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  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

ACLU resolves case on behalf of student arrested by Jefferson County officials for peacefully displaying a

CONTACT: Taylor Pendergrass, ACLU Staff Attorney, 303-777-5482 x104

Today the ACLU of Colorado announced that it had reached a settlement agreement with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Jefferson County School District on behalf of Blake Benson, avoiding a potential lawsuit. The dispute arose when Jefferson County officials arrested Mr. Benson for displaying a “Nobama” message on a t-shirt prior to an after-school speech by Michelle Obama at Dakota Ridge High School.

Mr. Benson was a junior at the high school on November 3, 2008, when Michelle Obama came to speak at the school. As attendees lined up to enter the gymnasium, Mr. Benson stood near the school’s main entrance wearing a t-shirt with a “Nobama” sticker taped across the front. Dakota Ridge school officials ordered Mr. Benson to leave. When he refused, officials had Mr. Benson handcuffed, searched, and arrested for “interference,” a charge that carries up to six months in jail and a $750 fine. Mr. Benson was also give a one-day suspension by Principal Jim Jelinek, who stated in a notice of suspension that, “Blake was directed to cease politically protesting on school grounds.”

ACLU cooperating attorney Dan Recht represented Mr. Benson in the criminal case and in May 2009 Jefferson County officials confirmed that they would not pursue the criminal charge. “Jefferson County officials were wrong to censor the peaceful, purely political speech of a high school student just a day before a historic national election,” stated Taylor Pendergrass, staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado. “We should be encouraging civic engagement and political discourse in our high schools. Unfortunately, Jefferson County officials sent exactly the opposite message last November by arresting Mr. Benson for his expressing his political views.”

The Jefferson County School District and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office agreed to pay $2,000 each to settle claims that Jefferson County violated Mr. Benson’s free speech rights under the First Amendment and Article II Section 10 of the Colorado Constitution. Jefferson County officials do not admit to wrongdoing in the settlement agreement.

“What my teachers taught me about our constitutional rights wasn’t respected outside the classroom,” said Mr. Benson. “If one thing comes from this case, I hope it is that other students will learn more about their free speech rights and not be afraid to use them.”

Click here for a hi-res picture of Mr. Benson wearing his t-shirt on the day of the arrest.

About the ACLU of Colorado

The ACLU is a nationwide, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to defending and preserving the principles of the Bill of Rights through litigation, advocacy and public education.  The ACLU Foundation of Colorado works to protect the rights of all Coloradans.



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