Riot and Wrong

Page 5 of 6

"I thought I was going to get a beating," says Connell, "because they dragged me behind this brick wall. But they just ended up taking me down to the jailhouse and booking me. I was scared, definitely, but I knew that I didn't do anything, and I felt like justice was going to work out. I was shocked that this cop would lie, and I didn't think he'd commit himself to perjury on the stand. It was messed up."

The cop stuck to his story at the preliminary hearing, and despite his attorney's concern, Connell decided he wanted his day in court. "I think Cortland was a little naive," says his lead attorney, Phil Bienvenu, a former DA in Lamar who now works for CU student legal services. "But he believed in his case and was pretty adamant about going to trial. I was definitely nervous."

When asked whether he was as nervous as his attorney, the 25-year-old Connell smiles slyly and says no. "During the trial, my assistant attorney couldn't eat, he was so nervous," says Connell. "But I felt very confident. I ate fine and got my eight hours of sleep every night. I knew I was going to be vindicated."

One of the strongest defenses Connell had going for him was the condition of the car he was riding in at the time of the alleged assault on the police officer. Although he says Pickering tried to describe the car as an "urban assault vehicle," Connell says it was nothing of the sort. "The car is this dope Audi," says Connell. "My friend has put a lot of work into it and washes it every other day. Man, we can't even eat or drink in that thing, so for the cops to say that we were rolling around tossing rocks out of it is ridiculous."

Connell does appreciate the fact that, unlike the case of Alex Boyce, there wasn't a lot of evidence against him. "The evidence against the other guys arrested in the riots was pretty good, but I still think they could've got a better deal if they'd hung in there," says Connell. "I mean, what's the deal with all this 'banned from Boulder' stuff? I was outraged that they would try that. What kind of scare tactics are those? I've been living in Boulder for fifteen years, so there was no way I was going to take that.

"The stakes were high. A conviction could have ruined my life and turned me into a sociopath if they had locked me up with some of those guys in prison. Don't get me wrong--I was cognizant of what was going on. But at the same time, the fact that they were smearing my name, turning me into Public Enemy No. 1, was pissing me off."

During his two-and-a-half-day trial, Connell says, there were two decisive moments. The first occurred when he took the stand. "I was up there," he recalls, "and said something like 'Obviously, I hurt the officer's feelings enough for him to take the stand and lie.' When I said that, Pickering got very pissed off. But at that moment, I felt like I was in control and the jury was listening to me.

"The other moment was when my buddy Pete took the stand and told the court about how right after I spit out the window, he said, 'Oh, my God, Cortland just spit on a cop!' Pickering went ballistic on that one, because I think the jury could see what really went down."

The way Connell sees it, that was when the jurors started to realize that the battle-weary cop may have arrested him simply out of frustration--not because he had thrown a rock at him.

"Hey," says Connell, "that's the good thing about Boulder juries--they're smart."

Even when the jury deliberated for over two hours, Connell says, he felt confident. "I was just feeling so much love from all my friends and family," he says. "They really supported me, and I felt very positive."

Although the trial left Connell exhausted, in debt and behind schedule to graduate, he seems to have taken something intangible out of the experience that he has a hard time explaining.

"A lot of times people get really intimidated by the justice system," he muses. "It's different when you see it on TV and when you find yourself right in the middle of it. But the bottom line is that you've got to fight for truth and justice. It sounds silly, I know, but that's what life is all about. You can't back down when you're right. I was getting all this energy from the truth. I'm not super-religious or anything, but I found out that situations like this bring out your spirituality."

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.
Tony Perez-Giese