Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

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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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…)

Residents of Longmont, Colo., seek fracking ban

Posted on: June 6th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in an ongoing Colorado Independent series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here and the second part here.

LONGMONT, COLO. — As she kept a watchful eye on her playful toddler, Lindsay Gahn pulled out a state-issued map of town where subdivisions susceptible to oil and gas drilling were colored in red.

“When I saw this, my heart just stopped,” she said, pointing to the ubiquitous red blobs on the map.

Lindsay Gahn

Under Colorado law, there could be drilling next to half of the schools in Longmont. In Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties, 32 public schools are within 2,000 feet of a drilling site, and 26 of those schools are within 1,000 feet, according to a recent Western Resource Advocates analysis.

“Colorado law only mandates a 350-foot setback from schools and residential areas for oil and gas wells, a much shorter distance than required for businesses such as medical marijuana dispensaries or liquor stores,” the Boulder nonprofit’s analysis said. “In fact, it is illegal in Colorado to idle a vehicle for more than 5 minutes within 1,000 feet of a school — but you can drill for oil and gas, spewing potentially toxic chemicals into the air, as long as you aren’t closer than 350 feet.”

Residents in Longmont, which lies in Boulder County, and other communities across the state are wrestling with protecting themselves from the impacts of the nation’s booming oil and gas industry. Ever since hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” and horizontal drilling made once-hard-to-reach deposits of oil and gas both accessible and profitable in 2007, oil derricks and natural gas well pads have been creeping closer to more homes, schools and regions where drilling never occurred before.

“There is a proposal to drill a well immediately next to a middle and elementary school on the eastern side of town,” said Food & Water Watch regional director Sam Schabacker. “This is a very real deep concern for the citizens of Longmont in that there could be drill rigs next to half of their schools.”

Longmont City Council attempted to pass its own regulations that would have prohibited drilling in residential areas but it backed off last month after Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to the city with an implied threat of a lawsuit should the council proceed with its regulations.

“Longmont is Exhibit A for how the state of Colorado has failed its citizens,” Shabacker said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and industry groups say the state should regulate oil and gas drilling. Colorado has the strongest  fracking disclosure laws in the nation, they insist, but astute residents lament that state officials aren’t enforcing their own rules.

“If the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gets its way, it won’t be long before Longmont will look like Erie,” said one local teacher who asked not to be identified. Drilling near schools is becoming commonplace in Erie, where residents are trying to shut down a new Encana project.

There is currently a drilling ban in Longmont but it expires June 16.

Worried about their future, residents are fighting back.

Last week, an issue committee titled Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont filed a notice of intent with the city clerk to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to ban fracking in the city limits, period. If it were to get passed, Longmont would become the first city in Colorado to ban fracking.

This gas well, which is 360 feet north of Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont, led to the contamination of area ground water. (Photo via LongmontROAR.org)

“The state and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association are bullying Longmont to take away their local control and the city council is not standing strong to protect the health, safety and welfare of Longmont residents, so this petition is our only recourse,” Peter Champe with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont said in a release that noted 6,000 valid signatures are needed. “People who live, work and raise their families in Longmont should have a say on whether or not they want their air, water, soil and roadways threatened by the risky process of fracking and the subsequent well production. If no action is taken, existing regulations would allow hundreds of wells to be drilled in Longmont.”

COGA officials have not returned messages seeking comment for this series.

A rallying point for residents here has been Lakewood-based TOP Operating’s Rider 1 gas well positioned 360 feet north of Trail Ridge Middle School. For at least three years, the ground water around the well was contaminated with carcinogens such as benzene, which was measured at almost 100 times the state limit, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Debates about where to drill and how far back operations should be from homes and schools have flooded the state capitol but legislation that would have better protected the public was shot down.

That’s discouraging to many of the parents and teachers in Longmont.

“This isn’t a political issue,” Gahn said. “I’m worried about the health and safety of my kids.”

Coloradans protest fracking near schools

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Olivia Cusimano, 6, leads a protest against hydraulic fracturing in Erie on Saturday. (Photo by Troy Hooper)

ERIE, COLO. — With black whiskers painted across her cheeks, 6-year-old Olivia Cusimano roared into the plastic megaphone as if hers were the voice of the blue knotted-up balloon tiger she clutched beneath her left arm. (more…)

How one GOP lawmaker became a civil unions supporter

Posted on: May 8th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Colorado state Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R-Loveland). Photo by John Tomasic.

