In response to people’s calls and emails to Boulder city officials calling for justice after the unjust arrests of Richard and Ben in Boulder Public Library for speaking up on our right to sleep without being hassled by police, Boulder City Council members and City Attorney have been sending the following reply. Of course, none of these people were there during the situation so they are taking their report from what the arresting police officers say “actually happened.”
Since I, Terese, was present during the whole situation which lead to the arrests of Ben and Richard I felt it necessary to reply to some of the misinformation and exaggeration in their story, as well as to speak to a deeper reason this whole situation happened: laws prohibiting people from sleeping in public spaces – even when you have no home at which to sleep.
I hope my letter, following the letter from Deputy Mayor Lisa Morzel, will help clarify “what actually happened.”
Letter from Deputy Mayor Lisa Morzel
Thank you for contacting us and sharing your concerns. I thought I would share with you a fuller explanation of what actually happened.
Here’s what happened:
· Boulder police officers were in the Library on foot patrol, attempting to contact someone regarding a separate case. While they were inside, Library Security Officer Loren Phillips asked them to assist with a disruptive male. Phillips had seen the man, 32-year-old Richard Orian Kephart, lying down near the bridge area of the Library. Lying down is against Library rules, and Security Officer Phillips asked Kephart to sit up.
· Kephart refused and Security Officer Phillips asked Kephart to leave the Library.
· While Security Officer Phillips was dealing with Kephart another man, Benjamin Kang Perry Donlon (27 years old), inserted himself into the situation. Security Officer Phillips had not contacted Donlon, and Donlon had nothing to do with the issue involving Kephart. However, Donlon became verbally antagonistic with Phillips and charged at him, causing Phillips to draw his baton in an effort to protect himself if necessary. Phillips did not use his baton or actually extend it. He told both men to leave the Library, giving them the opportunity to leave on their own.
· Kephart and Donlon were uncooperative and refused to go. They yelled, used profanity and would not cooperate, creating a disturbance inside the Library. At that point Phillips threatened to call police and that’s when Kephart & Donlon began to leave.
· Officers were already at the Library regarding another case, and they contacted the two suspects. Donlon began yelling (including obscenities) at police and attempted to push past them. He was very aggressive. Because of his level of aggressiveness and his refusal to cooperate, officers placed him in handcuffs. They were also concerned that he might be carrying concealed weapons; Donlon was wearing heavy coats and officers could see that there were items in his pockets – they didn’t know what those items were or if they were weapons. It’s standard procedure for officers to handcuff a person if they are concerned for their own safety.
· Donlon tried to bite an officer, and threatened to spit on him. It took several officers to place him into handcuffs, and he tried to kick them as he was being taken to the police car once he was placed under arrest. He was so combative that officers decided against taking him to jail in a police car, because they believed he would try to damage the vehicle on the way to the jail. Donlon was transported in an ambulance to the hospital, where he was medically cleared. He was then taken to jail. He faces charges of Trespassing, Obstructing a Peace Officer and Resisting Arrest. Tom Carr says that Donlon has already pled guilty to the Resisting charge and was sentenced to 35 days in jail. The Trespassing charge is pending. I’m not sure about the third charge.
· Kephart was also arrested and faces a Trespassing charge. He was in possession of a 3-inch long knife at the time of his arrest and while it’s legal to possess a knife of that size, it’s against the Library rules. He was not charged with any weapons violations, just the Trespassing charge.
· A woman named Terese Howard has been contacting Council and the City Attorney’s Office. She also called the Chief’s office and – I’m paraphrasing – demanded that we release the two men from jail and basically exonerate them. She gave us until 2:30 p.m. to call her back; she said if we didn’t then “many people” would be contacting us on behalf of the suspects. We did call her back and we explained that the cases are in the court system now.
