The Colorado Springs Police Department on Wednesday released the audio from two 911 calls placed last Saturday morning just prior to and during a deadly gun rampage. The first call came just 10 minutes before a man shot three people to death and was subsequently killed in a shootout with police. The Colorado Springs PD released the audio and a detailed statement following severalstories by Mother Jones and other news outlets focusing on whether Colorado's open carry law may have played a role in how the police responded.
In the first call, placed at 8:45 a.m. on October 31, resident Naomi Bettis told a dispatcher that she saw a man, later identified as 33-year-old Noah Harpham, walking around a building with a broken window across the street from her house. She said that he was carrying a black rifle and gasoline cans, and she described him as suspicious and "scary" at several points during the six-minute-long call. At one point she told the dispatcher that the man was going in and out of an upstairs apartment in the building. "It may be the guy that lives upstairs because he ran right up there, but he still shouldn't be holding a gun," Bettis said.
"Well it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it," the dispatcher responded. "But of course having those gas cans, it does seem pretty suspicious so we're going to keep the call going for that." Bettis clearly sounded agitated during parts of the call: "I went out there to get in my Jeep," she said, "and I'm scared to death." When asked by the dispatcher whether anyone's life was in imminent danger, however, she answered no. "I just hope that this is, you know, not as bad as it is," Bettis said. Listen to the full call here:
Bettis later told the Washington Post that she was put off by the dispatcher's comments regarding the state's open carry law, as if the dispatcher "didn't believe me." On Tuesday, Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs PD told Mother Jones that Bettis' first 911 call wasn't treated as "the highest priority call for service." In its statement released Wednesday, the department said the call was originally treated as a "priority 3" call, which "represents in-progress incidents involving property." One minute into the call, the incident was upgraded to a "priority 2" call, and changed to a possible burglary in progress, according to the statement. The department's priority scale has six levels, with "priority 1" being the most urgent.
At the time of the first call, all officers in the area were on other calls, according to the department's statement. Then, one officer who became available during the call was instead dispatched to a disturbance in progress at a senior residential facility: "The call for service [near Bettis] was the same priority level as the disturbance; however, the disturbance at the senior center represented a threat to human life, while [Bettis’ call] (a possible burglary-in-progress) was at the time considered a threat to property."
"He's laying on the street dead"
After the initial six-minute exchange with the dispatcher, Bettis was told to call back if the situation changed. Ten minutes later, she did. "I just called a few minutes ago, and the guy came back out," she said, now sounding frantic and her voice shaking. "He fired the gun at somebody and he's laying on the street dead." Listen to the full call here: [Warning: Some may find the following audio disturbing.]
At that point, according to the statement from the Colorado Springs PD, all available police units and an ambulance were dispatched. Less than 10 minutes after that Harpham's three victims had been shot and he was killed by gunfire from police.
"Upon review of the 911 audio from the initial call for service the (dispatcher) responded in accordance with both the Colorado Springs Police Department policy and national protocols," the department said in its statement.
The department also released a 2011 training document with respect to how it handles the open carry issue:
"The mere act of openly carrying a gun in a non-threatening manner is not automatically to be considered suspicious behavior. Therefore, if we get a call from a citizen about a person who has a firearm in plain sight and they are not acting in a suspicious manner, they have not brandished it, discharged it, or violated any of the previous conditions; CSPD will not respond."
As I first reported late Monday, questions are hanging over how the Colorado Springs Police Department handled a 911 call on Saturday morning, when a resident saw a man carrying a rifle on her residential block prior to a deadly gun rampage. The caller, Naomi Bettis, was alarmed about 33-year-old Noah Harpham—who soon went on to shoot three people to death in the area before being killed by police. But when Bettis made the 911 call, her first of two, the police dispatcher apparently reacted without urgency, telling Bettis about Colorado's law allowing firearms to be carried openly in public. Bettis hung up, and when she called back it was because the killing was underway.
Did Colorado's open carry law in effect hinder a police response to Harpham before he struck?
The first time Bettis dialed 911 and spoke with a dispatcher, "a call for service was built for officers to respond," Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs PD told Mother Jones. "But it wasn't the highest priority call for service."
Buckley declined to provide any further details about the timing or substance of the two 911 calls by Bettis, or about how they were handled, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting.
Contacted by Mother Jones, Bettis declined via her daughter to comment further, but on Tuesday the Washington Postreported that Bettis was surprised by the tepid response from the police dispatcher. "I don’t remember what they call it—open arms…and she said, you know, we have that law here. And it just kind of blew me away, like she didn't believe me or something." Bettis also told the Post she was "angry" that she had to call 911 twice. "I don't think she probably thought it was an emergency until I made the second call," Bettis said, "and that's when I said, 'That guy I just called you about, he just shot somebody.'" According to one witness, Harpham attacked using an AR-15.