Conservative state Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland, Colo., voted last week to advance a civil unions bill that would recognize same-sex partnerships in large part because she had come to believe the legislature, not the ballot box, was the best place to weigh civil rights questions. (more…)

Catholic power dynamics highlighted in Colorado funding flap

Posted on: April 18th, 2012 by The American Independent 4 Comments

The political tug-of-war waging within the U.S. Catholic Church made headlines in Colorado this month when the Church’s Campaign for Human Development threatened to pull tens of thousands of dollars in support from Durango-based immigrant-rights group Compañeros.

As the New York Times first reported, the anti-poverty Catholic Campaign (CCHD) in February told Compañeros Executive Director Nicole Mosher that her group’s annual $30,000 grant was in jeopardy. Mosher told the Colorado Independent that a Catholic Campaign liaison in Pueblo explained the problem was that both Compañeros and gay-rights group One Colorado were affiliated with the wider Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. The coalition, which includes well more than 50 member organizations, has openly supported the rights of gay immigrants and has joined with One Colorado in championing the same-sex civil unions bill making its way through the Colorado legislature.

As the Colorado Independent recently reported, no one from the Catholic Campaign ever asked Compañeros about its stand on gay rights or about its ties to One Colorado. Mosher said the Campaign’s concerns seemed based on sources far removed from the reality of the work being done on the ground by her organization, which mostly concerns education on U.S. laws and shepherding immigrants and their families through courts, hospitals, schools and tax filings.

For Church watchers, the events in Colorado seemed to spotlight the way power is being wielded within the Church by non-clerical Catholic groups armed with internet connections and formed to champion hard-line positions on social issues such as abortion and gay rights.

An evangelical Catholicism

James Salt, executive director of liberal Catholic group Catholics United, told the Independent that the hunt for “100 percent orthodoxy,” as he put it, is altering the Church in the United States.

“There was once the feeling that our faith could move mountains and especially on behalf of the most-marginalized members of society,” he said. “But [Church leaders] have been pushed farther and farther rightward by these well-organized groups with narrow agendas.”

Salt said that the battle over the Catholic Campaign is an outgrowth of the rise of the Christian right in U.S. politics in the 1980s.

“The [Catholic] bishops were once seen as a prophetic voice on behalf of the poor. Now they’re known primarily as a voice on wedge issues. That all seems counter cultural to Catholics, more evangelical, more partisan, more politically motivated than spiritually motivated.”

The Catholic Campaign, founded in the 1960s with a progressive Vatican II-era mission to fight for social justice by attacking root causes of poverty, has been a ripe target for pressure. Conservative critics have accused its leaders of “working in direct contradiction to Church teaching” by awarding grants to organizations that “directly or through coalition membership have promoted abortion, birth control, homosexuality and/or Marxism,” according to a watchdog report brought out last fall by a coalition called Reform CCHD Now.

The Reform CCHD Now coalition was formed in 2009 and is led by Virginia-based anti-abortion groups American Life League and Human Life International, which registered the coalition’s internet domain name.

The coalition also includes smaller groups, such as Colorado Catholics for Personhood, a local chapter of the national movement to challenge Roe v Wade by passing laws around the country that would grant fertilized human eggs full legal rights.

The group is run by Gualberto Garcia Jones, who is also spokesman for the Personhood Colorado ballot initiative campaigns run this year and in 2010.

It’s unclear what role a group like Colorado Catholics for Personhood plays in the mission of Reform CCHD Now. Jones was traveling last week and unavailable to comment for this story.

Affiliation transgressions

“The Church has awarded grants to groups that directly or through coalition membership have promoted abortion, birth control, homosexuality and Marxism”

Human Life International, founded in 1981, reports a presence in 100 countries around the world. Its activities include lobbying to outlaw abortion in the U.S. and abroad, organizing conferences and training sessions and holding sidewalk counseling sessions outside abortion centers.

The main work of the coalition, however, seems to be carried out by the American Life League. The League, was founded in 1979 and calls itself the “largest grassroots Catholic pro-life education organization” in the country. In the fall of 2010 and 2011, just before annual fundraising efforts launched for the Catholic Campaign, the League released watchdog reports on the Campaign’s grants. The 2011 report recommended the Campaign pull funding for roughly 54 of its 218 grantees. Compañeros was not included on that list.

Michael Hichborn, spokesman for both the American Life League and the Reform CCHD Now coalition, told the Independent that his groups had “nothing to do with the charges against Compañeros” and that it was “the local [Pueblo] diocese which made its own discoveries and drew its own conclusions” in the matter.

Yet, the American Life League’s watchdogging is clearly having an effect. As is the case with Compañeros, more than 40 of the organizations listed for defunding in the League’s 2011 report were targeted based on associations they maintain with larger coalitions.

Many of the groups made the list, for example, due to ties to the Center for Community Change, which the report authors explain “signed an open letter to President Obama and some members of Congress urging them to continue funding Planned Parenthood, is actively involved in the promotion of homosexuality and equates abortion rights with criminal justice.”

