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. 

Debtors’ Prison Settlement: Aurora Cancels Debt, Withdraws Warrants, and Repays James Fisher for Excessive Payments to Municipal Court


DENVER – The City of Aurora has agreed to cancel hundreds of dollars of debt and reimburse nearly $800 in overpayments that James Fisher made to the Aurora Municipal Court while he attempted to resolve rapidly-ballooning fees that he could not afford to pay, according to a settlement announced today by the ACLU of Colorado.

“James Fisher was trapped in a cycle of debt that is all too familiar to thousands of low-income Coloradans ticketed for minor ordinance violations.  He made payment after payment to the court, but his debt continued to grow.  Although Mr. Fisher eventually paid more than double his original fines, the Aurora Municipal Court kept coming back for more, issuing warrants when he missed a payment,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “With this settlement, Mr. Fisher can finally put this nightmare behind him and move on with his life.”

In 2012, Fisher was sentenced to pay $678 in fines for three municipal ordinance violations – two open container tickets issued on the same night and a citation for driving without proof of insurance.

Over the next four years, while Fisher struggled with homelessness and unsteady work as a day laborer, he nonetheless made 19 separate payments to the Court totaling $1498 – more than twice his original fines. Yet, he still owed the court $860. The Court imposed payment schedules that Fisher could not meet, made each of his due dates a court appearance, and then issued “failure to appear” warrants when he could not make a payment.  Municipal courts across Colorado often used these “failure to appear” warrants to coerce payment after the state legislature in 2014 outlawed “failure to pay” warrants in ACLU-backed legislation aimed at curbing debtors’ prisons.

In total, 13 arrest warrants were issued for Mr. Fisher when he was unable to make steady payments.  Each new warrant tacked at least $100 in additional fees onto Fisher’s debt.  On several occasions, the court assessed fees simultaneously across Fisher’s three cases following a single missed payment.  For example, in one instance, Fisher missed a $70 payment that was scheduled in a single case.  Aurora assessed a $25 “Failure to Appear Fee” and a $75 “Warrant Fee” in each of his three active cases, totaling $300 for a single missed payment date.

In 2016, Fisher joined the ACLU of Colorado in testifying before the state legislature in support of a new law to stop Colorado municipal courts from using “failure to appear” warrants to collect payment from indigent defendants who cannot afford to pay.  House Bill 16-1311 passed with strong bipartisan majorities and was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper last June.

Subsequently, the City of Aurora voluntarily vacated 2,859 warrants that had been issued for non-payment of outstanding debts.  In Fisher’s case, after a negotiation with the ACLU of Colorado, the City further agreed to cancel all of his remaining debt and to reimburse $790 in payments that he had made in excess of his original fines.

“On one hand, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me. I also feel a sense of pride that I hung in there and fought a good fight,” said Fisher. “I hope this settlement sends a message to the courts and to the community that the ACLU will stand up for people, and that the fight for economic and social justice isn’t over – it’s just getting started.”

“We are thrilled that Mr. Fisher is finally free of the debt cycle that the Aurora Municipal Court had trapped him in for four years,” said ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace. “But there are still thousands of impoverished Coloradoans who need relief from excessive court debt.  Municipal courts across the state, including Aurora, should be revising their debt collection practices to prevent the continuation of the current two-tiered system of justice – one in which wealthy defendants who commit minor violations quickly pay their fines and move on with their lives, while poor defendants remain indebted and tied to the criminal justice system for years, often paying the court significantly more money than their wealthier counterparts to resolve their case.”

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