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How we got here

Five years of rancor between Springs officials and citizens



November 2002

The Independent learns that from 1997 to 1999, the Colorado Springs Police Department has spied on local peace activists, including members of Citizens for Peace in Space and the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. The department also has kept records on them and shared the information with the Denver Police Department, which, in turn, has included the records in their controversial "spy files" on social activists. None of the local activists appear to have a history of violence.

Feb. 15, 2003

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people gather in and around Palmer Park to protest the impending start of the Iraq war. Police wind up stopping the rally, claiming some activists are blocking traffic, and they use tear gas to subdue the crowd. Thirteen people there are arrested.

Later in the day, following another rally near Peterson Air Force Base, nearly two dozen more are arrested, including a group that had followed police orders to disperse and were apprehended at a local Dairy Queen.

Weeks later, amid public outcry over the Palmer Park incidents, Colorado Springs Police Chief Luis Velez says his officers will try to avoid using tear gas in the future. But, he adds, "there's no concession" that its use in Palmer Park was wrong.

Oct. 8, 2003

Peace activists rally outside a military summit at The Broadmoor. The group, which is infiltrated by an undercover police officer, is barred from public streets by a two-block "security zone." Officials say they fear the presence of activists could make the hotel more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The activists seek permission to assemble in a toned-down fashion inside the security gates, maintaining they have a right to communicate their anti-war message to the media inside. They are denied.

Citizens for Peace in Space files a lawsuit, with the aid of the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming the city's rules squelched their right to assemble. In July 2005, a federal judge rules against the activists, stating that security concerns were reason enough to keep the activists outside the gates. An appeals court later upholds the ruling.

September 2005

Another suit stems from the Oct. 8 summit: A federal magistrate in Denver rules that Brian Hildenbrandt of Colorado Springs may sue the city regarding his arrest at The Broadmoor.

Police claimed Hildenbrandt and another man stepped past barriers into the "security zone." Both men, who maintained they weren't protesters but merely curious onlookers, disagreed. Within a couple months, the "criminal trespassing" charges brought by the city against Hildenbrandt were dismissed; he sued the city in response.

City attorney Thomas Marrese describes the suit as "frivolous," but the case is settled in December 2005. Hildenbrandt receives $5,000 in damages from the city and retains the right to speak publicly about what happened.

Oct. 13, 2006

Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe issues a settlement agreement to the wrongful arrests involving 12 activists at the Dairy Queen in 2003.

The city apologizes and admits to "erroneous" arrests. A city letter states, "Both the City and the CSPD understand and defend the rights of all citizens to speak freely and to protest without fear of unlawful arrest. We invite you to join with us in an open forum ... so that misunderstandings do not transpire in the future."

March 17, 2007

At annual St. Patrick's Day festivities, parade officials ask police to eject peace marchers for promoting anti-war messages, which is against the parade's written policy banning "social issues." This happens although other entries include political candidates and armed forces representatives.

Police respond by attempting to remove the approximately 45 marchers. A few marchers employ nonviolent resistance techniques.

In the course of arresting seven marchers, police use what they later call a "jaw-hinge push" to restrain one marcher; some onlookers contend it is a chokehold. Two officers drag a 65-year-old woman off the street, leaving her with abrasions to her stomach and hip. At least one officer brandishes a Taser gun. Other marchers, including some who are not arrested, are bruised.

With public anger still hot 10 days later, Mayor Lionel Rivera says he supports the police actions at the parade.

May 2, 2007

After a tense meeting, Rivera and activists report they've begun a dialogue meant to prevent incidents similar to the one seen on St. Patrick's Day. Rivera reiterates that he doesn't believe there was police brutality, as activists allege.

May 4, 2007

The planned free-speech, citizen-police forum involving the Dairy Queen Dozen from 2003 falls apart. Informed by city spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg that they will not be allowed to take part in editing of the forum video (to be played later on Channel 18), the activists walk out. With a small crowd remaining in attendance, the city goes through the motions to fulfill its promise of holding the forum. Eric Doub, a Boulder activist and one of the 12 arrested in 2003, threatens legal action.

May 7-8, 2007

Police Chief Richard Myers presents a summary of findings from a yet-to-be-released internal investigation into police handling of the St. Patrick's Day event. He says that though officers could have handled individual marchers differently, the investigation found no actual police wrongdoing.

He also concludes much of the trouble was caused by poor communication between PPJPC president Eric Verlo and parade organizers, led by John O'Donnell.

The following day, parade marchers address City Council. Some of their accounts differ from what Myers has described, and videotape appears to contradict some details included in Myers' recounting of police response. But while most council members agree to participate in a community forum in the future, nobody calls for an independent investigation.

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