Archive for the ‘Colorado’ Category

Colorado Officials Decline to Detail How Dunlap Would Be Executed

Posted on: May 24th, 2013 by The American Independent 1 Comment

This article was originally published by The Colorado Independent.

While political observers speculate on the factors shaping Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s thinking on whether or not to prevent the execution later this summer of convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap, civil libertarians are demanding to know how the procedure would be carried out. (more…)

Ebel Friend: Suicide Note Shows Parolee ‘Ruined’ by Solitary, Bent on Revenge

Posted on: April 12th, 2013 by Susan Greene No Comments

About two weeks before his death, Evan Ebel — suspect in last month’s murders of pizza delivery man Nate Leon and Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements — wrote a suicide note to a longtime friend who says Ebel was unhinged by his abrupt release from solitary confinement and seeking revenge for years of humiliation and torture behind bars.

Writing to The Colorado Independent, prisoner Troy Anderson said Ebel’s anguished letter arrived a week before the shootings.

“I got a letter from him last week saying goodbye, that he loved me, my family,” Anderson wrote on March 22. “He didn’t feel like he belonged [in the free world],” Anderson continued. “He was consumed by what they did to him [in prison].”

Anderson has served nearly two decades of what’s essentially a life sentence after gun battles with police and for offenses tied in part to robbery and drug use. As was the case with Ebel, Anderson, 44, has served most of his time in solitary confinement at Colorado State Penitentiary, the supermax prison where the two passed notes back and forth between their cells and became friends.

Anderson’s long history of mental illness and the 16 years he has spent in so-called administrative segregation were the subject of a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, which he won in September. Anderson sued the state for depriving him of sunlight, fresh air and mental health treatment, including medications that would help him earn his way out of isolation. The prison’s refusal to provide outdoor exercise to prisoners at the facility amounted to what U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson ruled was cruel and unusual punishment.

Ebel faced essentially the same conditions in solitary as did Anderson – living in a tiny cell alone 23 hours a day and exercising alone in a nearby room the 24th hour. Rules generally prohibit contact other than brief interactions with guards who deliver and remove meals through food slots or shackle and escort prisoners to exercise cages. Prisoners can go years without direct, meaningful social interaction. Tensions can result in prisoners throwing excrement at guards, or guards shackling prisoners or waking them up every hour every night for weeks on end, several prisoners have told The Independent. Most infuriating, the prisoners say, is that their time in solitary can be extended by guards with little review or oversight.

The white-power connection

Anderson criticizes what he calls “the state’s propaganda machine” for emphasizing Ebel’s gang involvement and creating the impression that the Clements assassination was organized by the 211 Crew, a prison gang with members who are white supremacists.

“It suits [the Department of Corrections] in several ways. It distracts from the torture. The real reasons for the hopelessness and rage, the hatred. The emptiness and inability to transition, to love.”

Anderson says Ebel had “at one time,” “but not for years,” been a 211 member. Ebel’s membership, he wrote, was part of “this [prison] culture,” though something Ebel had put behind him at least two years ago.

“He was not a freaking gang member anymore. That part is not reality,” Anderson wrote. “He was disgusted by all that.”

Anderson maintains that, as much as Ebel tried to focus during the past few years on reading, law studies and his friends and family, a rage built up in Ebel as a result of his treatment in prison.

“Evan loved his dad, mom and his new stepmom. He wanted to be the son they desired. He tried so hard,” Anderson wrote. “He was consumed by an overwhelming sense of disgust, by years of ad seg. He had been beaten. He was locked down almost his whole time.”

Dropped from ‘ad-seg’ into the world

Ebel, like Anderson, had been moved from Colorado State Penitentiary to Sterling Correctional Facility. Anderson says Ebel asked to be placed in a transition program that would help him acclimate to social contact before his release from prison.

“They refused,” Anderson wrote, saying Ebel “lost his level” — meaning he was set back — for fighting with another prisoner, being written-up for verbal abuse and for protesting prison guard behavior.

Anderson says four days before Ebel was to be set free, the prison delayed his release by three weeks.

“They tried to provoke him at every turn,” he wrote. “They create such a sense of [frustrated] hope and anger. They steal your hope.”

The Corrections Department didn’t respond to The Independent’s requests for comment.

Anderson says Ebel ultimately was set free from prison straight out of the same solitary confinement “pod,” or unit, where Anderson lives.

“I think that the fact they released him directly from seg[regation] to the streets is huge and a total violation of what should of [sic] happened,” he writes.

As Anderson tells it, Ebel couldn’t shake his prison-based rage even after he walked free in January, that he tried and failed to acclimate to work and social interactions. Anderson’s family met with Ebel after his release to help support him in his new life. Ebel’s frustrations after his release and bitterness about his prison experience seems to have morphed into a “a need for vengeance,” Anderson says.

