Colorado Rights Blog


  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • 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. 


ACLU Sues El Paso County Jail over Death of Inmate


May 10, 2001

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado (ACLU) announced today the filing of a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the family of Andrew Spillane, a pre-trial detainee who died on May 10, 2000, in the El Paso County Jail, shortly after deputies pepper-sprayed him in the confined space of a special detention cell.


According to the ACLU and Amnesty International, pepper spray has been linked to more than 60 cases of in-custody deaths in recent years. A coroner's report last year identified pepper spray as a contributing cause of Spillane's death, but it attributed the primary cause to seizures caused by delirium tremens: alcohol withdrawal.


"This was a senseless and entirely preventable death," said Gerald McDermott, a Denver attorney who is representing Spillane's family as an ACLU volunteer cooperating attorney. "With his obvious symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal, Andy should have been in the hospital, not in the jail's infirmary, and certainly not in a special detention cell. He needed intravenous administration of medication, not pepper spray."


"Jail authorities have a legal obligation to provide medical care for an inmate's serious medical needs," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "The health standards for county jails recognize that severe alcohol withdrawal is a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate hospitalization. In this case, the jail utterly failed to provide Andy with the medical care that he desperately needed."

According to the lawsuit, Spillane was held as a pre-trial detainee on a charge of growing marijuana plants in his apartment. When he arrived at the jail around 7 am, he showed obvious symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal. Records showed that Spillane was hallucinating, bouncing off the walls, and becoming increasingly agitated and irrational. In addition, jail authorities were on notice that Spillane had a history of seizures during withdrawal. Nevertheless, the lawsuit alleges, it took ten hours before Spillane was sent to the jail's infirmary.


"Even after Andy was finally sent to the jail infirmary," Silverstein said, "he still didn't get the medical care he needed. Instead of sending him to the hospital, jail authorities wound up treating his symptoms as a behavior problem rather than a medical problem. Deputies removed him from the infirmary, locked him in a special detention cell, and eventually pepper sprayed him. When he was unable to follow jailers' instructions, they pepper sprayed him again."


According to the lawsuit, the deputies then entered the cell, laid Spillane face-down on the concrete floor, handcuffed his hands behind his back, and shackled his legs. Spillane immediately had trouble breathing, and he died very shortly afterwards.

After an investigation, the Sheriff's Department concluded that the deputies had conducted themselves according to their training; that all jail policies had been followed; and that deputies had done nothing wrong.


"This case raises very serious questions about the policies and practices of the Sheriff's Department," Silverstein said. "If what happened to Andy Spillane reflects the deputies' training, then they need to be retrained. If this incident did not violate any jail policies, then the policies are egregiously flawed."


"This case raises equally important questions about whether the jail's medical unit is adequately staffed with competent personnel," Silverstein added. "Two weeks ago the Sheriff's Department and its medical contractor settled one wrongful death suit. In the year since Andy Spillane died, three additional inmates have died in the El Paso County Jail. How many deaths and how many lawsuits will it take?"


The suit, Gahagan v. Board of County Commissioners, was filed in state district court in Colorado Springs. Defendants named in the lawsuit include the Board of County Commissioners for El Paso County; Sheriff John Anderson; Correctional Medical Services, Inc., which provides the jail's medical care on a contract basis; and several individual deputies and CMS employees.

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