Longform

HOW TO CODDLE A CRIP

Page 4 of 5

"The gang unit was very disconcerted about it," Will continues. "They let it be known that they did not approve of this tactic. But I think if we had done more to include them in the front end, it might have mitigated some of the hard feelings."

Will says that despite the criticism, she found it "gratifying" that the gang members continued to meet in various city parks to "communicate." Those meetings, however, created more problems between Michaud and his officers.

Much of the friction was caused by the fact that the chief ordered his officers to take a hands-off approach to the gangsters' alleged peace talks. "We'd watch them there drinking beer, smoking dope and playing with guns," says one officer, whose anger at the situation still simmers. "We wanted to go put them in jail, and the chief ordered us to take no action. What kind of message does that send to us foot soldiers?"

To add insult to injury, the same officer claims, Orlando continued to maintain direct contact with Michaud and didn't hestitate to bring up the chief's or Will's name when he was stopped by Denver cops. "When we'd stop him, [Orlando] would get on the cell phone and call the chief direct all the time," says the officer. "He'd complain that we were harassing him and say that he thought we were going to leave him alone." The officer says Michaud never made a move to intervene.

Michaud says he can't remember if Orlando ever called him from the scene of a possible arrest. As for the gang meetings in the parks, he says he told his officers to "monitor" the gatherings from a distance but never expected police to look the other way if they saw a crime being committed.

If Michaud wasn't exactly willing to run interference for Little O, he wasn't ready to give up on him, either. Orlando told him sometime in the summer of 1993 that he wanted out of the gang. And in their meetings at police headquarters, Michaud says, Orlando mentioned that all he and his homies wanted were decent jobs. "He was talking that game," the chief says. "Somewhere along the line, I guess it came out that I had been in the Marine Corps. He said he'd always wanted to be in the Corps. I told him that if his criminal record wasn't too bad, that maybe we could get that done. I linked him up with a recruiter I know."

Marine staff sergeant Lee Tibbetts remembers Michaud's request that he "screen" Orlando for possible enrollment in the Corps. But "if you're associated with gangs," Tibbetts says, "that's an immediate disqualification. We don't deal with gang members, whether he has a record or not. Also, he lacked the academic credentials." (To get into the Marines, a person needs a high school equivalency diploma or to have completed ten credit hours of college classes.)

Michaud's request for a screening was the extent of the chief's involvement, says Tibbetts. But, adds the recruiter, Orlando soon became "Judy Will's little project."

That August, Will and Orlando agreed to a joint interview with USA Today reporter Robert Davis, in which they discussed the need for "one-on-one" involvement to reduce Denver's gang population.

No one, Orlando told Davis in that interview, can help kids get out of a gang unless they want out. "I'll never be all the way out," he admitted. "I'll always be a Crip. But my homies support me. They say if I can do this, I'll take being a Crip to a new level. If I can do this, I'll be a man."

"These guys are bright, charismatic and have great organizational minds," Will was quoted as saying in the same article. "That lawyer, that banker...he's got to help us show them that they're willing to put up a little money and get these kids redirected, with some self-esteem, so they can function in a positive way." Davis informed USA Today's readers that Will had "found a donor who's agreed to pay for enough college credits to get Orlando into the Marine Corps." He also wrote that one of Will and Orlando's favorite social activities was "going to a local shooting range for target practice."

That statement, Will says, "was a lie. It caused a huge uproar. When doing the interview, we were on a break, and [Orlando] said in an offhand way, `Judy, go get your nine [9mm handgun] and let's go out and shoot.' I didn't even have a nine-millimeter then. I said, `Fuck you,' or something like that.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Karen Bowers