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Officers from the Aurora Police Department and protesters outside the home of Johnny Choate, warden of the GEO facility in Aurora.EXPAND
Officers from the Aurora Police Department and protesters outside the home of Johnny Choate, warden of the GEO facility in Aurora.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh

Hundreds of Protesters Rally Outside Home of GEO Facility Warden

On Thursday, September 19, hundreds of protesters rallied in the quiet Tollgate Crossing neighborhood in southeast Aurora and marched toward the home of Johnny Choate, the warden of the immigrant detention facility in Aurora.

Organized by groups like Abolish ICE Denver and Denver Communists, the protest was closely observed by Aurora police and neighbors who stood outside their homes, some with wine glasses in hand observing the spectacle. Nearly twenty officers were dressed in riot gear with long batons. Some had tear-gas grenade launchers, while others had bean-bag shotguns. There were also police cars throughout the neighborhood.

Before protesters arrived at Choate's house, which was mostly dark except for one light on the second floor, a half-dozen police officers in riot gear stood on his front lawn.

As protesters, who were chanting things like "Quit your job," came closer to the house, an ambulance pulled up, and a handful of police officers in riot gear got out and stood across the street from the house.

Choate has drawn the ire of anti-ICE activists for his work as the warden of the detention facility, which is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The facility has been plagued by allegations of medical neglect and substandard living conditions. In July, over a thousand protesters rallied against the facility, and a few removed the American flag flying above the detention center and replaced it with a Mexican one, sparking criticism from Republicans and conservative media outlets.

This time around, protesters carried drums and blew whistles while pacing the sidewalk outside Choate's home. As they were walking, police on motorcycles drove back and forth along the street. At one point, a police officer driving his bike on the sidewalk told protesters to keep moving. Some of them, including Darren O'Connor, a Boulder lawyer who was serving as a legal observer at the event, continued moving slowly. The police officer then drove his bike within inches of O'Connor, coming close to striking him.

Meanwhile, some neighbors stood outside their homes in bathrobes, filming the protest.

"Quite the show," one neighbor said as protesters passed by.

"I don't think we'll ever see that again," another responded.

Other neighbors stayed indoors and had "private property" and "no trespassing" signs on their lawns. Choate's front lawn had a "no trespassing" sign.

A handful of right-wing counter-protesters brought a megaphone and called the activists communists.

After protesters had marched in front of Choate's house a few times, the police dressed in riot gear formed a line and moved toward them. The protesters moved away from Choate's house and headed back toward the original meetup spot. Along the way, demonstrators told the police more than a few times to go fuck themselves.

By the time protesters returned to the original meeting point two hours after they'd left it, Jeanette Vizguerra, a local immigrant-rights activist who is living in sanctuary in a Denver church, made an appearance to rally the crowd one last time before it dispersed.

According to the Aurora Police Department, three men were arrested on charges including obstruction, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The department's Twitter account agreed with a woman who called the protest "sickening."

Aurora Chief of Police Nick Metz also took to Twitter after the protest to criticize demonstrators. "What I saw tonite by many of U who protested in residential cmty w/children was vile&disgusting. [Aurora Police Department] protects free speech, but your message was completely lost. U were out of your league. My cops were simply AMAZING despite your attempts to bait them into a confrontation!," the chief wrote.

GEO Group also had strong words for the protesters.

“Tonight we breathe a sigh of relief that our employee’s family and his neighbors are safe and their properties remain intact. Unfortunately, the spectacle has set a new low in our politics and public discourse," Pablo Paez, a GEO vice president, said in the statement.

“We hope the community support and pushback from brave leaders opposing this dangerous idea will serve as a deterrent for any future protests targeting people in their family’s homes and neighborhoods," he continued. "These misdirected attacks and intimidation of our employees must stop and we encourage our local leaders to stand against these hateful tactics and push for a return to civil discourse. Remember, our employees are also your neighbors, friends and colleagues, who share the same compassion and professionalism that many other Coloradans pursue in their trades."

On Saturday, September 21, simultaneous pro- and anti-ICE protests will take place outside of the immigrant detention facility in Aurora.

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