead in June, construction is almost ready to begin to add new lanes in each direction.

In spite of protests from county commissioners and constituents, CDOT has decided those lanes will be toll lanes. (That's in part because a $65-million federal grant to help with construction stipulates that's necessary.) However, CDOT proclaims in an Aug. 15 statement that those tolls will be the lowest in the state — $0.15 per mile, or around $2.25 for a total trip.

CDOT's High Performance Transportation Enterprise, a government-owned business, conducted a traffic and revenue study that determined this fee "would likely provide for a reliable travel option while improving travel times across the general purpose lanes." It's also apparently based on a survey of motorists who indicated how much they'd be willing to pay.

The money will pay for "tolling equipment and installation, tolling operations and maintenance of the Express Lanes in the I-25 South Gap corridor to include snow plowing, and debris removal and pavement repairs."

Motorcycles and vehicles carrying three or more people will be able to use the lanes for free.

Gear up for a long ride: The new Express Lanes won't be open until 2022, CDOT says, though that's still the "fastest delivery of a project this size in CDOT history." Construction on the northern section of the gap, near Castle Rock, is set to begin in early September.

Both lanes will usually remain open in the daytime during construction, CDOT says, but drivers on the highway at night can expect lane and ramp closures. Slower speed limits, large trucks, and narrower lanes could also make a frustrating commute more frustrating. (But hey, it's all about delayed gratification!)

CDOT is hosting two town halls where residents can learn about the upcoming years of construction, and about the project in general. Here are the times and dates from an Aug. 14 CDOT statement:

Monday, Aug. 20: El Paso County
5-7 p.m.
Monument Academy, 1150 Village Ridge Point in Monument

From I-25, use Exit 161 – Highway 105. Drive east on Highway 105 for 1 mile. Monument Academy will be located on the left after Integrity Bank. Turn left at Gold Canyon Road into the parking lot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Limited parking at school use the church parking lot. Enter through the front of the school through the Gym doors.

Wednesday, Aug. 22: Douglas County
5-7 p.m.
Douglas County Fairgrounds, Kirk Hall, 500 Fairgrounds Road in Castle Rock

From I-25, take the Plum Creek Parkway (Exit 181) east. After about 1 mile, turn left on Fairgrounds Road.

For ADA accommodations, please call the project hotline – 720-745-5434 – 48 hours ahead of the meeting.

Both opportunities are open-house style events — there will not be a formal presentation. Attendees can visit any time between 5 and 7 p.m. to talk one-on-one with project experts. There will be multiple display boards explaining the project and plenty of staff available to answer questions.

Telephone Town Hall Sept. 6

For those who cannot attend either event in person, CDOT will also host a Telephone Town Hall from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6. The automated system will call some area stakeholders. Those who don’t receive a call and want to participate can call 1-877-229-8493 and enter passcode 117409.
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The building department has too much money. Now it must give it away.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM

401KCALCULATOR.ORG
  • 401kcalculator.org
Here's something you don't hear a lot: A local government agency has collected so much money in fees that it now has to find a way to give away the cash.

More details the planned give-away by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department were revealed at an Aug. 15 meeting of the Regional Building Advisory Committee.

The committee advises the Regional Building Commission, comprised of three elected officials from the region.

In an informal program, RBD gave away nearly $1 million in 2016 and 2017 from its reserve fund, which has topped $10 million. And that doesn't include cash that will flow in from building permit and inspection fees from the series of hail storms that have hit the area this summer, most recently on Aug. 6.
The criteria for the donations program include:

• Funds must be available to disperse without adversely affecting RBD's services.

• Applicants must be an active 501(c)(3) with an IRS nonprofit designation.

• Requests must be directly related to the construction industry in El Paso County or directly related to construction activity or promote the education, knowledge and awareness of the industry.

• Proposed projects must demonstrate a benefit to the public in El Paso County.

• Applicants must submit an annual budget and other financial information.
The program will be closed to endowments, individuals, organizations that don't have fiscal responsibility for the proposed project, religious programs, requests for overhead costs, programs designed to influence a legislative purpose or political race, programs to produce media projects, or any programs outside El Paso County.

"Unless something changes, we're good," Advisory Board chair Darren Tiffany said.

Jina Koultchizka, RBD's attorney, said the proposed policy, in draft form at this time, would be submitted to the Regional Building Commission at its Aug. 29 meeting.

However, Commission member Mark Waller, who's an El Paso County commissioner, has said he wouldn't support the measure until all jurisdictions covered by RBD have had a chance to weigh in.