There are additional questions about how details of the gun rampage have emerged. Local law enforcement authorities did not identify the shooter or any of the victims until Monday afternoon—more than 48 hours after the attack—according to Joanna Bean, the editor of The Gazette, a local news outlet that has covered the attack extensively. That's an unusually long time in the face of intense public interest, including a flurry of comments on social media over the weekend lamenting the lack of information. In a column about The Gazette's coverage, including on its decision to publish the shooter's name late Sunday, Bean wrote:
From the time of the shooting until Monday afternoon, authorities remained tight lipped. "Pending completion of the autopsies and notification of the next of kin the El Paso County Sheriff's Office does not have any updates on the investigation regarding the officer involved shooting yesterday and the ensuing investigation," the office said on Facebook on Sunday. Colorado Springs police said they wouldn't discuss the shootings until autopsies were completed.
Meanwhile, The Gazette apparently removed a key line from an in-depth report it published on Sunday—concerning Bettis' eyewitness account and first 911 call. On Facebook on Sunday night, several gun reform advocates referred to the Gazette story and directly quoted the line highlighted in bold below; they later pointed out that the line had been removed.
Across the street, neighbor Naomi Bettis was shaken by what she saw on a sunny Saturday morning.
Bettis said she called police twice on Saturday morning - once to report her neighbor walking around with a rifle. She took issue with the first dispatcher, who told her that Colorado has an open carry law.
She saw Harpham walk into the house with a rifle and a can or two of gasoline. Then, he went up an outside staircase and came out with a rifle and a pistol.
He walked down the street and took aim at a passing bicyclist, she said.
Bettis recalled the bicyclist's last words. "Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!"
"But he was already being shot," Bettis said.
She called 911 again the second time.
"I said, 'The guy I just called you about that had the gun, he just shot somebody three times,'" Bettis said.
It remains unclear why The Gazette apparently removed the line about Bettis' interaction with the dispatcher regarding Colorado's open carry law. Reached by email early Tuesday morning, Bean said she would look into the matter. If she responds further we will update the story.
Update, November 4: Bean further responded that the line in question was removed as part of The Gazette's "ongoing, updated coverage throughout the weekend," which involved frequent changes to their print and online copy. "We continue to pursue a variety of angles on this shooting story," she added, "including the open carry angle and what information police have about that call to dispatch." Their latest reporting on that angle is here.
But there's also something to be learned from Google, the company that seems to know what we're thinking before we even think it. The folks at Google Trends compiled a mound of data during the debate, looking at real-time searches of the candidates, what people are trying to learn about each of them, and the sheer dominance of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina during the night's undercard debate that preceded the main event.
One Google interactive looked at which candidate people searched for after searching for another candidate. In other words, after people looked up Trump, whom did they search for next? The answer: Ben Carson. Click on a candidate below to see the related candidates.
When Richard Bernstein decided to run for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court, he had a lot stacked against him: He was a Democrat, he had no experience as a judge, and he was blind—something he'd dealt with his entire life.
That ranks as the third-highest amount of overall spending in judicial elections during the 2013-14 cycle, according to the latest installment of "The New Politics of Judicial Elections," a series of reports that have tracked spending trends in judicial elections since 2000. Even though he put $1.8 million of his own money into the race, Bernstein says it was just enough to get the job done, especially with a tide of PAC money flowing through various entitles that funded ads against him.
"You're not really able to see firsthand the amount of money that was spent against [you]," Bernstein told Mother Jones this week. "We were able to raise the $2 million, but that is what allows you to be competitive. I was able to raise and spend the bare minimum to contend in a race like this."
Bernstein says he's very much in favor of voters choosing which judges sit on the bench. "It's not just about raising money," he says. "What it's really about is having to go out and connect with people."
But he can see why people are concerned about dark money flooding the zone. That's one of the main takeaways of the latest "New Politics of Judicial Elections." A product of Justice At Stake, a group focused on limiting special-interest interference in courts, and the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, the reports have documented the explosion in judicial spending over the last 14 years. Supreme Court justices in 38 states must face voters to either earn their seats or keep them. But over the last few years, what were once sleepy, local affairs have grown into multimillion-dollar races that have increasingly drawn the attention of special-interest groups from all over the country.
According to the newest report, released this morning, state Supreme Court candidates spent more than $34 million on races in the 2013-14 election cycle. That total was slightly less than the amount spent in 2011 and 2012. One reason is that there were a large number of unopposed candidates. Even so, political parties and outside special interests poured $13.8 million into the races. That figure is 40 percent of the total amount of money spent during that cycle, $13.8 million. It's the first time such a huge percentage of spending came from these outside groups during a non-presidential election cycle.
