Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 1.8.2016

Michael Marshall’s Death at the Denver Jail Ruled a Homicide. Why Was He There in the First Place?

(Also posted on the Huffington Post at:

Michael Marshall died last November at the Denver jail from injuries he received under the custody of Denver Sheriff deputies. Earlier today, his death was ruled a homicide by the City coroner’s office. In addition to serious questions about use of force and why another unarmed person of color has died at the hands of Denver law enforcement, his case illustrates several systemic deficiencies of our criminal justice system, both in Denver and nationwide.

Jailing the Poor: It is worth asking why Mr. Marshall was in custody in the first place. Mr. Marshall was arrested on a nonviolent charge of trespassing, and he was held on a supposedly nominal $100 bond. A bond that low indicates that he was not considered a risk to the community if released. Many people would easily bail out for that amount, but for those who are living in extreme poverty, it might as well be a million dollar bond. Clearly, Mr. Marshall could not afford to post bond, and that lack of access to just $100 cost him his freedom and ultimately his life.

At any given time, the majority of people in our jails are not there because of conviction for a crime. They are being held in pre-trial detention, most often leading to a plea bargain for time served in order to be released. Most of them are poor. If nominal bonds are given to people deemed to be a low risk, why not release them on personal recognizance instead of setting a financial threshold that presents a barrier only to people without money?

Lack of Mental Health Support: Marshall suffered from a mental illness that may have played a role in his arrest and detention. Too many people with mental illnesses are funneled into our jails and prisons. There is still inadequate mental health care both in our communities and in the criminal justice system, and law enforcement officers are often inadequately trained in how to interact with people who have a mental illness.

Racial Disparities: Once again, a person of color has died from an encounter with law enforcement. Whether there is conscious racial bias or not, the fact remains that black men and other people of color are much more likely to be arrested, incarcerated and killed by police than whites, and the difference is not in proportion to underlying rates of criminal behavior.

Lack of Transparency and Accountability: Denver has thus far refused to publicly release video showing exactly how Michael Marshall was injured and died in custody. And the track record of law enforcement accountability for use of excessive or deadly force is abysmal, both in Denver and across this nation. Denver has paid millions in settlements, but it has been decades since the Denver District Attorney’s office has indicted law enforcement personnel for excessive force or homicide.

Our jails and prisons continue to be filled not in proportion to who actually commits serious crimes, but disproportionately with people who are poor, people living with mental illness, and people of color, at great personal cost to those who are jailed and their families, and at great financial cost to all of us who pay for crowded prisons and jails. No country puts more people behind bars than the United States, and it isn’t because we have the most criminal population in the world. Jail time is an over-used and often counter-productive tool in this nation and state, and it is time for reforms to end costly mass incarceration.



  • 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.