The advisory board also reviewed a 2018 budget amendment and the proposed 2019 budget. A 25-percent fee reduction effective Aug. 1 through year's end would be extended through 2019 under the budget proposal, as would a licensing rewards program that waives licensing fees for all contractors who have had a clean record for three years.

The idea is to chip away at the growing reserve fund, which is supposed to be no more than 50 percent of budget under the intergovernmental agreement with seven member agencies — Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument, Palmer Lake and El Paso County.

But due to a July 2016 hail storm and an uptick in economic activity, the reserves have ballooned.

RBD plans to hire 14.5 positions this year to deal with growing work demands, which will eat up $629,242 in fees, while next year's spending will exceed revenues by roughly $1 million, reducing the reserves.

But RBD doesn't yet know how the hail storms will impact revenues, so it's possible reserves could grow.
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The Springs is big with small businesses

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 6:00 AM

PIXABAY
  • Pixabay

According to Thumbtack.com, Colorado Springs has lots of little reasons to celebrate.

Between last year and this year, the city bumped up its "B" score in "overall friendliness" to an "A+" on the site's Small Business Friendliness Survey, which ranks 57 cities based on factors such as licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations.

Colorado Springs outshone many of its peers, coming in at No. 4 nationwide. (Though it's government websites got a big, fat "F." Ouch.)

The survey is based on the input of 7,500 small business owners across the country, Thumbtack.com says.

Here's the city's full report card:

Employment, labor and hiring: A
Licensing: A
Tax code: A-
Training and networking programs: A-
Ease of hiring: B
Regulations: B
Ease of starting a business: C+
Government websites: F

The city, clearly, still has some studying to do on a couple of subjects (*cough* technology *cough*) but notes in an Aug. 14 statement that "Recognizing usability challenges, the city launched a redesigned website in the spring."

TBD whether that makes a difference next year — if so, Colorado Springs could climb even higher. This year, Fort Worth, Texas, topped the list, followed by San Antonio, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

The state of Colorado earned a "C+" in overall friendliness, and Denver got a "C-." We're unimpressed.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A map of the red-light camera locations chosen by the city

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 1:39 PM

WALTER BAXTER
  • Walter Baxter
After analyzing factors like collision data, traffic volume and speeding, the city has chosen four intersections for red-light cameras:

• Northbound Academy Boulevard at Carefree Circle
• Eastbound Platte Avenue at Chelton Road
• Westbound Briargate Boulevard at Lexington Drive
• Southbound Academy Boulevard at Dublin Boulevard

Violators caught by cameras will be fined $75, not including court costs.

It's not the first time Colorado Springs has taken a swing at red-light cameras. The first, short-lived attempt began in 2010 before Steve Bach's tenure as mayor. Cameras were placed at four intersections (completely different from the newly selected ones) for about a year. But the project got the red light in October 2011, just over a year later, when the city found it was "not meeting safety expectations" and Bach called for an end to the unpopular program.


"According to data supplied by program partner, American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS), while there was an overall modest (30 percent) reduction in red-light running violations through September, results varied widely," reads a 2011 release from the city announcing the shutdown.

"For example, the program had a 22 percent increase in violations at the north-bound approach on Nevada Avenue at Bijou Street. In addition, preliminary information from the City’s Traffic Engineering and Police Departments showed the program had no impact on dangerous front-to-side collisions at program intersections."

Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Pete Carey supported shutting down the program in 2011. “A review of the data after one year shows conflicting information at best," he's quoted in the city's release. "We discussed the program with Mayor Bach and determined citizens would be best served if we reassigned personnel to other priority functions.”

However, Carey last fall argued for reinstating red-light enforcement, saying cameras were necessary because of an officer shortage and a rising number of traffic accidents and fatalities.

This year is set to break traffic fatality records in Colorado Springs. Last year, there were a total of 39 accident-related deaths, the most ever. This year, there have already been 32 (compared with only 22 at this time in 2017).

“If [installing cameras] saves lives and prevents hospital visits, I think we should do it," Carey said at a public forum last year.

But whether they do is still an if. Studies have shown mixed results as to whether red-light cameras actually make people safer. Some show that installing cameras results in fewer T-bone crashes, but more rear-ends.

There's also the "training effect" on drivers.

