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