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. 


June 22, 2006

The ACLU of Colorado filed suit yesterday against Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, alleging that the Sheriff unjustifiably prohibited ACLU attorneys from conducting confidential interviews with jail prisoners who wanted to speak with the ACLU.

The lawsuit asks for an emergency order prohibiting the Sheriff from barring confidential visits when ACLU staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass returns to the jail in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday to conduct additional interviews.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Denver yesterday evening, the ACLU Legal Department is actively investigating complaints from jail prisoners about a host of alleged practices at the jail.

ACLU attorneys spent three days at the jail last week, reviewing documents and conducting interviews. In the midst of the ACLU’s visit, the lawsuit says, Sheriff Vallario announced a new “policy” that prevented Mr. Pendergrass from speaking with three prisoners who had previously expressed an interest in obtaining legal assistance from the ACLU.

Instead of informing prisoners that they had a visit from an attorney, the Sheriff’s deputies instead asked each prisoner the open-ended question, “Who is your attorney?” If a prisoner did not name the ACLU as “his attorney,” then the Sheriff prohibited the visit.
“The prisoners were not informed that an ACLU attorney was at the jail requesting a visit,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “We believe that if the prisoners had been asked if they wanted to speak with an ACLU attorney, they would have said yes.”

“Of course, prisoners held on criminal charges will usually answer that ‘their attorney’ is their criminal defense attorney,” Silverstein continued. “This is especially true because ACLU attorneys have not yet agreed to represent any of the jail prisoners. Nevertheless, the prisoners have a legal right to meet with attorneys to seek legal advice and discuss the possibility of representation. And ACLU lawyers have a legal right to meet with prisoners who wish to speak with us.”

According to Silverstein, one prisoner who had been corresponding extensively with the ACLU saw through the Sheriff’s “trick question.” He apparently advised other prisoners in that section of the jail to identify the ACLU when asked “Who is your attorney?” ACLU attorneys were able to interview prisoners housed in that section of the jail, Silverstein said. But the three prisoners the ACLU was prohibited from interviewing are housed in a different section.

Silverstein said the Sheriff was unable to provide a copy of the “policy” that is challenged in the lawsuit. “Neither prisoners nor criminal defense attorneys with years of practice in Glenwood Springs have heard of this policy before,” Silverstein said. “I hope this policy was not invented for the purpose of interfering with the ACLU’s ability to investigate complaints about the Sheriff’s treatment of prisoners in the jail.”

A declaration filed with the lawsuit [link to Declaration] includes a 15-point list of allegations the ACLU is investigating, including:
• unjustified use of restraint chairs as punishment, for too long, without appropriate involvement of medical personnel;

• abusive and unjustified use and threats to use pepperball guns, pepper and tasers on prisoners for minor noncompliance;

• arbitrary imposition of harsh

disciplinary measures for minor infractions, without due process, and without following the Inmate Handbook;

• unjustifiable delay of medical attention and decontamination of prisoners who have been subjected to pepper spray or pepperball pellets, in some cases forcing them to remain strapped in the restraint chair while contaminated with pepper spray or pepper dust;

“Prisoners in other jails have died in the restraint chair,” Silverstein said, “and pepper spray and tasers have been associated with at least 200 in-custody deaths in this country.” The ACLU is particularly concerned because the Sheriff has no written policy regulating the use of restraint chairs, pepperball guns, or tasers in the jail.” Silverstein said that in response to ACLU requests under the open records laws, the Sheriff replied that he had no written training materials about the proper use of these devices, nor any written literature or guidelines from the manufacturers.

In order to continue its investigation, the ACLU asked the federal district court rule on its motion for a temporary restraining order by Monday at the latest, so that Mr. Pendergrass can interview prisoners when he returns to the jail on Tuesday.

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