The http://daily.gazette.com/Olive/ODN/TheGazette/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=THEGAZETTE%2F2018%2F08%2F15&entity=Ar00301&sk=3F71AF9F&mode=text" target="_blank">Gazette quotes Mayor John Suthers as saying the cameras will help, because people "forget exactly which intersection it is, so it has the effect of making people a lot more careful within a radius.”
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Shooting victim Thomas Villanueva demands public records hidden by coroner

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 12:17 PM

Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting.
Thomas Villanueva, the innocent bystander gravely wounded in a Feb. 5 shootout in which El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick was killed, staged a protest with family members and friends on Aug. 15 outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the 4th Judicial District Court to keep autopsy reports of Flick and an auto theft suspect that Flick and other officers were attempting to arrest, Manuel Zetina, closed from the public. (Zetina was also killed in the shootout, and three officers were injured.) Bux cited grief of Flick's family as the reason for his petition, along with an ongoing investigation. The Independent, the Gazette and other media have opposed the petition, for which a hearing has been set for Aug. 24.

"Public records — that's what they are, public," Tom Villanueva, Thomas' father, said. "What's going on? We don't know. But we need answers." The Indy published an exhaustive investigative report about the shooting on June 20, quoting officers and witnesses who said the task force that attempted to arrest Zetina gave no verbal warnings they were cops, didn't have badges or police insignia showing and didn't have their guns drawn. Thomas Villanueva was caught in the crossfire in the parking lot of Murray Hill Apartments as he walked back to his apartment at Galley Road and Murray Boulevard from eating at a restaurant across the street.
Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15.
Tom Villanueva questioned whether proper protocols were followed and whether officers had the proper training for what turned out to be a botched operation, which involved the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol.

"We need transparency," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing. We're waiting for the police records to be released. It's taking a long time. We're just waiting. We're here for Thomas, and to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else."

Michael DeRossett, who saw the shooting happen, repeated his previous comments made to the Indy that police didn't identify themselves, give a warning to others or look like police officers. They were wearing "plaid and flannel," he said, not placards identifying them as cops.

"There were children out at play," DeRossett said. "There's a playground 50 to 100 feet away. There should be protocols in place to make it safe [to attempt an arrest] in a populated area."

He added he hoped the protest would help with Thomas Villanueva's "fact-finding mission," but added, "It feels like they have something to hide."

The police report, compiled by the CSPD and the Sheriff's Office, the very agencies involved in the shooting itself, was submitted to the District Attorney's Office on April 13 but DA Dan May's office has yet to issue a finding of whether the shooting was justified. (State Rep. Joseph Salazar has said he wants to revisit a law that calls for independent investigations of police shootings.)

Other information — about who shot whom, how many shots were fired and the like — would be contained in police reports, but it's unclear if those will ever be released.

Thomas, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot wound, told reporters he's having a hard time paying for his treatment, noting that Medicaid pays for only 12 physical therapy sessions per year. A GoFundMe page has provided some money but likely not enough to pay for his care and treatment, which will last his lifetime.

"They say I really don't have a chance of walking again, or get my bladder back," Thomas said.

His father, who was there with Thomas' mom, Sallie, said the shooting was life-changing for the entire family.

"It's been a roller coaster," he said, "a nightmare. We're caregivers now. We're glad he's alive. It's been life-changing, life-altering."
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City worker berated after Hillside park funding pulled

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Activist Victoria Stone speaks to Hillside community members at the Living Word Baptist Church. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Activist Victoria Stone speaks to Hillside community members at the Living Word Baptist Church.

About three dozen people packed into Living Word Baptist Church Aug. 10 with their young children, neighbors, friends, and — in the case of Colorado Springs City Councilor Bill Murray and El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez — their constituents, for a Hillside neighborhood meeting fraught with tension.

They were there to discuss and defend the Leon Young Pavilion, an aging wooden structure near the corner of Corona Street and Fountain Boulevard on the southern end of the Shooks Run trail. It's named for the city's first, and only, black mayor.
We reported last month on community members' efforts to use $150,000 in community development block grant money to revitalize the pavilion. Though the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department has the pavilion on a list of structures "to be addressed," meaning it's likely to be demolished at some point, and the Community Development Division was ready to give Hillside the grant money to build something new, hopes to have the structure torn down and rebuilt were rejected by Parks ostensibly on the grounds that might interfere with the decades-in-the-making Legacy Loop trail plan.

Problem is: The trail is already laid in the park, and thus it's not clear why a new structure would be in the way. And then there's the fact the city parks appears to have lavished funds on large parks or parks in wealthier neighborhoods.

In a southeast neighborhood that's long felt ignored, the change in plans made some people angry, and inspired them to rally around a piece of their neighborhood that's considered not only an integral part of its character, but also a monument to a Colorado Springs trailblazer.

