Year in Review

Our Ten Most Popular News Stories of 2020

Questions about the death of Elijah McClain gained new life in 2020.
Questions about the death of Elijah McClain gained new life in 2020. Courtesy of the McClain family
Westword published more than a thousand news stories in 2020, covering everything from pit bulls and bitcoin companies to crime and COVID, COVID, COVID.

Here are the ten that attracted the most readership...and, in one case, the largest load of nasty comments ever:

"Elijah McClain Death Goes National Amid George Floyd Protests"
The tragedy that befell Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after a torturous August 2019 encounter with Aurora police officers, didn't receive widespread national attention...until the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. As people across the country learned about the McClain case, a petition focused on "justice for Elijah. Demand these officers are taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held." The petition quickly collected more than 2 million signatures, and the case itself is now the focus of multiple investigations.

"Twitter Reacts to Jamal Murray Sex Video Winning COVID-19 Quarantine"

 At a time when the only thing on most people's minds was COVID-19, Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray found a way to trend on Twitter for something more or less unrelated to the virus — a sex video of him being pleasured by girlfriend Harper Hempel, which popped up on his Instagram account on March 22. Still, plenty of tweeters quickly made a COVID-19 connection — by suggesting that Murray was winning quarantine.

"Denver Dogs That Bit More People Than Pit Bulls Did in 2019"
Pit-bull advocates lobbied Denver City Council last winter to end Denver's thirty-year-old ban on the breed, using science and statistics to support their contention that breed-specific legislation is ineffective. And in fact, figures from Denver Animal Protection indicated that pits weren't the most dangerous dogs in the city in 2019.
Apparently city voters paid attention, because in November they passed a ballot initiative that removed the ban.
Courtesy Marty Coniglio
"Marty Coniglio Out at 9News After Controversial Nazi Photo Tweet"
Although longtime weathercaster Marty Coniglio had been considering a new career, he signed on for an extended stay at 9News this summer. But that ended abruptly after he tweeted a comparison of Nazis to the federal police going into American cities during the demonstrations — and on the same account he used to pass along his meteorological prognostications. Within a day, 9News president Mark Cornetta, who'd just touted the Coniglio extension, sent out this: "I want to share that Marty Coniglio is no longer an employee of 9News. We thank him for his many years of service." Coniglio ultimately wrote about why he'd posted that tweet in a piece for Westword, where he continues to publish articles.

"COVID-19: New Outbreaks at Metro Denver Costco, King Soopers Stores"
In mid-April, the Colorado Department of Public Health began releasing weekly lists of outbreak sites. By May 14, when the King Soopers stores at 1155 East Ninth Avenue (the iconic "Queen Soopers") and 1471 South Havana Street in Aurora made the list, there were just 206 total locations on the CDPHE's cumulative list. Today, that number is pushing 3,000.
Jay Vollmar
"The Rise and Fall of a Bitcoin Mining Scheme That Was 'Too Big to Fail'"
For a while, Colorado's Joby Weeks was riding high as the most visible spokesperson for BitClub Network, a venture that promised to make the rarefied world of cryptocurrency available to the masses. For a $100 membership fee and an investment as low as $500, BCN clients could purchase a share in a Bitcoin mining pool; the money was supposed to go toward acquiring and operating stacks of high-speed computing equipment to be used in carving out new blocks of transactions in the Bitcoin blockchain. That dream blew up in early 2020, with the arrests of Weeks and three other men on charges of wire fraud and selling unregistered securities. The federal indictment characterized the BitClub Network as an elaborate scam that conned hundreds of thousands of investors out of “at least” $722 million, making it one of the largest cryptocurrency frauds ever. Weeks took a plea deal in November.

"Man Accused of Selling Mushrooms Faces Up to Twenty Years"
Moral of the story: If you don't want to get caught dealing psychedelic mushrooms, don't brag about your sales acumen to the media, even anonymously — not if you're wearing a shirt with a recognizable logo and offering other clues. On July 23, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado charged 28-year-old Kole Milner with one count of possession with intent to distribute psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms that is classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government. Milner had been looking at over a year in jail; this fall he settled for the possibility of six months.

"Forrest Fenn Still Offering No Proof Treasure Was Found"
On June 6, eccentric New Mexico author Forrest Fenn announced that the $2 million treasure in gold and jewels he'd stashed more than a decade earlier — leading thousands of people on a search across the Rocky Mountain West — had been found. Although he promised that proof of the find would be forthcoming, Fenn passed away without offering anything definitive. But in December, Jack Stuef, a Michigan medical student, came forward and identified himself as "The Finder," revealing that he'd found the treasure in Wyoming and then stashed it in a safe spot in New Mexico.

Colorado Springs Sued for Declaring War on the Word 'F*ck'"
This summer, Michael Sexton sued Colorado Springs and its police department for the second time this year, both times for violating his constitutional rights. The first complaint, filed in January, was prompted by an incident in which he flipped off an officer. The second involved Sexton's arrest over his use of the word "fuck" in phrases such as "Fuck the police." That one was captured in a video, in which a police officer responds, "I'm more than happy to have you stand there and yell. However, yelling the word 'fuck' like that is coarse or offensive language." In response, Sexton asks: "Do you want to lose in court? Do you really want to take that to court and lose in court? ... That will not stand up in federal court. The Supreme Court will slap that in your face. Thank you!"
Governor Jared Polis urging everyone to wear masks. - COLORADO.GOV
Governor Jared Polis urging everyone to wear masks.
"COVID-19: Rich Colorado Town Doesn't Give a F*ck About Masks"
On April 18, two weeks after Governor Jared Polis suggested that all Coloradans wear masks whenever they leave the house, a masked Michael Roberts took a trip to Castle Pines, an affluent southern suburb of Denver. "Of the 75 or so individuals we saw walking, riding and recreating in neighborhoods there, no one was wearing a mask. Not. A. Single. One," he reported. Not only was his account of this visit one of the most-read stories of the year, it was definitely the one that inspired the most comments, most of them very, very nasty. A sample of the smarm:

"People in Castle Pines have always been this way. They think their shit doesn't stink. I worked there for a bit of time, and they were some of the worst, most entitled, assholes ever. This in no way surprises me."

"You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves, shaming entire communities. If we have civil unrest, I'm holding Westword accountable. Shame on you! why can't you hire a real reporters who do investigative journalism, instead of tattletales?"
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun