October 10, 2018
DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado sued Denver this morning on behalf of Mickey Howard, who was held in the Denver Jail for 5 days after a court ordered his release upon payment of a $10 bond, because he could not pay an additional $50 “bond fee.”
According to the lawsuit, Denver has a policy of continuing to imprison people who are unable to pay a $50 “bond fee,” even when they have the money to post the bond amount set by the court.
“Mr. Howard was arrested for two alleged violations of Denver ordinances. The court determined that he should be free while his case was pending upon payment of a mere $10, which Mr. Howard could pay. Yet, Denver continued to hold him in jail because he could not pay an additional $50 bond fee,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Jailing people solely because of poverty, particularly when those individuals are pretrial and innocent in the eyes of the law, is cruel, fiscally irrational and violates the Constitution’s guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process.”
According to the ACLU, when Mr. Howard entered the jail, he had $64, which was enough to pay the $10 bond set by the court as well as the $50 bond fee. At the time of booking, however, Denver took another $30 from Mr. Howard as a “booking fee.” That left Mr. Howard with only $34, which was not enough to buy his release.
The ACLU lawsuit identifies two Denver policies that caused Mr. Howard’s unlawful detention: (1) requiring defendants to pay a $50 bond fee, in addition to the monetary bond set by the court, in order to gain their release; and (2) taking $30 from defendants at booking even when doing so will make them unable to post bond and/or pay the bond fee.
After five days in jail, Mr. Howard was freed only because the Colorado Freedom Fund, a non-profit bail fund, paid the bond fee. It costs $70 per day for Denver to house an inmate. Over the five days Mr. Howard was in jail, Denver spent more than $350 to detain him because he could not pay a $50 fee.
All charges against Mr. Howard were eventually dismissed. However, Denver is currently billing him (and turning those bills over to collections) for more than $600 in additional fees that are related solely to the dismissed case.
“I am happy to be free, but it shouldn’t have taken the Colorado Freedom Fund to get me out,” Howard said. “I had the money to pay my bond, but the jail took it from me and wouldn’t let me out because I didn’t also have the money to pay their fee. That’s not right. I am filing this case to get justice for me and to make sure this doesn’t happen to other people.”
In August, El Paso County agreed, as part of a $190,000 settlement with ACLU of Colorado, to compensate 184 individuals who were held in the El Paso County Jail solely because they could not pay a $55 “pretrial supervision” fee.
“Colorado’s county jails are bursting at the seams, mostly with pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime. Yet, we continue to see cases across the state of individuals held in jail not because they are a danger or a flight risk, but because they are too poor to pay a county fee,” said ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace. “These practices are illegal. It is past time for all counties, cities and sheriffs in Colorado to closely review their booking and bonding practices to ensure that they do not allow or facilitate incarceration based solely on poverty. Those that continue to illegally hold people in jail solely because they cannot pay fees should expect to be sued.”
The ACLU lawsuit was filed in federal district court. Howard is represented by Silverstein and Wallace of ACLU of Colorado.
Read the ACLU complaint: https://aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Complaint-FINAL.pdf