For many neighborhood residents, Parks' offer to revisit the structure for the next grant cycle, looking at minor beautification projects such as adding picnic tables instead of replacing the pavilion, wasn't enough.

The Leon Young Pavilion is near the southern end of Shooks Run trail. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Leon Young Pavilion is near the southern end of Shooks Run trail.
"$150,000 would make that park something that we could honor," activist June Waller said. "If we had the $150,000 we could take care of that now. Our babies could play in that park now."

Tilah Larson, a representative from Parks who fielded protests from community members, reiterated that the project "was not something we could accommodate at this time" because of two "pending, very large infrastructure projects": the Envision Shooks Run and Legacy Loop plans.

The Legacy Loop, a planned trail system that incorporates the Shooks Run Trail, and circles the greater downtown area, was first envisioned a century ago. There is no timeline for completing it, and the project is complicated by steep costs and stubborn landowners.
The Leon Young Pavilion sits near the Loop’s southern end and, as previously noted, already has a wide, smooth trail in place that goes around the structure. And Catherine Duarte, a representative from the city’s Community Development Division who worked with the city to identify the pavilion as a space for federally funded improvements, says she looked at the city’s plans and didn’t find any reason to believe the project would interfere.

Since they didn't think the pavilion would get in the way of the city's plans, said activist Mia Ramirez, community members didn't approach the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board until it was too late to work out a solution.

Replacing the pavilion, Larson says, is "not something [Parks is] comfortable with because when this planning process [for the Legacy Loop] comes to fruition, you’re going to see the possibility of adding a ton of new park elements down there... What we don’t want to do is put a new structure and then in a few years from now sit there and go, 'I wish it would have been here,' or 'If only we would have done this,' because that’s not a good use of federal funding."

But that argument didn't hold water for some neighbors at the meeting, frustrated that grant money was going to Memorial Park instead of Hillside's aging, splintering pavilion named for Leon Young.

Several women took turns raising their voices at Larson, who stayed on the defensive, backing up Parks' actions at every turn.
"The funds are there," said Hillside resident Sharon Dickerson. "It sounds like [improving the pavilion] could be done right away, but I’m getting that the city is saying, 'No, we can’t do anything about what you want to do until we decide what we’re gonna do.'"

One resident, Deborah Harvin, held up the neighborhood's damaged sidewalks as an example of why Hillside feels neglected. She says that although people visiting downtown walk through the neighborhood regularly, the city won't pay to fix the sidewalks.

"Thousands of people...come down our streets, use our neighborhood to get to that park or to get to that park, and you’re not gonna buy us sidewalks?" she said.

Joan Clemons, the director of Hillside Community Center, intervened to say that if people were upset, they should come to the city's public meetings and speak their opinion about development projects at every opportunity.

"The community needs to find out what’s going on in their community," she said. "You can’t beat somebody up for something that you’re finding out about now."

But Stephany Rose Spaulding, an outspoken attendee and the Democrat running against Rep. Doug Lamborn in the 5th Congressional District race this year, said the city wasn't making enough effort to solicit input from Hillside, a neighborhood known for poverty and high crime rates as well as racial diversity.

"(Outreach) might look very different in the way that we reach out to this specific community about what is happening," Spaulding said. "It might not be, 'come to our stuff,' it might be, I need to show up at your house to have this conversation so that you all don’t feel left out of the process....to make sure that the most vulnerable of us are brought into the conversation."

The city has scheduled an open house Aug. 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Community Center (925 S. Institute St.) to discuss current and planned Parks projects, CDBG grants and applications, and homelessness issues. City Councilors Richard Skorman and Tom Strand will attend along with city staff.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A single protester showed up to a "rally" against county shooting secrecy

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 3:36 PM

A few media and one citizen were the only ones to show up at the rally. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A few media and one citizen were the only ones to show up at the rally.
Media, including the Independent, are fighting to know exactly how the shootings went down at the Murray Hill Apartments. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Media, including the Independent, are fighting to know exactly how the shootings went down at the Murray Hill Apartments.
UPDATE:
One person showed up at a rally on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Michael Varney was there to express his concern that city and county officials aren't pumping enough resources into public safety.

The intended purpose of the rally was to protest Coroner Robert Bux's desire to keep autopsies of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, killed in a Feb. 5 shootout at an east-side apartment complex, secret.

Thomas Villanueva, who lived at the complex at that time, was shot during the shootout and paralyzed from the chest down.