Friends, former prison mates risk speaking out

Within the walls of the prison system, where letters to and from inmates typically are screened by guards, speaking out against the department poses serious risks. Anderson is still in solitary confinement and reliant on corrections officials for everything from his daily meals to clean laundry.

Although Anderson, who has a history of violence and mental illness, may not appear the most reliable source, he risks a great deal in speaking out against the treatment Ebel received in prison. Anderson risks losing phone calls, family visits and access to medications and even toilet paper. He also risks being the subject of “negative chrons” or bad-behavior reports written by guards that, without much evidence or review, could extend his time in solitary.

Anderson’s account of Ebel’s mental state and motivations is corroborated by the account of another friend of Ebel, Ryan Pettigrew.

Two weeks ago, Pettigrew, who did time at State Penitentiary with Ebel and stayed in contact after both were released, shared with The Independent a series of texts he exchanged with Ebel before the Clements killing. Pettigrew also risked retribution from the department to tell his story. He is on parole, supervised by corrections officers, who at any point could send him back to prison for a misstep, or the appearance of one.

“There’s no upside in coming forward, except exposing what goes on behind those walls,” Pettigrew said.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are now more than 80,000 people being held in solitary confinement in the United States. This week the practice, often used on minors and the mentally ill, drew condemnation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The United Nations’ office monitoring torture has called for an end to long-term isolation.

People released from long-term solitary often have trouble with social interactions and intimacy of the most basic kind. Many struggle to make eye contact, carry on face-to-face conversations, tolerate crowded rooms, shake hands at job interviews or even hug their families. In phone conversations, Pettigrew said Ebel was panicked by his abrupt transition to life outside his solitary cell.

“At first he was telling me how he was freaking out, just freaking out,” Pettigrew told The Independent. “He was saying that he couldn’t sleep and [was] having a hard time eating and being around people. He didn’t want to have any associations with anybody. He was feeling extremely anxious. It was all the same stuff I was experiencing when I got out. He was a lot like me.”

In one text to Pettigrew from mid February, Ebel said he wanted to get into a fight as a form of coping.

“[I]m just feeling peculiar & the only way i know i know to remedy that is via use of ‘violence’ even if that ‘violence’ be something as petty & inconsequential as a fist fight which id prefer be with someone i can trust as opposed to some renegade civilian who odds are will tell,” Ebel wrote.

Clements was gunned down March 19 at his front door in Monument.

He was a prison reformer working to avoid the abrupt adjustment from isolation to freedom by putting into place more step-down programs for prisoners. In an interview last year, he said he worried about what he called the “cliff effect” — the danger of letting psychologically unstable prisoners who have spent years without human contact suddenly loose in society. It Ebel had served four more years in prison, as media reports suggest he may have had it not been for a clerical error recording the length of his sentence, it’s unclear whether he would have spent that time in isolation growing more and more embittered, or been allowed to benefit from the type of program Clements thought necessary to mitigate the trauma of long-term isolation.

Anderson wrote that he laments Clements’ death and the pain it has caused his family. He said he hopes the tragedy results in awareness about the effects of solitary confinement and, ultimately, leads to reforms.

“You know? What they do through their solitary policies is akin to rape. They steal such a precious part of our souls, our humanity, our ability to be. They committed such hateful acts on us. Through contempt and disdain, they breed rage,” Anderson wrote. “They stole his chance at any real future.”

[ Image (from left): Troy Anderson and Evan Ebel via the Colorado Department of Corrections. ]

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‘He was freaking’: Friend says suspected killer of Colo. Corrections chief flailed from years of isolation

Posted on: March 26th, 2013 by The American Independent 1 Comment

This story was originally published by The Colorado Independent.

DENVER– In the weeks before his death, Evan Ebel, suspected killer of Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements, had broken ties with white supremacist prison gang 211 Crew and was debilitated by the transition from prolonged isolation to social contact, according to a friend and former fellow inmate. (more…)

DOJ investigates Denver for violating deaf prisoner rights

Posted on: March 6th, 2013 by The American Independent 1 Comment

This story was originally published by TAI affiliate The Colorado Independent.

The federal Justice Department is investigating Denver for failing to provide sign-language interpreters for deaf prisoners. Investigators are seeking to determine whether Denver – which touts itself as “one of America’s most accessible cities” — is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. (more…)

In Colorado, calls for gun control

Posted on: August 7th, 2012 by The American Independent 4 Comments

While many politicians are playing it safe, saying it is too soon to talk about gun laws or saying they don’t want to “politicize” the Colorado and now Wisconsin shootings, Democratic U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter have been outspoken about their desire for more stringent regulation. (more…)

Former Colorado Independent intern found dead in Mexico

Posted on: July 3rd, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Armando Montaño, a former intern for the Colorado Independent, died this past weekend in Mexico City, where he was writing for the Associated Press. Mexican officials are investigating his death and, according to the AP, the U.S. embassy is monitoring that investigation.

