Barbed wire, stun-gun use mark DNC warehouse jail

Denver officials weren’t planning to reveal details about where activists would be detained in the event of mass arrests during the Democratic National Convention until after the event had started, but those plans were quickly dashed this week when CBS 4News reporter Rick Sallinger not only revealed that protesters would be locked up in a city-owned warehouse, but he also obtained clear video footage inside the facility, a building that includes barbed wire-topped cages and signs warning of stun-gun use.

The convention jail is located in a warehouse northeast of Denver, and when Sallinger arrived unannounced with a camera crew to shoot the facility, the door was wide open, allowing the disturbing images of caged holding pens to be broadcast on TVs across the metro area:

Investigative reporter Rick Sallinger discovered the location and managed to get inside Tuesday for a look. The newly created lockup, in a warehouse northeast of Denver, contains dozens of metal cages made of chain-link fence material, topped by rolls of barbed wire.

Each of these fenced-in areas is about 15 feet by 15 feet, with a lock on the door.

A sign on the wall reads "Warning, electric stun devices used in this facility."

A representative with the Sheriff’s Department later showed up to kick Sallinger and his posse out of the warehouse area and wouldn’t comment on the building or the cages.

Although the city is now expected to release a statement on the jail next week, such an astounding discovery is no doubt a gargantuan gaffe and embarrassment for the Sheriff’s Department.

In a recent interview with the Colorado Independent, Marie Kielar, the Denver Sheriff’s Department’s first female division chief and overseer of detention operations during the convention, stated there were no plans to release information about where protesters would be detained until after the convention had started and that the city was preparing for 1,200+ arrests. She also noted that the state Department of Corrections would be involved with detention efforts.

Convention jails share a controversial legacy, as was reported by this paper in January:

At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, more than 1,000 people — a reported record for a convention — were detained at Pier 57, a long, concrete pier off the Hudson River that was converted into a detention center for arrestees. The New York Police Department formed an agreement with the Hudson River Park Trust to use the pier as a massive makeshift jail. According to documents obtained by the New York American Civil Liberties Union, police were allowed to use the 140,000-square-foot facility and its parking lot to process and hold arrestees. Razor-wire security fencing around the pier’s parameter was also installed before the convention.

Along with the mass arrests came accusations of civil rights violations from within the detention area, where detainees claimed that long exposure to motor oil and other contaminants from the pier left many arrestees sick.

Now that the secret is out about Denver’s own convention lockup, civil rights advocates can get a head start on questioning the conditions in the facility. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado plans to do just that and is asking the city how prisoners will be treated, and how they will have access to food, bathrooms and attorneys.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at