Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 12.4.2014

HuffPo Blog: Fix the Police! Accountability Needed in Law Enforcement

(This blog post was featured on December 4)

Following the non-indictment of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for strangling Eric Garner to death with an illegal choke hold in Staten Island, it is clearer than ever that something is badly broken in our system of justice. Once again, a black man has been killed by a white police officer with impunity, and once again there is no accountability for excessive use of force by those who ought to be protecting our communities, not killing people in our communities.

This isn’t just a problem in Ferguson, Missouri or Staten Island, New York. It is a problem across our nation, including here in Denver. Just yesterday, the top headline in the Denver Post featured excessive use of force by local law enforcement. Too often, police use excessive force in arrests, and inmates in jails are killed or badly injured by local deputies. Excessive force complaints have resulted in millions of dollars of judgments or settlements in Denver and surrounding communities, but law enforcement officers are almost never arrested or disciplined for their violent actions.

There are many fine officers who are careful and restrained in their use of force, but as long as the system protects those who cross the line, even in a case where the killing was filmed and the death was ruled by the coroner to be a homicide, public anger and distrust toward law enforcement will only grow. The primary justification given for shielding law enforcement from accountability for use of force is that their jobs are dangerous and they need to be given wide latitude in how to use force to protect themselves. However, a world in which communities hate and mistrust the police because they believe the police hate and mistrust them is surely a world that is more dangerous for law enforcement officers, not less.

There is enormous work to be done to address the problem of excessive use of force, including better screening and training of those entering law enforcement, better efforts to build good community relationships with law enforcement, deeper understanding of the role of conscious or unconscious racial bias in policing, better data on police stops, and proper use of police cameras. But as recent events illustrate, even these measures will not be enough unless there is personal accountability for those officers who disgrace an honorable profession by treating their badge and uniform as a license to maim or kill.

Click here to join the ACLU’s call to the U.S. Justice Department to ban racial profiling by police and to require racial bias training against the use of force.



  • 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.