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Afternoon Headlines June 26, 2017

Posted: June 26, 2017 at 3:29 pm by , in Headlines

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear a case that pits religious freedom against gay rights over a wedding cake in Colorado.

In 2012, a baker named Jack Phillips, an owner of Masterpiece Bakeshop in Lakewood, refused an order for a wedding cake from a gay couple who were getting married in Massachusetts but celebrating in their home state of Colorado. The baker said making the cake would be in conflict with his religious beliefs, and he had a First Amendment right of artistic, religious and free speech expression to say no.

But Colorado prohibits businesses from refusing to provide services based on “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.” So Charlie Craig and David Mullins brought Phillips before Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission, a regulatory agency that enforces Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. In 2014, the agency ruled the cake maker violated state law. More than that, the agency ordered the bakery to change its policy of not providing services based on a customer’s sexual orientation. The case went through the Colorado Court of Appeals, which ruled in the couple’s favor.

Phillips appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The couple, who live in Denver, said in a phone call that they are disappointed their case is still swirling around the courts five years later. They pointed out that at each step in the process thus far, the courts have found in their favor.

“We strongly believe in the legal foundation of our case,” Mullen said Monday. The people who support the couple are supporting a much larger principle, he said, “that LGBT people deserve to receive equal service in place of public accommodation.”

The family of the homeless street preacher killed in 2010 in Denver’s jail wants the new district attorney to investigate whether the officers responsible for his death switched out the homicide weapon to cover up the facts.

In one of Denver’s more notorious excessive force cases, Marvin Booker died after five Sheriff’s Department officers wrestled him the ground in the jail’s booking area, cuffed him, put him in a chokehold and shocked him with a Taser.

Seven years later, questions linger about the Taser evidence, including why the sergeant who Tasered him first turned over the wrong stun gun as evidence, and why the Taser eventually used as evidence had no data showing it was fired about the time of Booker’s death.

Instead, that Taser was activated more than a half hour after Booker was shocked and for a much shorter time than eyewitnesses and video evidence suggest. Denver’s Safety Department still relied on its data to inform the autopsy report, the internal investigation of Rodriguez and the four deputies involved in Booker’s death, the Denver District Attorney’s decision not to press charges against the officers, and its own decision not to discipline or fire them.

Booker’s family won a $6 million jury award from the city after a civil trial in 2014. But they say that trial didn’t disavow them of their belief that the city’s handling of the Taser evidence screams of a cover up. During the civil case, the city offered an explanation that the Taser had not been synced and its clock was off, but it offered no evidence of that and its own expert witness acknowledged the clock would not be off by that much.

Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration won’t comment on this latest twist in the Booker case until Denver District Attorney Beth McCann decides whether to launch a criminal investigation. McCann told The Colorado Independent that she is inclined not to do so because, as she tells it, there already has been “closure” in the case.

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

The group will have as many as 25 members, and will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal. It begins meeting in August.

For more on these and other stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.