Colorado Springs asked to change laws blocking roads and disrupting arrests

Nov. 19 – A progressive nonprofit is urging Colorado Springs to consider an overhaul of city statutes after a march in support of affordable housing in 2021 led to the arrests of several protesters.

The resulting court cases found that Colorado Springs police spoke inappropriately about body camera footage before the arrests and one officer believed the nonprofit to be anti-government and anarchist — allegations made by the nonprofit’s officials were not supported.

The Chinook Center’s co-founders Sam and Jonathan Christiansen presented body camera footage to the Law Enforcement Transparency and Advisory Commission at a recent meeting where officials appeared to be cracking jokes about the use of flash bangs, a type of disorientation grenade, among other against demonstrators made inappropriate statements. The two also showed parts of an affidavit in which an official described the group as anti-government.

The co-founders, a married couple, have called for changes to local laws, which they now believe are too broad based on the experiences of those arrested at the demonstration. One law prohibits anyone from blocking a sidewalk, street, parking lane or median, and a second prohibits anyone from interfering with a police officer making an arrest, even if the arrest is unlawful.

Police Department officials attended the meeting but did not speak to the commission about the presentation. The Colorado Springs Police Department said in a written statement that officers recorded in body camera footage received verbal counseling and training and that local laws are in order.

Representatives for the nonprofits called for changes, saying protesters accused of blocking roads and sidewalks tried to argue they were exercising their right to peaceful assembly, but constitutional arguments were not accepted by the city court judge, Sam Christiansen told the Board.

“The only thing in the ordinance that is there to protect the constitutionality of that ordinance and the people in charge of it – the judge just said, ‘No, you can’t talk about it.’ … There was literally no defense,” she said.

They also said protesters, including Jon Christiansen, were accused of disturbing a police officer when they asked why someone else was being arrested.

“It’s appalling… I don’t think it stands up to constitutional protection,” Sam Christiansen said.

The two called for changes that would make the regulations less comprehensive, but presented no specific language.

Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said policing public marches or demonstrations in general can cause more problems than allowing the demonstration to happen.

“I’ve seen countless police officers meet people moving on the street,” he said.

He was also not sure whether the police questioning could be counted as a physical disability.

“Citizens should have the right to question why the police are doing what they’re doing… They don’t have the right to get in each other’s way,” he said.

Police said in a statement they believe local laws “are not overly vague and legally correct.”

The Christiansens also pointed out that the affidavit written by an official about their group incorrectly drew on historical symbols like the red-and-black flag historically associated with revolutionary movements to label them anti-government, and possibly Officials had given the people arresting the housing march a false impression of the group.

The Chinook Center, while interested in social change, is home to elected officials. The group has also never been charged with being an anti-government group.

“We feel like we owe a clearing of our name,” said Sam Christiansen.

Police said in their statement they have not publicly identified the group as anti-government, and have not now.

The Law Enforcement Transparency and Advisory Commission plans to discuss the Chinook Center’s recommendations on Monday. Earlier this month, the commission was listening to the Chinook Center’s presentation. The commission could forward recommendations to the Colorado Springs City Council, the body that could revise local ordinances.

The Christiansens said they would bring their suggestions and experiences to the advisory panel after exhausting other avenues, including filing complaints with the Justice Department.

City Council President Tom Strand said the council is open to recommendations from the advisory commission.