November 23, 1994
FIGHTING IT OUT IN BOULDER
STREET PEOPLE IN THE COLLEGE TOWN ENLIST HELP IN THEIR BATTLE AGAINST
THE POLICE DEPARTMENT.
By Jeff Stark
Conflicts between Boulder street people and police on the Pearl
Street Mall are sparking attempts to set up a watchdog panel to
review allegations of police misconduct.
The Boulder chapter of the ACLU and the Colorado Legal Eagles,
a Nederland group affiliated with the modern-day-hippie Rainbow
Family, plan to bring the matter up at a December 6 city council
meeting. However, bad blood already has boiled over. Several people
at an ACLU-sponsored meeting last month bitterly complained to Commander
Mark Beckner of being roughed up or hassled by police.
"It turned out to be a barbecue, and we were the main course,"
says police chief Tom Koby. "It was a setup."
ACLU chairwoman Carla Selby "absolutely denies" that
she intended the meeting to get rough, but she acknowledges that
it "turned out to be police-bashing."
The October 4 meeting was spurred by several well-publicized skirmishes
between police and street people, including members of the Rainbow
group of itinerants, that erupted on the mall last July. The street
people claim the police were trying to hound them out of town. The
police say they increased their presence and enforcement of the
law in response to complaints from mall business owners and city
The street people accuse the cops of practicing selective law enforcement,
issuing tickets for infractions like littering while ignoring college
students and tourists who commit the same offenses.
Now the Boulder ACLU and the Legal Eagles say they will push for
an independent civilian review board to pursue any future complaints
of police misconduct.
"We're not making excessive demands," says Joe Vigarito,
a paralegal with the Legal Eagles. "We're just asking for civilian
review of people that we authorize to carry weapons and give substantial
authority to. We have to have a review of that procedure when it
seems to be failing."
The two groups also plan to point out their objections concerning
the police department's Internal Affairs Review Panel, which the
police use to review their own actions. They warn that they will
try a ballot initiative if the council refuses their request. Vigarito
says the threat is "a way to hold their feet to the fire."
The police department's Beckner found his feet burning at last
month's three-hour discussion at the Boulder Public Library when
the transients and Rainbows who packed the meeting room compared
the mall to a war zone and accused the police of a "siege mentality."
Others said they were pursued like dogs and treated roughly.
At one point Vigarito passed around photographs of a police officer
putting a chokehold on a transient.
"I was misled," recalls Beckner. "I thought it was
going to be a roundtable and a discussion. I didn't expect that
kind of confrontation."
Between outraged rants, a call for independent civilian review
emerged from members of the audience, and Selby agreed to hear the
Legal Eagles' request for support. "There's not this much smoke
without some kind of fire," says Selby. "I've heard too
many people say really awful things about those officers down on
Much of that smoke came from the Rainbows involved in a July 24
scuffle that started when a small group of transients handed out
free pizza and doughnuts to passersby on the mall. The police moved
in, and Rainbow member Andrew Rogers was arrested and charged with
obstructing a public street and resisting arrest when he refused
to pick up a sleeping bag that he said did not belong to him. Another
family member, Sierra Tarinelli, was arrested and charged with obstructing
government operations and resisting arrest when she tried to stop
police from arresting Rogers.
Several Rainbows then blocked traffic on Broadway for about an
hour, complaining of police mistreatment and excessive force. Several
of the group's members were ticketed in the protest.
Vigarito began collecting information and depositions and pleaded
his case at a July board meeting of the ACLU. He found an ally in
Selby. In addition, the ACLU's vice chair, Barry Satlow, volunteered
to represent Tarinelli and a man who goes by the name of Morningstar
in their cases. Morningstar's case was dropped by prosecutors, but
Tarinelli's case is unresolved.
A few weeks after the ACLU-sponsored discussion at the library,
Vigarito asked the ACLU board to support his call for a civilian
review board. The board agreed, but Selby acknowledges that setting
up such a panel will be difficult. She and ACLU boardmember Bill
Benjamin asked Chief Koby more than three years ago to set one up.
Selby maintains that Koby told her it "would never happen in
Koby insists that he meant an independent review panel would not
work because Boulder residents don't have an adversarial relationship
with the police. The chief defends his department's Internal Affairs
Review Panel, which last February began reviewing allegations of
police misconduct. The panel, which is made up of four civilians
appointed by City Manager Tim Honey, three police officers and one
civilian police employee, advises Koby on how to act on official
Vigarito and Selby don't think much of that panel. "There
is no incentive to investigate themselves," says Vigarito.
"In fact, the present setup has just the opposite effect. It
protects the police and city as opposed to the citizens."
"It's a patsy review board," agrees Selby. "If Koby
sets up his own group and chooses to call it a civilian review panel,
he can set it up any way he wants. But it's not independent."
Beckner, who helped set up the department's review panel, contends
that critics already have made up their minds about it.
"It's only been in place ten months," he says. "Anyone
who says it is failing loses credibility with me, because they haven't
even given it a chance. From my perspective, it works quite well."
How well it works can't be determined. Police won't reveal what
advice the review panel has offered to Chief Koby.
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