A bill aimed at putting a stop to police brutality in Colorado passed out of a Senate committee Thursday evening.
The bill, sponsored by all of Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers, brought out family members of victims killed by police, civil rights attorneys, law enforcement and district attorneys. The State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee hearing on Senate Bill 217 lasted about six and a half hours, as members listened to testimony from more than a dozen people in a room where the chairs were separated to adhere to social distancing.
Lawmakers are calling for sweeping changes to law enforcement operations, including mandating all local officers to be equipped with body cameras, repealing what’s commonly called the “fleeing felon” statute, banning choke holds, creating an annual report about every agency’s use of force, and requiring cops to have objective justification for making stops. The bill also would allow people to sue law enforcement officers in their individual capacities over allegations of infringement of constitutional rights.
The mother of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old man killed by Aurora police last year, spoke in support of the bill, telling lawmakers that if they don’t take action, the situation could get worse.
Natalia Marshall, the niece of Michael Marshall, who was killed by deputies in the Denver jail in 2015, also urged the passage of the bill.
“I don’t feel comfortable around law enforcement, and that’s the experience of a lot of the community,” she said. She added that she looks forward to the bill passing so they can try to establish that trust.
Representatives from the Colorado District Attorneys Council, The Fraternal Order of Police and some sheriffs spoke in favor of portions of the bill but said others would prevent good officers from staying in the profession. They were specifically concerned about the provision in the bill that would allow people to sue officers in their individual capacity and keep them on the hook for up to $100,000 in legal fees, even if they were acting in good faith.
“It has the right motives,” said Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler. But, he added: “It’s too fast. It’s too broad.”
The law enforcement representatives, many of whom spoke in favor of body-worn cameras, also expressed concerns that the costs would be prohibitive for some departments without resources from the state and worried about punishing officers that may not be able to turn them on while rushing into situations.
Those calling for changes to the bill asked for more stakeholding and discussions, urging lawmakers not to rush its passage. But with a little more than a week of the session left, sponsors say the time is now to pass this legislation. They have been in discussions about many of these issues for a long time, they say, but will remain open to further discussions.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock urged committee members to spend a lot of time asking questions, “because the ramifications of not getting everything out in the public could be catastrophic down the road.”
Bill sponsors agreed to make some amendments to the bill, and Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and one of the sponsors, said after the vote that she was proud the changes don’t water down the bill or change its impacts.
Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat and one of the prime sponsors on the bill, said the bill is about bad actors, not all law enforcement. Lawmakers want to address individuals in uniform who are causing harm to communities, particularly those of color, she added.
“For me, time is up as to having these recurring scenarios that I’m watching on film,” Fields said.
Sen. John Cooke, a former Weld County sheriff and Greeley Republican, said he was voting against the bill because he still believes it needs a lot of work. He raised questions throughout the hearing about the feasibility to implement some of the requirements for law enforcement and the difficulty of recruiting to the profession.
“I’m hoping by the time second and third readings come around, I will change my mind,” he said.
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