But late on Aug. 13, rally organizer Michael DeRossett posted a message on Facebook, saying:

I regret to inform that Thomas has been advised against  the protest.. I will have to step back in the organizing of any further activities Due to I can not pursue something that might effect Thomas in his situation. HOWEVER FEEL FREE TO SUPPORT Thomas Villanueva AND YOUR RIGHTS TO TRANSPARENCY. I step down from here Thomas. I wish you luck
Then, Sallie Villanueva, who's relationship with Thomas wasn't made clear, wrote, "The advisement of our lawyer we have decided not to go we still want people to show up to help support Thomas we still want the records open."

Varney says he lives a mile from where the shooting happened. "I came down here to see what this is all about. I go by that apartment complex all the time. There's always a lot of shady stuff going on. I want to see better attention to public safety issues."

A second rally slated for Aug. 15 at the coroner's office is reportedly still a go.

————-ORIGINAL POST 12:01 P.M. MONDAY, AUG. 13, 2018————————————

A rally will be staged at 9 a.m., Tuesday Aug. 14 outside the El Paso County Courthouse at 270 S. Tejon St., to urge Coroner Robert Bux to release coroner reports for Deputy Micah Flick and alleged auto thief Manuel Zetina.

Both were killed Feb. 5, 2018, in a shootout after a task force consisting of the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol attempted to arrest Zetina, reportedly without having their guns drawn, their police insignia showing or announcing who they were.

Wounded in the crossfire was Thomas Villanueva, a passerby who is now paralyzed from the chest down and has filed a notice of claim saying he could file a lawsuit against the county, the city and others. Three officers also were wounded.

Michael DeRossett, who was quoted in the Independent's June 20 report, "Officer (let) down," (at the link above) is organizing the event.

From a Facebook page about the rally:
Join us in our protest of the sealing of public records. Protest with us support Thomas Villanueva in our fact find mission and our search for answers on the 14th and 15th of August. The public deserves answers!

This is a media firestorm! Join us and be a part of the fight for our right to Autopsy records that are supposed to be public record! Do they have something to hide in this case? Who's responsible for all those stray bullets! Who shot who? Did they follow protocol? We demand TRANSPARENCY. We want answers. Our condolences to officer Flicks Family. We do not mean to rehash it all for you. But we must stand for the rights of others as well.
The Indy, the Gazette and other media have challenged Bux's proposal to keep the autopsies sealed forever. Here's what our news editor, J. Adrian Stanley, had to say about his effort.

The group also plans a similar rally outside the Coroner's office, 2741 E. Las Vegas St., at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 15.

The official report of the shooting hasn't been released, and District Attorney Dan May has yet to issue a finding on whether the shooting was justified.
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Monday, August 13, 2018

CSFD firefighters defer collective bargaining request

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 2:00 PM

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Colorado Springs firefighters who belong to the International Association of Firefighters Local 5 won't seek City Council approval of a ballot measure for the April 2019 city election until November, the association said in an email. Local 5 had intended to ask Council to refer the measure during the Aug. 14 meeting.

The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association has requested a deferment to City Council on the non-binding resolution concerning a Collective Bargaining ballot initiative scheduled for the 14th at Councils formal meeting.

We believe that broadening and improving our education to the public during our signature gathering campaign will ensure that City Council representatives know that their constituents are well informed. We have appreciated the work that City Council has done in working with this issue and we will continue to keep them up to date.

We will look to revisit the agenda item in November when Council will have an opportunity to actually place the measure before the electorate in the April municipal election.

Council President Skorman has accepted the request for deferment. 
We previously reported last year that Local 5 would push for a ballot measure, which would contain a clause prohibiting a strike in a case where Local 5 and city administration couldn't reach agreement.

Mayor John Suthers has expressed opposition to collective bargaining.
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Two more animals dead after hailstorm

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 12:54 PM

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo continues to suffer from the consequences of a freak hailstorm Aug. 6, announcing the deaths of two additional animals that fell victim to baseball-sized hail that shattered skylights and pelted outdoor exhibits.

A meerkat pup, which had recently been born and wasn't yet named, went missing underground after the storm and has not been recovered. The zoo has assumed it passed away. The second new casualty is Snoop, one of the zoo's prized peacocks.

On Tuesday, the zoo had confirmed the loss of a rare cape vulture, Motswari, and Daisy, a Muscovy duck.

Among the injured animals is Twinkie, a Rocky Mountain goat who suffered an eye injury. She's improved since Monday, the zoo says, and an external veterinary team from the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University will visit her Friday. Other animals are improving or stable, and some have been removed from the zoo's list of medical concerns.

