Law­suit: Man jailed be­cause he couldn’t pay $50 fee

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Kirk Mitchell

A Colorado civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tion sued Den­ver af­ter a man was jailed for five days be­cause he did not have enough money to pay all of the fees the city charges jail in­mates to be re­leased.

A judge gave 25­year­old Mickey Howard a $10 bond, but the fees were five times higher than the bond.

Howard could have af­forded the bond, but he could not af­ford the fees. So, he stayed in jail, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed by the ACLU of Colorado.

Howard spent five days in jail at a cost of $70 a day for a to­tal of about $350, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit filed in U.S. District Court in Den­ver on Wed­nes­day.

“Jail­ing peo­ple solely be­cause of poverty, par­tic­u­larly when those in­di­vid­u­als are pre­trial and in­no­cent in the eyes of the law, is cruel, fis­cally ir­ra­tional and vi­o­lates the Con­sti­tu­tion’s guar­an­tees of equal pro­tec­tion and due process,” said at­tor­ney Mark Sil­ver­stein, le­gal di­rec­tor for the Colorado ACLU.

Den­ver jail spokes­woman Daria Serna re­ferred com­ment to the Den­ver City At­tor­ney’s Of­fice. A mes­sage left with the at­tor­ney’s of­fice was not re­turned Thurs­day.

Den­ver has a pol­icy of con­tin­u­ing to im­prison peo­ple who are un­able to pay their $50 bond fee, even when in­mates like Howard have the money to post the bond amount set by the court, the law­suit says.

When Howard was booked into jail on charges of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and pub­lic in­tox­i­ca­tion, he had $64, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit and Den­ver County Court records.

That was enough to pay the $10 bond and his $30 book­ing fee for fin­ger­print­ing and tak­ing a mug shot, but that left him $16 short for pay­ing his $50 bond fee, the law­suit says.

Howard would have re­ mained in jail longer if the Colorado Free­dom Fund, a non­profit that as­sists peo­ple with bond pay­ments, had not helped.

Howard’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence charge was dis­missed. He pleaded guilty to the pub­lic in­tox­i­ca­tion charge, ac­cord­ing to court records.

How­ever, Den­ver con­tin­ues to bill Howard and is turn­ing those bills over to col­lec­tions.

The city said he owes more than $600 in ad­di­tional fees that are re­lated solely to the dis­missed case.

“I am happy to be free, but it shouldn’t have taken the Colorado Free­dom Fund to get me out,” How­ ard said. “I had the money to pay my bond, but the jail took it from me and wouldn’t let me out be­cause I didn’t also have the money to pay their fee. That’s not right.

“I am fil­ing this case to get jus­tice for me and to make sure this doesn’t hap­pen to other peo­ple.”

In Au­gust, El Paso County paid a $190,000 set­tle­ment with ACLU of Colorado to com­pen­sate 184 in­di­vid­u­als who were held in the El Paso County Jail solely be­cause they could not pay a $55 “pre­trial su­per­vi­sion” fee.

“Colorado’s county jails are burst­ing at the seams, mostly with pre­trial de­tain­ ees who have not been con­victed of a crime. Yet, we con­tinue to see cases across the state of in­di­vid­u­als held in jail not be­cause they are a dan­ger or a flight risk, but be­cause they are too poor to pay a county fee,” said ACLU at­tor­ney Re­becca Wal­lace.

The prac­tices are il­le­gal, and any county that con­tin­ues to charge such fees should ex­pect to be sued, Wal­lace said.

“It is past time for all coun­ties, cities and sher­iffs in Colorado to closely re­view their book­ing and bonding prac­tices to en­sure that they do not al­low or fa­cil­i­tate in­car­cer­a­tion based solely on poverty,” she said.

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