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ACLU lawsuit claims Teller, Pueblo sheriff's offices denied inmate's rights

September 7, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 8:15 am
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photo - FILE - Exterior of the Teller County Jail in Divide, Colorado, on January 22, 2001. (Gazette file photo)
FILE - Exterior of the Teller County Jail in Divide, Colorado, on January 22, 2001. (Gazette file photo) 

Held in the Teller County jail on a misdemeanor warrant out of Pueblo, all Michael Timothy Bailey wanted was his day in court.

What he got were excuses while the days turned into weeks.

"Time after time after time, anybody who he could get to listen, he'd say, 'Hey, when do I get to see a judge? When can I get bond set?' The Teller County people would say, 'Yeah, we're waiting for the Pueblo County people to come get you. We called Pueblo,'" said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.

According to a federal lawsuit the ACLU filed Wednesday, Bailey sat in jails for 54 days until he was brought to court for the first time in October 2015. A Pueblo judge ended his ordeal by ordering his release on a personal recognizance bond, and prosecutors later dismissed all counts against him - but not before Bailey lost nearly two months of freedom.

The case highlights what the ACLU calls a little-noticed problem in Colorado: People forced to endure days in jail - or in Bailey's case months - without getting a bail hearing.

"It's a statewide problem that's not recognized as a problem," said Silverstein, whose lawsuit blames a bureaucratic tangle between the Teller and Pueblo counties' sheriff's offices, which enforced Bailey's warrant without observing their legal obligation to ensure that he gets a chance to see a judge and request bond.

Under Colorado law, newly arrested detainees must be brought before a local county court judge "without unreasonable delay," the ACLU said in its 23-page complaint.

That means it falls to jailers in the arresting jurisdiction to ensure it happens, Silverstein said. He said the problems occur when those jailers try to kick the can to the jurisdiction that requested a warrant.

When people are arrested in El Paso County, for instance, they generally wait a day or two before they are advised of charges against them and are considered for a bond.

How often jailers run afoul of the "unreasonable delay" standard is unclear, because no agencies in Colorado track how long inmates spend in custody before getting a court hearing - the result of there being too many variables to adequately monitor, according to Jon Sarche, a Colorado State Judicial Branch spokesman.

But the ACLU says it has encountered "multiple" cases in recent years, some involving pretrial detainees who ultimately are cleared of wrongdoing. Since taking up Bailey's case, the ACLU said it heard from two other people who spent up to 10 days waiting for their day in court.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Bailey, who lost a job opportunity during his confinement, the ACLU alleges. The Teller County Sheriff's Office, the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, former Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, former Pueblo sheriff's employee Clifford Lightcap and current employee Shawnna Clementi are named as defendants. Each agency declined to comment, saying they hadn't been served with copies of the lawsuit, and Lightcap, Clementi and Ensminger couldn't be reached.

Bailey had been charged with third-degree assault out of Pueblo County, but details weren't immediately available, Silverstein said.

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