Many zoo guests and employees were injured during the storm, some rushed to the hospital. And vehicles in the uncovered parking lot were rendered undriveable by smashed windshields. The zoo says there's still about 100 cars waiting to be towed, down from more than 200 on Tuesday afternoon.

"Zoo security will continue to monitor the cars through 5 p.m. Aug. 9," reads an Aug. 8 statement. "At that time, if a vehicle is still in the lot, it will be towed to the south corner of the Zoo's parking lot without security monitoring...If vehicles are still not claimed by Tuesday at 8 a.m., they will be towed to a monitored facility at the owner's expense."

The zoo plans to reopen this Saturday, Aug. 11, at 8 a.m. for members and 9 a.m. for the general public. It will close at the regular time of 5 p.m. After that, the zoo will return to its normal schedule: seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EdVenture programs for kids and teens (including birthday parties, ZOOMobile appearances, WildNights, Kids-Only WildNights, Zoo exploration tours and teen programs) are canceled until Monday, Aug. 13.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of only nine zoos with accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that doesn't have tax support. Instead, it operates on admissions, membership dues and donations, the zoo says.

"Although the Zoo is fully covered by insurance, the revenue lost during these high-season days will still be a hit for our non-profit budget," the statement reads. "Our employees are also stretched financially, due to personal vehicle losses."

Those wishing to help the zoo and its employees recover from the storm can donate at https://bit.ly/2OYtInY.
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Colorado River still runs dry, Utah plan to divert more water to wasteful county

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For the past several months, the Colorado River Basin has been in serious drought conditions. Now, Utah plans to build the Lake Powell Pipeline, which will divert even more water from this river to its most wasteful county.

The Lake Powel Pipeline will be 140 miles long, and it will divert 86,000 acre-feet of water every year uphill to Washington County. This county is known as one of the most water wasteful in the whole country. In fact, the average person in the seven Colorado River Basin states uses 164 gallons of water per day, whereas the state of Utah has an average water consumption per person of 214 gallons a day.

But wait, it gets worse. According to the pipeline's own federal project application, residents in Washington County use 325 gallons per capita a day, which is more than twice the national average.

"Utah's failure to reduce water waste while planning new, destructive diversions flies in the face of the collective progress made in the Colorado River Basin," Taylor Graham, Water and Environmental Journalist at the Utah Rivers Council, said in a recent press release.

A statewide goal encourages Utah residents to reduce water consumption by 25% by 2025, with no goals set beyond that. According to Utah's Division of Water Resources, much of the state has the ability to reduce their water consumption by much more than 25%.

A study conducted by James Lutz of the Environmental Energy Technologies Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that 8% of the water used by an average family goes down the drain while waiting for the water to heat up. That's just one of the many water-wasting habits Americans have grown accustomed to. Bad habits like that are a serious waste of water, and the people of Utah will need to take things like that into account if they hope to reduce water waste in the years to come.

Already, residents of the Rocky Mountain state are expressing their concerns about the lack of urgency by those living in Utah.

"We don't have enough water to not conserve," said Roy Schell, a resident of De Beque, Colorado.

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Officer still in critical condition after Aug. 2 shooting

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 10:14 AM

COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Colorado Springs Police Department
Colorado Springs Police Department Officer Cem Duzel was still in critical, though stable, condition five days after allegedly exchanging fire with a suspect east of the Olympic Training Center, according to an Aug. 7 police statement on Facebook.

"Cem’s family would like the community and the department to know that our prayers and positive thoughts for Cem are helping them stay strong and positive," the statement reads.

Duzel, a five-year veteran of the police department, was "gravely wounded" after responding, with other officers, to a "shots fired" call early Aug. 2, according to a statement from the El Paso County Sheriff's Department. The officers encountered an armed suspect, Karrar Noaman Al Khammasi, and a gunfight ensued.

Al Khammasi faces multiple charges including attempted first-degree murder, the sheriff's department says. He suffered a non-life-threatening injury.

The Associated Press reports that Al Khammasi is an Iraqi refugee who once faced deportation, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Seven initiative petitions could make it on the ballot this fall

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 5:26 PM

PUBLIC DOMAIN PICTURES
  • Public Domain Pictures

Seven initiative petitions were turned in on time for a chance at the November ballot in Colorado, the Secretary of State's Office announced Aug. 6.

Initiative backers had to gather at least 98,492 signatures, or 5 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for secretary of state in the 2014 general election.

Over the next 30 days, the Secretary of State's Office will review the petitions to ensure they meet state standards. Those that do will go to voters Nov. 6.

