The dawn of the digital age brings us instant images, some of them excruciatingly disturbing, like a 65-year-old woman being dragged across the street by cops with her pants being torn off and leaving a wicked road rash (see photos below). But when it comes to the St. Paddy’s Day 7, those images and related actions didn’t result in the city of Colorado Springs apologizing for anything like, say, undue police force.The incident began during the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Colorado Springs, when a group of peace activists, wearing green T-shirts with white peace symbols on them, began marching along with dozens of other groups. There were children, elderly and all ages in between.
They had a permit to march in the parade — and in fact had marched in the annual parade a year earlier, without incident, wearing the same T-shirts, alongside the Bookman bookmobile that is owned by Colorado Springs resident Eric Verlo.
However, after they began marching this year, parade organizer John O’Donnell — a private citizen who is not affiliated with city government or law enforcement — requested police to stop them, saying that he feared the crowd would react negatively.
The police obeyed O’Donnell, which set off a series of actions — including the above-mentioned 65-year-old Elizabeth Fineron being dragged across the road, and other marchers being physically restrained and detained, to the shock of onlookers who were expecting a celebration of the best parts of being Irish. In all, seven peace activists were detained. (Some media outlets, including The Colorado Springs Gazette, referred to the group as “protesters” — though the activists insisted their intent was to show their commitment to peace).
Several of the marchers ended up being sent to the hospital with injuries, including road rash and heart palpitations.
Two months after the parade, the Colorado Springs Police Department — following an internal investigation — determined its officers had not responded inappropriately. Despite the intense negative public reaction following the police actions during the parade, the city proceeded with its prosecution of the seven — who were dubbed the “St. Paddy’s Day 7” — claiming their participation, with a permit, might have sparked public outrage in a city with several military installations.
If the peace activists had been convicted, they could have each faced up to 90 days in jail and $500 in fines.
In August, the case resulted in a hung jury, prompting the municipal court judge to declare a mistrial.
At the time, defense attorney Greg Walta made the following observation: “They were afraid someone would throw a beer bottle at them. In most places, if someone throws a beer bottle at a peace marcher, they arrest the thrower. Here [in Colorado Springs], if you’re afraid someone will throw a beer bottle at a marcher, we arrest the peace marcher. That is not how America is supposed to work.”
Undaunted, city attorneys initially announced plans to pursue a second trial against two of them — Eric Verlo, the owner of the Bookman bookmobile who had obtained the original permit to march in the parade, and against Fineron, the woman who had received a severe road rash after cops dragged her across the street.
In late November — more than eight months after the parade — City Attorney Pat Kelly announced she would not pursue a retrial. Kelly, however, refused to leave it at that — and issued a statement taking yet another swipe at the activists even as she was announcing plans to drop the final charges.
“The comprehensive review revealed police actions were appropriate during the St. Patrick’s Day parade and there was probable cause to arrest the defendants,” according to the city’s statement. “Further, the review found ample and sufficient evidence, along with multiple witnesses to continue with the prosecution.
“However, a second trial would require a significant time commitment from police officers, citizen witnesses and prosecutors, and, in this case, it would appear that the public has already spoken when the first trial ended in a hung jury.”
Here is the photo of the injury that Elizabeth Fineron sustained after being dragged across the street.
This is retired Catholic priest Frank Cordaro, below, in what appears to be a chokehold.
Click here to read Colorado Confidential’s report detailing the original arrests.
Click here for a follow-up on the launch of a police investigation.
And here for the outcome of the internal police investigation.
And here for the story about the August mistrial.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org