DENVER – In a filing this morning in federal district court, ACLU lawyers sued the Chief Judge in Mesa County, Brian Flynn, as well as Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. The complaint alleges that the three defendants are responsible for unnecessarily and unjustifiably causing the ACLU’s client, Michelle Reynolds, to spend fifteen harrowing days locked up in jail with no opportunity to post bond and obtain pretrial release.
“People who are accused of a crime but not convicted are innocent in the eyes of the law,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The Constitution guarantees a prompt opportunity to post bond and obtain pretrial release from jail. Fifteen days is nowhere near prompt.”
On Friday, August 23, 2019, Ms. Reynolds was driving through Mesa County on her way to watch her niece’s volleyball game when she was stopped for speeding. After a computer check, the officer discovered an outstanding warrant issued ten months earlier by a Boulder judge. Ms. Reynolds had no criminal record and had no idea that a warrant had been issued for her arrest. She was taken into custody and booked into the Mesa County Jail. Because no bond had been set on the warrant, Ms. Reynolds was forced to remain a prisoner until she appeared before a judge who would set bond.
It took four days before Ms. Reynolds appeared by video before a Mesa County judge for her first judicial appearance. Colorado law clearly required the judge to set bond for Ms. Reynolds, but the judge did not. According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, an administrative order issued a year earlier by Chief Judge Flynn, in violation of Colorado law, instructed Mesa County judges not to set or modify bonds for defendants who are arrested on warrants from other counties.
The Mesa and Boulder Sheriff’s Offices agreed to share responsibility for transporting Ms. Reynolds to Boulder, where she could appear before a judge who would set bond. The ACLU’s complaint, based on communications exchanged between the sheriff’s offices, alleges that both knew that the Mesa County courts would not set bond and that Ms. Reynolds would languish in jail until she appeared before a Boulder judge. Nevertheless, they delayed transport until it was convenient for them, causing a delay of 15 days before Ms. Reynolds finally appeared in Boulder.
The Boulder judge released her on a personal recognizance bond, meaning that she was not a flight risk, nor a threat to public safety, and was not required to post any money. Shortly afterwards, the charge against her was dropped.
“From the day Ms. Reynolds was arrested, both sheriff’s offices knew that a Mesa County judge would not set bond and that she would remain in jail until she could appear before a Boulder judge,” said John A. Culver, of the Denver law firm, Benezra & Culver, PC, who is litigating the case as an ACLU Cooperating Attorney. “Every day that they callously delayed transporting her meant another day they were forcing her to remain in jail, in violation of her constitutional right to an opportunity to prompt pretrial release. Her release on a PR bond and the quick subsequent dropping of the charges shows that there was no valid reason to put her through the suffering of more than two weeks of unnecessary and unjustified pretrial incarceration.”
While waiting for pretrial release, Ms. Reynolds lost her job as a hospice caregiver. She was assaulted in the Mesa County Jail and spent succeeding days terrified that it could happen again. “The traumatic events that occurred during my wrongfully incarcerated 15 days did not end once I was released,” Ms. Reynolds said, “The emotional distress will be with me for the rest of my life. It’s absolutely tragic and appalling how broken the legal system truly is.”
Over the years, the ACLU has fielded repeated complaints that persons held in one county on a warrant from a different county experience unjustified delays in seeing a judge or in setting bail. In 2017, the ACLU sued on behalf of a man who spent 52 days in the Teller County Jail on an out-of-county warrant without seeing a judge.
“To protect the constitutional right to a prompt opportunity for pretrial release, the legislature should ensure that bond is set no later than 48-hours after an arrest,” Silverstein said. “A bill currently pending in the Colorado legislature, HB 21-1280, would do exactly that.”
Ms. Reynolds is represented by Silverstein and Culver as well as ACLU Staff Attorney Arielle Herzberg and ACLU Cooperating Attorney Anna Fullerton.
Read the full complaint
Learn the facts about HB 21-1280