Posts Tagged ‘front page’

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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Colorado immigrants caught in Catholic culture war

Posted on: April 16th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Nicole Mosher, executive director of Durango-based nonprofit immigrant-aid organization Compañeros, is weighing how to keep her organization running effectively in light of the surprising news that the anti-poverty Catholic organization that supplies half of Companeros’ annual budget will likely end that support due to Compañeros’ indirect association with gay-rights group One Colorado. (more…)

Denver group looks to feds to address police abuse

Posted on: March 22nd, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

Citing institutional weakness and failure, a Denver activist coalition is demanding federal authorities intervene to address police brutality in the city.

Image: 2009 confrontation at the Denver Diner, CPC video screengrab.

The Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC), along with victims and the families of victims of high-profile recent alleged assaults, announced a petition effort Tuesday aimed at persuading the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation.

The move comes in the wake of the decision by the city’s Civil Service Commission Board to reinstate officers fired for allegedly lying about a 2009 confrontation at the Denver Diner. The incident, like other of the recent incidents motivating the activists, was captured on video and to many seemed a clear case of abuse of authority. To the men and women injured during the confrontation and to their champions, the board’s decision reinforced the impression that the police act on the city’s streets with impunity, buffered by what former Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal and the ACLU have called a “culture of silence.”

“[W]e have been working with the city to confront serious systemic failures in Denver law enforcement’s ability to dismantle a culture of police brutality and whispered discriminatory practices,” said Mu Son Chi, racial justice director at CPC, “[but] issuing this request for millions of Americans to join our petition for federal help create[s]… increased awareness of families in our community who are forced to fear those who have taken up the calling to protect us.”

CPC Co-Executive Director Miriam Peña, who was handcuffed by police during the diner confrontation and watched it unfold while seated against a wall, said allowing the officers back on the street sent the wrong message to the public.

“This is a warning to all residents of Denver. No one is safe when abusive officers return to the streets,” she said.

Anthony DeHerrera, a Pueblo sheriff’s deputy whose son Michael was beaten by Denver police in 2009, said the board’s decision spotlights holes in the system.

“Yet again, the officers are getting off on a technicality. It is another part of the appeals process that should be changed,” he said. “Seeing these officers reinstated is re-victimizing the victims of police brutality.”

The city commission found that, although the police reports on the diner confrontation were inaccurate, they weren’t designed to “deceive or hide the truth.”

The coalition hopes to draw petition support from all around the county and has released a video to help make their case.

Justice Department Protects Voting Rights for Minorities in Texas

Posted on: March 14th, 2012 by Paul 5 Comments

Ed. note: This piece was written and published in coordination with Ms. Magazine.

On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder used his powers under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to block enforcement of a prohibitive new voting law in Texas. The law would have required voters to show government-issued identification at the polls.

The Justice Department ruled that Texas’ law would disproportionately deny Hispanics and other marginalized populations the right to vote–a frequent concern about such “strict” voter ID laws.

Texas is among 16 states and counties that are required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to obtain federal “pre-clearance” of new voting laws that could affect minorities. The law was enacted in the Civil Rights era as a way of protecting the voting rights of African Americans and other marginalized groups.

The blocked Texas law is just one of a number of restrictive voter ID laws enacted by states all over the country in the past year. The laws have raised red flags from voting-rights and civil-rights groups who say they are a barrier to the polls for women, African Americans, Latinos, students, low-income voters, the elderly and people with disabilities.

In the case of women, the millions who change their names after getting married or divorced could face problems updating documentation, because it takes time and money many women, especially low-income women, do not have. According to the Brennan Center, only 66 percent of voting-age women have ready access to proof-of-citizenship documentation with their current legal name.

Before 2011, only two states exclusively required government-issued IDs for voting; the rest accepted various forms of identification, such as student IDs, Social Security cards, utility bills and bank statements. But last year, 34 state legislatures, mostly GOP-led, introduced strict ID laws, and seven states–Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennesee, Texas and Wisconsinenacted them.

Like Texas, South Carolina is covered by Section 5 and recently saw its new strict ID law struck down by the Justice Department for the same reasons. Yesterday, Wisconsin’s voter ID law was deemed unconstitutional by a state court.

Voter ID laws are just one of the many voting crackdowns passed in mostly GOP-led state legislatures last year. Others include ending Election Day registration and imposing harsh restrictions on third-party voter registration drives.

Voting rights groups, who have expressed hope that the federal government will use its power to protect minority voting access as the 2012 elections unfold, were heartened by the Texas decision.

Meanwhile, Texas has asked a federal court to overturn the Justice Department decision.

Ohio officials tie fracking waste to earthquakes

Posted on: March 12th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

Regulators in Ohio rocked the oil and gas industry Friday with the strongest allegation yet that hydraulic fracturing could be triggering some earthquakes. (more…)

Study: HIV rates for black women higher than previously thought

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

A newly-released study indicates that HIV rates for black women in parts of the U.S. are much higher than previously estimated. The study, released by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, was released on Thursday, just days prior to National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. (more…)

Report warns of oil shale risks

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

BOULDER — Pursuing oil shale production in the face of increasing water demands and climate change concerns is ill-advised, a new report from a Colorado-based environmental group warns. (more…)