By Sara R. Neel, Senior Staff Attorney & Managing Attorney
People exercising their First Amendment right of free speech are being targeted in Colorado Springs. Over the last several years, the City of Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD), in cooperation with the FBI, has targeted local activists and organizations using dragnet warrants in retaliation against First Amendment-protected free speech activity. In August 2023, the ACLU of Colorado sued the CSPD and the FBI on behalf of the Chinook Center, a non-profit organization that serves as a hub for progressive activism in Colorado Springs, and Jacqueline “Jax” Armendariz Unzueta, an activist and Chinook Center volunteer.
During a housing rights march in Colorado Springs in the summer of 2021, CSPD targeted Chinook Center leaders for arrest. Police internally shared pictures of activists in advance of the march, and ultimately ordered the arrest of prominent Chinook Center members for marching in the street, even after the protestors complied with the police’s requests to move onto the sidewalk. CSPD subsequently obtained a warrant to search the Center’s private chats on Facebook messenger without sufficient probable cause to support such a warrant.
CSPD also arrested Jax, seized her cell phones, laptops and an external hard drive without any justification or probable cause that these devices contained evidence of a crime. Then, CSPD obtained a warrant to copy Jax’s phones and devices and search them for evidence of her political views, her political associations, and her relationship with the Chinook Center. There was no probable cause for this search.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the City of Colorado Springs and the FBI accountable for violating our clients’ First and Fourth Amendment rights by executing dragnet search warrants seeking to find information about their political activities and beliefs. This type of warrant represents a profound threat to an individual’s freedom and liberty.
After being targeted by law enforcement, Jax and other members of the Chinook Center felt violated and traumatized. They struggled to trust even those closest to them. Nonetheless, they continue to organize their communities for social justice. "This case is about love for my community,” Jax said. “I hope CSPD will never again target, terrorize, and attempt to silence others as they did to me.”