The bottom line is that both of these suspects violated Library rules. Both of these suspects were given the opportunity to leave on their own and both of these suspects chose to be uncooperative, belligerent, physically abusive and verbally antagonistic toward Library staff and police officers. Their actions caused Boulder police officers and Library Security Officer Phillips to be concerned for their safety. We were also concerned about the safety of other Library patrons – the Library should be a safe place for everyone to enjoy. Police took the actions they did because of the aggressiveness of both of the suspects, who were given ample opportunity to make different decisions.
Boulder City Council
Letter from witness Terese
Dear Lisa Morzel,
I wanted to reply to the letter I see you have been sending to individuals emailing you with their concerns about the unjust arrests of Benjamin and Richard. My name is Terese Howard. I was witness to this whole event and wanted to clarify some of the misinformation and misconceptions in the story you were told. Going over all the details of the situation from all our different perspectives is of course impossible at this time as other parties involved are in jail and cannot at this time explain what happened. If Benjamin’s case does not get dismissed (as it should) before the jury trial, we will all be able to better understand the situation and hear all perspectives.
Nonetheless, in the mean time, I find it important to clarify a few misinformed claims in the story you have sent out.
The story claims that Benjamin “charged at” the officer, was “very aggressive,” “tried to bit an officer,” and “tried to kick” an officer. None of these claims are true. I was there during this whole situation and can testify that Benjamin did none of these things. The video footage that was taken of most of the situation will also show he did none of these things.
The story also uses the phrase “inserted himself in the situation” to refer to the time at which Benjamin spoke up for Richard, who had been sleeping but was awoken by police, using his freedom of speech to defend a person’s right to sleep. If speaking up for peoples’ human rights is “inserting himself in the situation” I hope we all act on our responsibility to insert our self in unjust situations that call for what is right. Even if that can sometimes be disturbing.
The story you have shared also states that both Benjamin and Richard were “given ample opportunity to leave on their own” and “refused to go.” This is defiantly a misconception of the situation. After Benjamin spoke up in support of Richard, he and I both started walking down stairs in order to leave the library. As we were on our way out, we found many police gathered by the front door arresting Richard. It was in the midst of this that police grabbed and handcuffed Benjamin. Richard also testified in court today that he was on his way out of the library when police handcuffed and arrested him. Unless one expects them to be able to instantly transport themselves from upstairs out of the building, bypassing the many cops surrounding them and quickly handcuffing them, their was definitely not ample opportunity to leave. Again, I watched this whole situation and can testify, as Richard did today, that there was not ample opportunity to leave.
You also mention in your letter my call/email to the Chief of Police and City Attorney demanding that the charges against Benjamin and Richard be dropped and they be release from jail, and asking them to contact me before 2:30pm that day. This was not intended as a threat, but rather I wanted to let them know ahead of time that there is concern about these unjust arrests and give them an opportunity to discuss the matter more and enable them to understand why these charges should be dropped before they were inundated with calls and emails.
Lastly, I wanted to speak to some of the deeper, underlying issues of this situation. You reference the Library’s rule against lying down or sleeping. Let us remember, this whole situation began because a man was sleeping in the library and the library has a rule against this act. The city of Boulder also has a “Camping Ban” – a law against sleeping outdoors in public space. People who have their own private homes to go to have the option of going home at night to sleep or in the afternoon for a nap. However, people who do not have a private home of their own do not have this option. You also mention that “the library should be a safe place for everyone to enjoy.” I fully agree with this! This is exactly why people should not be hassled by police for sleeping in a public library! Sleeping is a quiet and non-disturbing act that is also necessary for survival. I hope that this situation will lead the library to reconsider its ban on sleeping and lying down, and resend this rule in order to make the library somewhere that is safe and welcoming for all – regardless of whether you have a house to go to at night or not.
I hope this clarifies the situation and some of the deeper root issues that brought this, and so many situations like it, about. I hope the Mayor, City Attorney, Police, and other official in Boulder will take this situation seriously and be bold enough to call for a city that treats people humanly and allows people to sleep legally and speak freely for what is right.