Denver County judges say no way to makeshift courtrooms at Gitmo on the Platte
The Sheriff of Gitmo on the Platte, Bill Lovingier
The temporary detainment facility erected for the DNC – Gitmo on the Platte, as it has been dubbed – was opened up for members of the media this morning in a special tour led by Denver Undersheriff Bill Lovingier.
As workers scrambled to install chain-link roofs to the tops of more than two dozen cages (cages previously lined with razor wire), Lovingier showed off the multiple computer stations, finger-printing stations and mugshot walls set up to put as many as sixty individuals an hour into the system. There's also a small medical room that will be staffed with nurses, a space for storing the possessions of arrestees, and am office to issue bonds.
It seems they have everything they need to process inmates – except courtrooms.
Any time a person is arrested and booked, they must appear before a judge to decide if bail should be set, and, if so, how much it should be set for. Normally all this takes place at the city’s downtown Pre-Arraignment Detention Facility, which has an average daily population of 230 and houses multiple courtrooms.
Without this key component at the warehouse, anyone booked into the temporary facility must be transferred 3.5 miles to the downtown courts. And then, after seeing a judge, the arrestees will need to be moved 3.5 miles back to Gitmo sur le Platte for bond processing. But even if the person does make bond, he willl have to be transferred again, 6.4 miles, to the official Denver County Jail at 10500 East Smith Road to be released. (Local residents have been promised that former prisoners would not be let loose in their neighborhood.)
Lovingier practically had to get out a dry-erase board to explain to reporters the logistical dance that arrestees will be making across the city. It’s no wonder that the mayor’s office and the sheriffs’ department attempted to head off this huge operational headache by setting up a special Denver County Court in the warehouse. And that's what would have happened if Denver County Court judges hadn’t blocked the idea after several of them received a tour of the facility in early August.
When asked by Westword why the judges refused to set up shop in the warehouse, Lovingier replied, “You’d have to talk to them about why they found this area inadequate.”
Luckily, Westword already did in this week’s article on DNC protests. One Denver judge who toured the facility before the retrofitting was completed says they were very concerned about the “great state of unreadiness.”
“It looked like an Indiana Jones warehouse,” says the judge, a veteran of the bench who asked that his comments not be used for attribution. “We were told that tarps would be hung up to form the walls of the courtroom. You can understand that our judicial officers and court staff were extremely concerned about the situation.”
All court proceedings must be audio-taped for official records, which would be difficult in a cavernous warehouse. “You can imagine a judge in a tarp-walled courtroom conducting official business with din and noise of several hundred detainees in the same room,” the judge says. “If people pleading guilty or not guilty are acting up or acting out and you wanted to advise them you might hold them in contempt if they did not cease the behavior, you darn well would want a good record. Especially in light of the fact so many protesters have sued cities for a variety of reasons.”
It was also a problem that there was no way to make warehouse proceedings open to the public or the media. How much more Gitmo can you get?
Instead, if arrestees do not post bond at the warehouse within a few hours, they will be transported to the Denver City and County Building to be advised of their rights by watching a videotape. They will then be taken to courtrooms 100K or 186L and asked how they plead to the charges. The judges in thosse two courtooms will be working four-hour shifts from 8 a.m. to midnight.
And the walls will not be made of tarp. – Jared Jacang Maher