Pueblo, Teller Counties face ACLU suit for jailing man six weeks without a court date

Judge's gavel. Photo by wp paarz, via Flickr: Creative Commons
Judge's gavel. Photo by wp paarz, via Flickr: Creative Commons

The ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Pueblo and Teller County Sheriff’s Offices on behalf of Michael Bailey, a man who was jailed for nearly two months while waiting to appear before a judge.

On Sept. 8, 2015, Bailey was arrested in Teller County on a four-year-old misdemeanor warrant from nearby Pueblo County, according to the lawsuit, filed Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Denver.

Rather than take Bailey to court, where a judge may have set bond, Teller County officials instead waited for the Pueblo Sheriff’s Office to so. Pueblo officials waited more than six weeks before finally responding to multiple notices to transport Bailey.

Colorado law requires that newly arrested detainees be brought to the nearest county court judge “without unreasonable delay,” but Bailey was held in Teller County for 45 days before being transported. He was then jailed in Pueblo County for a week before seeing a judge. 

“Bailey was stuck in legal limbo as both sheriff departments violated his constitutional right to appear promptly before a judge who could advise him of his rights and allow him to be released on bond,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of ACLU of Colorado, in a statement. Silverstein accused both sheriffs of “indifference and incompetence.”

In emailed statements to The Colorado Independent, both the Pueblo and Teller County Sheriff’s Offices said they have not officially been served with the lawsuit yet and declined to provide further comment.

When he finally appeared before the Pueblo County Court, Bailey was quickly released on bond, and all charges against him were dismissed soon after. While in jail, Bailey lost his job and missed out on almost two months’ worth of wages.

Bailey is requesting a jury trial and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as economic losses, attorneys’ fees and pre- and post-judgement interest.

Rebecca Wallace, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado, says that this problem, known as “pretrial detention,” is widespread.

“For years, the ACLU of Colorado has been receiving complaints of defendants languishing in jail on warrants from other counties for 10 days or more, with no opportunity to see a judge,” said Wallace.

Such delays not only violate the rights of defendants, but also contribute to overcrowding in Colorado’s jails, she said.

The ACLU of Colorado has investigated pretrial detentions statewide and has found that many are due to county sheriffs across the state “not following court rules requiring them to bring their prisoners promptly before a judge for a first appearance,” Wallace said.

Photo credit: wp paarz, Creative Commons, Flickr