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BETTER DEAD THAN READ

A NEWSLETTER'S "KILL A COP FOR JESUS DAY" LANDS ITS AUTHOR IN JAIL.

Rob Betts loves industrial rock, dislikes authority and has a grudge against police. And for more than a year now, the Denver college student has channeled those traits into editing The Denver MonkeyWrench, a funky underground newsletter with an anti-cop bent.

Not surprisingly, Betts's creation has earned him a special place in the hearts of Denver's finest. But it was Betts's attempt to garner publicity for his fledgling paper that earned him a trip to Denver's city jail. Somehow, local police failed to see the humor in Betts's "Kill a Cop for Jesus Day."

The cops, however, just might get the last laugh. In a plea agreement reached with police and prosecutors last week, Betts promised to keep his nose clean for six months. And that may mean a temporary halt to the mudslinging MonkeyWrench.

"I've always had bad vibes with cops," says Betts, explaining his psyche while sipping a Coke at a Capitol Hill eatery. "I've had bad experiences. Being a skateboarder in New York, that'll do it."

But it wasn't just the anti-skateboarding peace officers in his native Poughkeepsie that pissed Betts off. The suburban officers had it in for him, too, he says, relating a personal encounter with an overweight, out-of-control New York cop who reportedly roughed up one of Betts's teenage pals.

In 1992, sick of the humidity, the cops and New York itself, Betts moved to Denver to complete his education. (The 23-year-old is now a senior at the University of Colorado-Denver). He'd only been here a few months when he got into his first scrape with Denver police.

Betts was hosting a raucous Halloween party when a couple of Denver police officers appeared at his apartment door, he says. They wanted to know who had broken the building's glass entry door. Betts pleaded ignorance, although he says now that the perpetrator was a neighbor.

Betts was lippy, and the cops responded in kind, reportedly threatening to haul him off to jail for breaking the door. Then they ticketed Betts for disturbing the peace, even though, he claims, the party (and his stereo) had quieted down well before the police arrived.

When the case reached court a month later, Betts's public defender advised him to plead guilty to an amended charge. "He said, `It's going to be your word against the cops, and you're going to lose,'" Betts recalls. "I said, `This is crap, man. I can't plead guilty to something I didn't do.' And he said, `You should be glad you aren't from Five Points or the projects, because they would have beat the shit out of you.'"

Betts pleaded guilty and was given a six-month deferred sentence. In other words, if he stayed out of trouble for half a year, his record would be cleared.

Betts complained to his friends for months afterward about the alleged injustice. They responded, he said, by telling him "horror stories" about their own experiences with Denver police. Betts says he became sick of hearing people "bitch and fester their bad attitudes." And he decided to do "something positive, just to make a little noise."

From that, The Denver MonkeyWrench was born. The first issue, an eight-page, 5 1/2- x 8 1/2-inch newsletter, appeared in mid-April 1993. In it, Betts recounted his Halloween ticket. Some friends contributed a tale of their own run-in with officers. They added a "borrowed" cartoon and a newspaper clipping and closed with this "Word to the Law": "We know none of Denver's finest will be happy with the release of this paper. The truth hurts and the truth is you are fascist pigs. We're looking for justice and you're suppressing it. You may think you are safe but you will lose your ass if things don't change."

Betts and his friends distributed 300 copies of the paper in and around Capitol Hill and the Auraria campus. Betts left a stack in the City and County Building for good measure.

Issue No. 2, which made its debut in the summer of '93, took potshots at the Pope as well as the local police, and gave a great deal of space to a smoke-in sponsored by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The third MonkeyWrench sprang forth "sometime in the winter," Betts says, noting that because the paper carries no advertising, the publication dates are tied directly to the state of his wallet.

Betts was putting together a fourth issue of the newsletter in early July when he decided some promotion was in order. Inspired by the name of a fan club for one of his favorite bands, he had fliers made up declaring July 22 "Kill a Cop for Jesus Day." Interested parties were told to show up at the State Capitol at 2 p.m. The gathering, the flier said, was "proudly sponsored by the Denver MonkeyWrench." Betts stuck the handbills on telephone poles and "No Parking" signs around Capitol Hill.

"I just wanted to make a satirical statement," he says now. "It was purely a prank. I wanted to nail up a sign [on the Capitol lawn] and take pictures of people walking by for a spoof and for publicity for the paper. I was going to sit back by the bullshit war statue and watch my creation."

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