Riot and Wrong

After the Boulder uprising, one kid got off, and one kid has a lot of time to think about what happened.

Critics, however, say Pickering had no business banning the convicted rioters from Boulder. He says he took a lot of heat for that demand, which was a condition of several plea bargains he offered. Although it would be unconstitutional for a judge to exile a person from the city, Pickering says he had a little more leeway as a prosecutor.

"It seemed like a natural part of the process to me," says Pickering. "Not only are we dealing with people assaulting police officers, the guardians at the gate, but we're talking about people committing a crime against the community. These fellas accepted the hospitality and benefits of this community and then they slapped the community in the face. It's safe to say that they wore out their welcome here. So get outta Dodge and don't let the door hit you on the backside on your way out."

Another aspect of the prosecution that irked defense lawyers was that prospective jurors wouldn't have known that each count of aggravated assault on a police officer carried a mandatory sentence of five years. "The jury would have had no idea about the Draconian effect of the minimum sentence," says Tom Lamm. "The jury isn't supposed to consider the sentence, but that's a big deal if you're going to take a case to trial."

Pickering quickly dismisses the role that minimum sentencing played in the fact that only one rioter took his case to court. "The law allows for the judge to change his mind after ninety days, even on a mandatory sentence," says Pickering. "So it isn't as Draconian as you might think. But then again, there's always the risk that the judge could stick with it. The bottom line is that I wanted to do something other than send these kids to prison for the maximum.

"Still, these were tough dispositions. If you take them out of the context of a riot and put it in a one-on-one situation with a kid throwing a rock right at a cop's head, I'm not sure that going to prison isn't inappropriate."

Cortland Connell was the only one of the accused rioters who stood up to the prosecutors. He avoided jail because, in the end, it was his word against a cop's. As it turned out, much to Pickering's chagrin, Connell is a free man, back on the CU campus, and he walks with the springy step of a man who fought the law--and won.

"I left the bar on Friday night and was checking out the riot like everybody else," recalls Connell, as he sits in a Boulder sandwich shop checking out some coeds. "The cops were pretty confused, and there were a lot of them who really didn't want to be out there fighting students. I feel bad for both sides."

But as Connell watched the rioting get uglier, one of his friends wanted to get his car out of the alley behind Jones Drugstore--an alley that had turned into a gauntlet of rock-throwing and tear-gassing. While they were leaving the war zone, Connell says, he spat at a cop after the officer took a baton swing at him through the passenger-side window. A few moments later, when the car was forced to turn around, the cops dragged Connell out of the car, claiming that he'd thrown a rock at the officer.

"I thought I was going to get a beating," says Connell, "because they dragged me behind this brick wall. But they just ended up taking me down to the jailhouse and booking me. I was scared, definitely, but I knew that I didn't do anything, and I felt like justice was going to work out. I was shocked that this cop would lie, and I didn't think he'd commit himself to perjury on the stand. It was messed up."

The cop stuck to his story at the preliminary hearing, and despite his attorney's concern, Connell decided he wanted his day in court. "I think Cortland was a little naive," says his lead attorney, Phil Bienvenu, a former DA in Lamar who now works for CU student legal services. "But he believed in his case and was pretty adamant about going to trial. I was definitely nervous."

When asked whether he was as nervous as his attorney, the 25-year-old Connell smiles slyly and says no. "During the trial, my assistant attorney couldn't eat, he was so nervous," says Connell. "But I felt very confident. I ate fine and got my eight hours of sleep every night. I knew I was going to be vindicated."

One of the strongest defenses Connell had going for him was the condition of the car he was riding in at the time of the alleged assault on the police officer. Although he says Pickering tried to describe the car as an "urban assault vehicle," Connell says it was nothing of the sort. "The car is this dope Audi," says Connell. "My friend has put a lot of work into it and washes it every other day. Man, we can't even eat or drink in that thing, so for the cops to say that we were rolling around tossing rocks out of it is ridiculous."

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