The seven petitions include:

Initiative 97 (statute change): Setback requirement for oil and gas development

"All new oil and gas development not on federal land must be located at least [2,500] feet from an occupied structure or vulnerable area."

The initiative's backer, Colorado Rising, says signature gatherers faced intimidation and harassment. But its problems didn't stop there. One of the initiative's signature-gathering firms took 15,000 signatures out of state three weeks before the deadline, and a second firm was paid off to stop collecting signatures, Colorado Rising says. Despite those setbacks (pun unintended), 171,000 signatures were submitted by deadline.

Initiative 126 (statute change): Payday loans

"Lower the maximum authorized finance charge for payday loans to an annual percentage rate of [36] percent." Currently, the maximum charges are $20 for the first $300 loaned, 7.5 percent of any amount over $300, and a 45 percent interest rate.

The Denver Post reports that initiative backers gathered nearly 190,000 signatures.

Initiative 153 (statute change): Transportation funding

Increase state sales tax from 2.91 percent to 3.52 percent, in order to fund up to $6 billion in bonds for construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and highways. The initiative requires "45% of the new revenue to fund state transportation safety, maintenance, and congestion-related projects; 40% to fund municipal and county transportation projects; and 15% to fund multimodal transportation projects, including bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure."

Organizers collected about 198,000 signatures, the Post reports.

Initiative 167 (statute change): Authorize bonds for transportation projects

Use existing state revenues to purchase $3.5 billion in bonds for road and bridge construction and improvements. Mayor John Suthers, who opposes Initiative 153, has been a vocal supporter of this initiative, titled "Fix Our Damn Roads," which does not include a tax increase.

Backers turned in more than 150,000 signatures, according to the Post.

Initiative 173 (constitutional amendment): Campaign contributions

This "anti-Jared Polis" measure limits candidates' ability to fund their own campaigns: If a candidate "directs more than [$1 million] to support his or her election, then all candidates in the same election shall be entitled to accept aggregate contributions for a primary and general election at five times the [normally allowed] rate."

The Post reports that backers gathered 212,000 signatures.

Initiative 108 (constitutional amendment): Just compensation for reduction in fair market value by government law or regulation

Requires the government to pay compensation to private property owners when new laws or regulations reduce a property's fair market value. This is a response to Initiative 97, which could reduce the value of property that, per the initiative's requirements, could no longer be used for oil and gas development.

Organizers collected 209,000 signatures, the Post reports.

Initiative 93 (constitutional amendment): Funding for public schools

Increase state taxes by $1.6 billion to "improve, support and enhance" preschool through high school "programs, resources and opportunities." The money will come from an incremental income tax increase for people making more than $150,000 (using four tax brackets, starting at 0.37 percent and increasing to 3.62 percent for income over $500,000); and a corporate tax rate increase of 1.37 percent.

Backers turned in about 179,000 signatures, the Post reports.
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Residents protest Broadmoor Seven Falls shuttles

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 1:07 PM

Sue Spengler (left) says the Broadmoor used to be much more open to and considerate of its neighbors before Phillip Anschutz took over the resort. - JAKE ALTINGER
  • Jake Altinger
  • Sue Spengler (left) says the Broadmoor used to be much more open to and considerate of its neighbors before Phillip Anschutz took over the resort.

A dozen or so Colorado Springs residents gathered at the corners of Cresta Road and Cheyenne Boulevard to protest the Broadmoor Seven Falls shuttle buses that have recently been frequenting the neighborhoods near North Cheyenne Cañon.

"The magnitude is overwhelming," says protester Bruce Hamilton.

Originally, the neighbors say, Seven Falls shuttles picked passengers up at the Golden Bee Gastropub and took them [mostly] along Mesa Avenue to Seven Falls —  a lot of the route passed through Broadmoor property.

But that all changed just over a month ago when the Broadmoor hosted the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament. To accommodate the influx of people and traffic the tournament would bring, The Broadmoor struck a deal with the Norris Penrose Event Center to use a portion of their property as a parking area and shuttle pick-up/drop-off point for Seven Falls' guests and distributed the shuttles across a figure-8 route using 8th Street and Cheyenne Boulevard as one side of the loop and Cresta Road and Mesa Road as the other.
The new Seven Falls shuttle routes to and from the Norris Penrose Event Center.
  • The new Seven Falls shuttle routes to and from the Norris Penrose Event Center.

"They said it was going to be temporary, and they just extended it," says Sue Spengler, who organized Saturday's protest. "We had no idea, and all the sudden all these shuttles just started coming up our neighborhood streets. It was a total surprise."

