Colorado Rights Blog



  • 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.

What is a “Criminal Extremist”?

The Spy Files revealed that the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit was falsely labeling many peaceful activist organizations as “criminal extremist.” The groups labeled as “criminal extremist” include the American Friends Service Committee, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

During the ensuring controversy, the Denver Police Department never provided a definition of the term “criminal extremist,” nor did it explain the meaning of the label or the consequences to organizations who are labeled as “criminal extremist” in the intelligence files.

At one point, police department officials blamed the use of the “criminal extremist” label on the Orion computer software that the Intelligence Unit began using in 2000. The database software provides a field labeled “group type.” A pull-down menu permits the data entry worker to select from a list of possible group types, which include “criminal extremist,” “civil disobedience,” “protest group,” “anti-government,” “militia,” and “outlaw biker.”

Documents obtained by the ACLU demonstrate, however, that labels such as “extremist” and “criminal extremist” did not originate with the Orion software. The terms are widely used among law enforcement agencies that collect and disseminate political intelligence.

Denver is a member, for example, of the Law Enforcement Intelligence Network (LEIU). The Constitution and Bylaws of the LEIU state that it exists “to promote the gathering, recording and exchange of confidential information not available through regular police channels” and “to establish a central clearinghouse for information regarding organized crime and terrorism and to provide for its dissemination to the membership.” The bylaws list “criminal extremists” as one of the categories of groups that are the subject of LEIU intelligence collection and dissemination.

The term “extremist” is frequently used by intelligence officers to describe the targets of their politically-motivated intelligence gathering. For example, the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence unit participates in the Multi-Agency Group Intelligence Conference (MAGIC), which describes its meetings as “limited to sharing of information on extremist groups (left-wing, right-wing, foreign).” Although MAGIC provides no definition of the term “extremist,” agendas for its meetings reveal plans to discuss “environmentalists,” and “the Green Movement,” as well as the American Friends Service Committee and Amnesty International.

In 2002, the FBI announced that numerous categories of “extremists” had been added to a computer database known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File. The FBI memo referred to categories such as “black extremist,” “animal rights extremist,” “environmental extremist,” “domestic extremist,” “radical Islamic extremist,” “European origin extremist,” “Latin origin extremist,” and “Asian origin extremist.” No definitions were provided in the FBI memo.

In a declaration submitted in connection with the Spy Files case, a Denver police department intelligence officer who works full time for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force states that he instructs Denver police officers about the “criminal protest tactics” employed what what he refers to as “protest extremists.

During the Spy Files litigation, none of the Denver police officers deposed by the ACLU were able to supply a definition of the term “extremist” or “criminal extremist.”