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. 

Counselors, Not Cops: Shandie Harris and her son, J.J.

Learn more and take action here.

“I’m worried about him ending up like Elijah McClain.”

Shandie Harris fears for her son J.J.’s life every day. As a six foot tall, 230 pound young Black man, teachers and law enforcement often see 16-year-old J.J. as a threat. J.J. has autism and learns at a 5th grade level. He has an IEP but that hasn’t been enough to shield him from bias and a system determined to misunderstand his needs.

“He doesn’t look like he has a disability,” Shandie said. “He runs when he’s scared. I’ve tried to give him bracelets. I’ve tried to protect him. But I worry all the time. Are the police going to hurt him? Are they going to kill him? He is my whole heartbeat.”

At Overland High School, Shandie said J.J. was followed by security often and that they’d kicked him off school grounds at random. During one incident, Shandie said his teacher felt intimidated by him. This resulted in J.J. getting ticketed at school for harassment, having to go to court, getting suspended and having a restraining order filed against him. Shandie was unaware of any issue at school that day until an officer called her. 

“I felt like they were trying to put him in the system,” Shandie said. “Why not call me first? I could’ve helped de-escalate the situation.”

But like many other parents, Shandie wasn’t included as a resource for her son until after the fact. She has tried to advocate for better SRO training in his school district but said nothing has changed. “They don’t understand him,” she said. “They’re not trained to. They’re not trained to deal with kids with special needs.”

While the legal case against J.J. was ultimately dismissed, both he and Shandie are struggling. J.J. has been depressed and doesn’t want to be at school after having bad experiences with SROs, experiences Shandie said he doesn’t fully understand. “I kept telling him every day, ‘We need to do this,” Shandie said. “I keep trying to motivate him but I feel he’s regressed.” He’s not alone. Because of court appointments, coordinating J.J.s needs and navigating his trauma, Shandie’s missed more work than she can afford to — at least 80 hours. J.J. is now an online student, a decision Shandie feels they were forced to make after the school said they didn’t have enough staff to meet his needs coupled with his trauma. His sister is a varsity athlete but J.J. won’t even attend the games because of the way he’s been treated. Shandie hopes he’ll be able to return to a regular classroom someday but right now he’s still too traumatized. 

“We’re going to try to take baby steps next year,” she said. “It’s been a very traumatic experience for him. It’s been very traumatic for me too. I cry all the time.”

Return to News