Year in Review: Strange But True

From kitty cut-ups to an airline named Ted, this was one oddball year.

The soft cell: Bad behavior hit the Colorado Department of Corrections, too -- and it wasn't from inmates. One jailer at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility is now awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty this fall to second-degree assault on a female inmate; a second officer from the same institution was charged this fall with "unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution." The prosecutors don't have to present evidence as to whether the actions were consensual: It's flat-out against the law for an officer to make the jailhouse rock, no matter how willing his or her partner. (One of the culprits was fingered by the non-standard appearance of his standard parts.)

Getting a leg up: Another DOC officer was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly breaking a prisoner's leg this fall. According to police reports, the officer intentionally stepped on the man's leg irons and threw him to the ground. Welcome to the Denver Receiving and Diagnostic Center.

Where there's smoke: A drug prosecutor in the Weld County District Attorney's Office resigned recently after a nighttime cleaning crew discovered a trail of pot smoke emanating from his Greeley office. Any legal case, though, went up in smoke. "How can I prosecute?" asked DA Al Dominguez. "There was the smell of smoke, and three or four people in the room."

Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith

The long arm of the law gets the finger: Speaking of prosecuting, the City of Aurora may be wishing one of its finest had looked the other way last January. Instead, the cop stopped the driver of a Jeep who was giving "a universally recognized obscene and offensive gesture" with his middle finger. The driver then failed a roadside sobriety test. But the case against him unraveled when the city attorney dismissed an obscenity charge, and the DUI charge was subsequently thrown out of Adams County Court. Now the man's attorney is threatening to sue Aurora for $250,000.

"There is a freedom-of-speech issue, to a point," says Deputy City Attorney George Zierk. "If they're flipping off the uniform, it's freedom of speech. If it's a personal issue, it may not be free speech. A few years ago, flipping off an officer may have been considered obscene. But things change." Until they settle down, though, Zierk has some advice about flipping off a cop: "It's a wise decision not to do it."

It's okay to sit down on this job: Yes, police work can be hazardous, and going undercover brings another level of challenges. An ongoing stakeout of gays cruising the Clear Creek open-space corridor netted more than eighty arrests this year for the Adams County Sheriff's Department. The area, made notorious by a listing on a sex-related Web site, was decorated with pornographic posters and had a tree hung with used condoms like Christmas ornaments, police said. And customers knew what they were there for. One officer told a reporter, "I literally had a guy jump in the car and grab me where I don't want to be grabbed."

Election Follies, Mile-High Style

We knew things were tough in 2003, and every job opening looked like an opportunity. And that included the office being vacated by term-limited Denver mayor Wellington Webb. For a while, it looked like anybody who needed a job -- and a few who didn't -- were running for mayor.

Dwight Henson, a former ranch worker who happened to be homeless, threw his bedroll in the ring. The manager of the shelter where he was residing gave Henson a boost, noting that he was a hardworking, reliable sort. That wasn't enough to sustain a campaign, however. Neither was a big Hollywood name. While it might have done the trick in California for Ah-nold, our own Gary Cooper didn't get much traction.

Then again, neither did most of the applicants for the job. But no one fell further, or faster, than front-runner Ari Zavaras, a former Denver police chief and onetime head of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Zavaras began his quest last year with the mantra "Hire the Leader" and a "Z" logo that looked like a cross between Zorro's signature slash and a Water World promotion. But a gap in his bio -- that murky area between graduating from East High in 1962 and spending "the next few years taking college courses" -- helped sink his chances. Turned out the 35-year law-enforcement pro had earned a D in American government as part of a 1.1 college GPA some four decades in his past. But before he flunked the runoff, Z challenged other hopefuls to come clean. Among the skeletons that danced from the closets:

Preservationist (and Stanford University grad) Elizabeth Schlosser, running as the voice of the common person, copped to having an uncommon hankering for a $2 picture frame when she was 21. Schlosser confessed to shoplifting, but she couldn't steal enough votes to win.

Former city councilwoman Susan Casey revealed that she had dropped a Spanish-language course at Metro State. Now she has plenty of time to learn a foreign tongue.

Onetime state Democratic Party chair Phil Perington listed a bankruptcy, two DUIs -- and a growing disgust with his former party.

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