Mando, as his friends called him, died in a building near his apartment in the city’s trendy Condessa neighborhood, his body reportedly found Saturday at the bottom of an elevator shaft.

Mando had been living in the Mexican capital for only roughly a month at the time of his death, but a story on an airport police shootout he posted a week ago touched on the widespread corruption of officials routinely tapped to help move the cash and merchandise of the drug trade. (more…)

Experts explore public policy implications of fires

Posted on: June 28th, 2012 by The American Independent 5 Comments

Fires in High Park in Poudre Canyon about 15 miles from Ft. Collins, Colo. Official Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Jess Geffre.

ASPEN, COLO. — Public policy and political will must shift as dramatically as the winds that have whipped Colorado’s record wildfires, experts say, or the state’s residents will continue to pay a higher and higher price for forests that are dying due to global climate change. (more…)

Congressman seeks to increase distance between fracking and schools

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. and the fourth part here.

BOULDER, COLO. — There are a lot of opinions on how far hydraulic fracturing should be from schools. One resident near a drilling operation a few hundred yards from Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie said he was probably the only one on his block who didn’t mind the noise or environmental and health risks Encana Corp.’s project brought with it. Still, in a perfect world, he said he’d prefer it were a mile away.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Image courtesy of Rep. Jared Polis)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would like to increase the setback nationwide to 1,000 feet. He is introducing an amendment today that would do just that for primary and secondary schools located near U.S. oil and gas resources. If passed, the amendment would be attached to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, or H.R. 4480, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R.-Colo. H.R. 4480 is strongly opposed by sportsmen and environmental groups as it would mandate increased federal agency leasing of oil and gas resources and weaken the country’s clean air protections.

“An increased setback would better protect school-aged children from the negative impacts of air pollution from drilling sites. Studies indicate that there are increased levels of carcinogenic fumes, such as benzene, near fracking sites,” Polis’ spokesman Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent.

Protecting children and other people from risks that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, operations pose to communities is receiving more attention than ever in Colorado and elsewhere as more rigs creep ever closer.

The oil and gas companies paint their detractors as alarmists. The health concerns are blown out of proportion, they argue. Whenever possible, companies say they try to drill even farther out than the law requires and, in the case of Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, during summer break.

But the noise, traffic and questions of public safety are too much for some parents. If they aren’t pulling their children out of the affected schools and moving out of their communities, they are rallying together and taking to the streets with protest signs, trying to reclaim their neighborhoods.

Getting results or even answers isn’t easy.

Growing natural gas development in urban Texas where schools, health facilities, homes and elderly communities are increasingly at risk led to a Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods report (pdf) last year titled “Recommendations For Drilling Near Schools.”

“In its genesis, this project was envisioned to be a comprehensive review of available data with concomitant recommendations. Once into the project, however, it became patently clear that there is an appalling lack of information available on which to base sound responsible decisions,” the report concluded. “It was deeply disturbing how little information is available to elected officials or State regulating entities that is independent of the operators. Proper due diligence is nearly impossible. This was both startling and alarming. Further, there appears to be a complete relegation of responsibility by both the City and State which allows industry to conduct operations at their own discretion with very little oversight or verification by governmental entities or accountability to the public.”

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods further found “the city has no comprehensive plan or map of drilling or pipeline placement for the entire city; has not conducted independent on-going monitoring for emissions; and has no will to assume authority for such.” Nor is there a mechanism in place for routine emissions checks at existing wells or processing facilities, according to the group’s report.

Fracking isn’t just putting pressure on schools. It is also competing for their water supplies.

Protestors in Erie, Colo., tell Encana to get its "Hands Off Our Community" and "Our Children Are Not Your Experiment." (Photo by Troy Hooper)The amount of water used each year in Colorado — between 22,100 and 39,500 acre feet — is enough to meet the annual needs of up to 296,100 residents or more than the population of Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Buffalo, N.Y., according to a Western Resource Advocates report released today.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and is concerned about fracking near schools and residences.

There are 89 public schools in Colorado within a 1,000-foot radius of federal subsurface estates.

“Schools should be safe havens for learning and growing, not places for worrying about whether the wind is blowing industrial poisons into the classroom,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “We applaud Rep. Polis’ leadership to protect school kids and families from cancer-causing chemicals emitted during oil and gas drilling and fracking.”