According to a recently filed lawsuit, Michael Bailey spent 52 days in jail because the Colorado sheriff's office where he was wanted for a minor offense didn't bother to pick him up from the facility that held him. And a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is backing the complaint, says his story is far from unique.
"This is a recurring problem," notes Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado. "We're hoping not only to get compensation for Mr. Bailey, but we're also hoping we can raise the profile of this issue and get law enforcement to recognize they have a legal duty to take someone to the nearest county court judge, even if the person is being held on a warrant from a different county."
The narrative in the suit, accessible below, begins on September 8, 2015, when Bailey was arrested by the Teller County Sheriff's Office on a four-year-old misdemeanor warrant from Pueblo County, about a ninety-minute drive to the southeast. Colorado law calls for such detainees to be taken to the nearest county court judge "without unreasonable delay," the document points out. But rather than transport Bailey to a Teller County courthouse, TCSO representatives are said to have sent multiple requests to Pueblo County Sheriff's Office over a six-week period asking that folks from that agency come and get him.
They finally did so on October 23, a month and a half later — and another week went by before he was hauled into court. The judge in the case was apparently confused by the lag time, saying, "He should have been advised. It's an old enough case.... How is this a first appearance?"
Shortly thereafter, the judge released Bailey on a personal recognizance bond, and in March 2016, the prosecutor in the case dismissed all charges against him.
In Silverstein's view, this series of events was entirely unjustifiable.
"Michael, our client, was held in jail for 52 days waiting to see a judge who could set bond for him — and at that point, he was innocent in the eyes of the law," he stresses. "But he couldn't bond out, because bond hadn't been set. He had to be taken before a judge to do that, but no one would take him."
He adds, "We've seen this time and time again. Someone held in jail by one county on a warrant from a different county is often not taken to the nearest county court judge, as the law requires. Instead, there's a delay waiting for the county to make the pick-up, and those pick-ups are often anything but prompt, resulting in innocent people languishing in jail in violation of their constitutional rights."
Did Teller County want Pueblo County to take Bailey because shipping him there would have been too expensive?
"I don't fully understand the informal system that exists for transporting prisoners from one county to another," Silverstein acknowledges. "But poverty is not an excuse, because of what the law requires.... A sheriff's office is always taking prisoners to the county court in that county, but it appears that law enforcement is often reluctant to do that when they're holding someone on an out-of-county warrant."
For that reason, he goes on, "there's a gulf between what the law requires and what seems to be common practice. The common practice is to wait for the office that issued the warrant to come and make the pick-up. And if you're in a remote corner of the state, and you're held on a warrant from the other side of the state" — particularly if you're a low priority, as Bailey appeared to be — "you may be waiting for a long time."
Bailey is represented by Silverstein and ACLU of Colorado staff attorney Wallace, plus Darold Killmer and Michael Fairhurst of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP. Click to read Michael Bailey v. Teller County et. al.