Norris Penrose general manager Kyle Park, wouldn't provide details, but confirmed that the shuttle arrangement with The Broadmoor Seven Falls will continue "into the foreseeable future." (In fact, the address listed for Seven Falls on Google Maps is now 1045 Lower Gold Camp Rd. —the same address as the Norris Penrose Event Center.)

“This is a private arrangement between two private organizations," Park says, "and that is all I have to say about it at this time.”

Seven Falls manager Sasha Burke also declined to comment on the shuttle program when the Indy reached out to her recently.

The protesters, however, say the arrangement with Norris Penrose is illegal, citing the property's Special Warranty Deed which says the property "shall be owned and used in perpetuity as open space and for recreational and equestrian activities only and for no other purposes."

The deed also adds that "the word 'recreational' shall be interpreted broadly, to include, but not be limited to, trade shows, equestrian shows, and concerts," but whether it can be interpreted so broadly as to include parking for shuttles to another venue remains an open question. (Scroll to the end of this story to read the deed in its entirety.)

Legal technicalities aside, the protesters say their main concern is safety. Cresta Road and Cheyenne Boulevard have one lane of traffic each direction and lack medians and sidewalks in most places. The streets are also frequented by joggers, cyclists, kids playing, and neighbors walking their dogs, all of which might be endangered by the increased volume of shuttle traffic. (Protesters say there are up to around 20 shuttles passing per hour).

"It's creating a situation where someone is going to get hurt," says protester Karen Raymond. "I mean, this is a danger to our community."

Raymond says The Broadmoor ought to use the Broadmoor World Arena, for which it paid to have naming rights, as a parking and pick-up location instead of Norris Penrose, and shuttle guests down Lake Avenue, which they claim is much better suited for that volume of traffic.

Neighbors say a  Broadmoor or Seven Falls shuttle passes through the intersection at Cresta Rd. and Cheyenne Blvd. (next to Cheyenne Mountain Jounior High School) roughly every 3-4 minutes. - JAKE ALTINGER
  • Jake Altinger
  • Neighbors say a Broadmoor or Seven Falls shuttle passes through the intersection at Cresta Rd. and Cheyenne Blvd. (next to Cheyenne Mountain Jounior High School) roughly every 3-4 minutes.
Spengler, the protest organizer, also says that the shuttles drop off Seven Falls guests in the middle of the road in front of the Seven Falls gate, instead of pulling inside the park. That backs up traffic and creates a potential safety hazard, she says, especially should the narrow canyon need to be rapidly evacuated in case of a fire or flood.

But the protesters say they are upset about much more than the shuttles; they're standing up to the growing power and influence of Broadmoor owner Phillip Anschutz in Colorado Springs and holding the resort accountable for the way it treats its neighbors.

"This is Strawberry fields on steroids," Hamilton says, referring to the land transfer between The Broadmoor and the city, which he and many other Colorado Springs residents also protested. "I don't even live over here, but it's so wrong, and this is still my city."

Spengler and her husband, John, say before Anschutz bought the resort in 2011, The Broadmoor used to be much more open to and considerate of its neighbors.

“You used to be able to walk into The Broadmoor as a citizen. I would watch movies there. I would go and eat with my uncle. I would go bowl there as a kid. I would ride the train up to the zoo,” John Spengler says. “All that infrastructure is gone, and if I walked in without a suit and a tie, they single me out and want to know why I was there.”

"When the Gaylords owned it," he continues, "they would ask the citizens about things they wanted to do. But not Philip Anschutz — not [Broadmoor President and CEO] Jack Damioli. They do what they want to do on their own terms.”

The Spenglers and other protesters first voiced their concerns about the shuttles at an informal meeting organized by City Council President Richard Skorman at Sacred Grounds coffee shop on July 25 which included City Senior Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager and representatives from the Broadmoor and Seven Falls.

Skorman summarizes The Broadmoor and Seven Falls' position like this:

“My understanding is they're running about 150 shuttles a day, and the number I was told was that there’s about 400 cars a day parked at Norris Penrose.” Skorman says. "They’re saying the 400 cars a day at Penrose means 800 car trips otherwise. So they think that they’re doing the neighborhood a service.”

Susan Spengler described that meeting as ultimately unproductive.

“Every question we asked, it was like, ‘We should have a meeting about that,’” Spengler says. “But they didn’t have any answers.”

Skorman said he is working on organizing another similar stakeholder meeting in the future to address the issue and will announce the date and location once it is set.

(City Senior Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager did not respond to a request for comment.)

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