A news report alleges Colorado Springs placed an undercover officer within activist groups. Here’s what we know (and don’t).
A recent report in the Colorado Springs Independent says the Colorado Springs Police Department allegedly placed an undercover officer inside some social activist organizations in the city and a community hub called the Chinook Center. According to the Indy, the investigation reportedly began within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement protests in the summer of 2020 and continued until July 2021. KRCC's Abigail Beckman sat down with reporter Heidi Beedle to learn more about the report and its implications.
Highlights from the interview
On how the news investigation came about and where the undercover officer was allegedly placed
I was approached by John and Sam Christiansen of the Chinook Center. They wanted to talk to me about this undercover investigation that they had discovered after John was arrested during the housing march back in July during the sesquicentennial. As part of the discovery documents that they obtained for that prosecution - for obstructing a passageway - it came out that there was in fact, an undercover officer there.
On the Chinook Center and the other organizations allegedly investigated
The Chinook Center is really more of an organizing hub than it is an activist group, per se. They have a space in Southeast Colorado Springs and they work with a variety of tenant organizations. The Democratic Socialists of America will hold meetings there; the Colorado Springs Tenants Union would hold meetings there; community groups could use the space to hold meetings; city councilor Yolanda Avila has held town halls at the Chinook Center. It's really a community hub in a shopping center in Southeast Colorado Springs that provides an opportunity for grassroots activists, organizations to organize out of that space.
On the long-term implications within activist groups
In talking to the ACLU and some of the activists involved, the main concern is that these kinds of undercover operations have a chilling effect on political activism and that sort of thing, right? The idea that it's going to dissuade people from taking certain actions or organizing protests or exercising their First Amendment rights. The implication is that there are certain risks and not everyone is aware of what they're doing and the fact that you could go to a meeting or make some kind of offhand comment and you might be talking to an undercover cop.
On the CSPD's response to the allegations
They don't talk about undercover operations. They don't talk about investigative tactics, so I didn't get a lot from them. They did say they weren't investigating any political activity per se. They were specifically investigating criminal activity. They did not confirm or deny [the investigation] but it was mentioned in the body cam footage.This recent incident is very similar to the 2017 El Paso county Sheriff's department undercover operation [where] the information will all come out after they do prosecutions. In both cases, it came out through events where protestors were just marching in the street so [the charges are] obstruction of a passageway, misdemeanor charges.
Responses edited for length and clarity
KRCC reached out to the CSPD for comment after speaking with Heidi Beedle and received the following statement from Lt. James Sokolik, Public Information Officer:
"CSPD does not investigate political organizations or protests, but we do investigate people when they're involved in criminal activity and if they're a member of a political organization that doesn't aggregate our duty to still investigate them for the criminal activity they're involved in."
KRCC also asked Lt. Sokolik if CSPD considers the work a successful operation. He said, "It's really hard to determine what you mean by successful. When we are investigating criminal activity, we're going to use the resources necessary to investigate that activity," which could include undercover operations.
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