Critics told the Independent that the American Life League research lacks vital perspective and that it trades on guilt by association.

In the eyes of anti-abortion groups, for example, Planned Parenthood is recognized first and foremost as the largest abortion provider in the nation, but for anti-poverty groups, Planned Parenthood is seen primarily as the largest provider of vital health care to poor women coast to coast.

And, in the case of groups tied to the Center for Community Change, it’s unclear what’s more objectionable, a grantee’s association with the Center, or the Center’s association with Planned Parenthood, which in all of the cases listed in the American Life League report, is an association two steps removed from any grantee and one based on a single letter of support.

Salt characterized the American Life League’s research on the Catholic Campaign a lamentable product of the digital age.

“These far right groups can find any minuscule hint of a supposed transgression and use it as a point of attack,” he said.

Mosher said that, in the case of Compañeros, there would be no way to know from an internet search how thin are its ties to One Colorado, how remote are the workings of the organizations in day-to-day operations and how impractical it would be for Compañeros to try to control the membership of either the state’s immigrant rights coalition or of any other such coalition to which it might belong.

Hichborn, however, said that, in the matter of Compañeros, any talk about One Colorado and the role of Reform CCHD Now is a distraction.

In an email he wrote that, based on research he has conducted since the story broke, the problem likely was never One Colorado, it was that Companeros is a “founding member of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, which is itself actively promoting same-sex marriage, attending gay-pride parades, and promoting homosexuality in general; all of which is in direct conflict with immutable Catholic moral teaching.

“Companeros is so intimately linked with [the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition] that official actions taken by [the coalition] reflect extended actions by Companeros as well. By joining [the coalition] as a “member,” Companeros is participating in its actions.”

‘Open source analysis’

That it was likely the Catholic Campaign that found fault with Compañeros membership in the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition must be seen as progress for the reform movement.

Hounded by criticism, the Campaign underwent an intense “review and renewal” process in 2010 that ended in its adopting the language of its critics. The Ten Commitments reform program (pdf) that came out of the process aimed at developing “more specific ethical guidance to help the Bishops carry out [the Campaign’s] policy of prohibiting funding to groups which are part of coalitions that act in conflict with fundamental Catholic moral and social teaching.”

What’s more, Hichborn and the Reform coalition members make no apologies for their research methods. Indeed, defending them has been a large part of the coalition’s activities almost from its inception.

Two years ago the coalition launched attacks on John Carr, who oversees the Catholic Campaign as executive director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. Citing Carr’s work over the course of years for the Center for Community Change, the coalition alleged that the Conference of Catholic Bishops was engaged in a “systematic pattern of cooperation with evil.”

Carr told the sympathetic Catholic News Service that he stood by the work of the Center to address poverty and that he had no knowledge of any of its alleged “work to promote abortion and homosexuality.” He said that no one from the Reform coalition had contacted him before making the allegations.

Bishops rallied around Carr and denounced the accusations as internet smears.

“You can have one person with a website call you a left-wing radical, and [your] family is asking… ‘What’s going on?’” said Bishop Roger Morrin from Mississippi.

The coalition responded by explaining that it uses an “open source analysis” methodology “promulgated by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Defense, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” In effect, that means the coalition researchers lean on internet searches but that they look for primary source documents authored by the organizations in question– public relations releases and letters, for example, like the one sent by the Center for Community Change to Washington lawmakers in support of Planned Parenthood.

At the American Life League website, Hichborn defended the criticism of Carr and the Catholic Campaign. He argued that the associations unearthed by coalition researchers, however loose, demonstrate the way the Campaign is compromising the integrity of the Church and its mission.

“As I have repeated since we began our investigation, [Campaign] staff and leadership are either incompetent or they are complicit. Whatever the case may be, there can be no doubt that the [Catholic Campaign] has completely failed its mission by sleeping with the enemy.”

That’s exactly the kind of harsh rhetoric Salt called “tone deaf” within a Catholic culture that reveres the mission taken on by men like Carr and the bishops guiding the Catholic Campaign.

Salt cited recent Pew Research Center data that suggests one third of Americans who were raised Catholic have left the Church. In fact, he believes the rising power of groups like Reform CCHD Now is both a cause and a result of the fact that Catholics raised with the Vatican II ideals are leaving the Church in droves.

“In the 1980s, you had these conservative commentators like George Weigel saying they wanted to turn the Church 180 degrees away from social justice. Well, they’re succeeding by using these divisive tactics, and it just drives people from the Church.”

[ Image: Reconstruction of the nave of the Domkerk in Utrecht via Paulus 2 at Wiki Commons. ]

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