"The big takeaway, I would say, is that it's well financed interests who are doing this," said Scott Greytak, Justice At Stake policy counsel and research analyst, and the lead author of the new report. "And they have clear, known, financial interests before the courts."
In the 1990s state Supreme Court candidates raised a combined $83 million. However, that changed after the political right, mainly through Karl Rove, saw a way to reshape what were seen as anti-business state courts by playing more aggressive politics in state judicial races (see previous Mother Jones coverage of that dynamic here). Since then, state Supreme Court candidates have raised more than $236 million, but independent spending by special-interest groups and state political partieshas brought the total to nearly $325 million since 2000. "How do we convince Americans that justice isn't for sale—when in 39 states, it is?" former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb wrote in Politicoin March. "When a judge asks a lawyer who appears in his or her court for a campaign check, it's about as close as you can get to legalized extortion."
Donors typically want the reassurance that the judges they write checks for will think the way they do and will "rule accordingly," Cobb notes. According to a basic tenet of a typical judicial code of conduct, the appearance of bias undermines the judicial system. When judges are forced to run inherently political campaigns, the line blurs, the theory goes.
"Unfortunately, politicized judicial elections don't seem to be going away," says Alicia Bannon, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, and a coauthor of the report. "We've been tracking spending in state Supreme Court races since the year 2000 and we've continued to see a trend of highly politicized races and a flood of money coming into state Supreme Court contests."
Some other notable numbers:
Direct contributions to judicial candidates of more than $1,000 made up a majority of the contributions in 15 of the 19 states with judicial elections in the 2013-14 cycle.
In three states (Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Illinois), contributions of $1,000 or more made up at least 95 percent of all contributions. Small donors, by and large, don't have a seat at the table.
The top 10 spenders nationwide—including the Republican State Leadership Committee, Justice for All NC (a Republican effort), the Michigan Republican Party, Campaign for 2016 (a trial-lawyer-backed organization in Illinois), and others—accounted for40 percent of all contributions during the 2013-14 cycle, including candidate contributions and outside, independent spending. Two-thirds of all outside spending by those top 10 spenders supported Republican and conservative candidates, as 7 of those top 10 spenders were conservative or business groups or state Republican parties. That reflects a pattern that's been in place over the last several cycles.
The third-biggest spender of the cycle was Bernstein, the Democratic state Supreme Court justice in Michigan, who donated more than $1.8 million of his own money to his successful campaign.
Three states saw record spending in the 2013-14 cycle: North Carolina ($6 million), Montana ($1.5 million), and Tennessee ($2.5 million).
Retention elections, which are races where voters give a yes or no vote to keeping a judge on the bench, continued to be costly affairs. Four states held retention elections and saw a combined $6.5 million in total. Between 2001 and 2008, retention elections averaged a total of $490,000 total per cycle.
The sums of money involved in these races have forced judges to run campaigns, which cost money. And while some judges are okay with that, others feel that it degrades the position. HBO's John Oliver mocked judicial elections in a segment earlier this year:
The money often comes from lawyers who appear before judges and from lobbyists acting on behalf of businesses and special interests that also have business before the court.
"There's been a real shift in norms…among judges and judicial candidates in terms of what they're willing to do and say in their campaigns," Bannon says. "And I think it has troubling implications for the public's confidence in the fairness of our courts. In the end, I don't think the public wants our judges to be politicians in robes, but increasingly that's what we're seeing as these campaigns continue to be dominated by special-interest money and are bearing all the hallmarks of an ordinary political contest."
Consider Judith French, a sitting Ohio state Supreme Court justice appointed in 2013 by GOP presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. French is listed in the report as having raised the second-highest amount of contributions during the 2013-14 cycle ($1.1 million). During a political rally before the November 2014 election, French told a Republican gathering:
I am a Republican and you should vote for me…Let me tell you something: The Ohio Supreme Court is the backstop for all those other votes you are going to cast. Whatever the governor does, whatever your state representative, your state senator does, whatever they do, we are the ones that will decide whether it is constitutional; we decide whether it's lawful. We decide what it means, and we decide how to implement it in a given case. So forget all those other votes if you don’t keep the Ohio Supreme Court conservative.
Money doesn't always buy victory. Clifford Taylor, the former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, was himself an avid fundraiser during three campaigns: He raised $1.3 million for his election in 2000 and $1.8 million during the 2008 campaign. But that didn't prevent him from becoming the first sitting chief justice in the state's history to suffer defeat at the hands of a challenger in 2008. Taylor, a Republican, was attacked by the state's Democratic Party in more than 2,800 ads, which painted him as a tool of business interests. And although he had more overall supportive airtime than his challenger, his bad relationship with trial lawyers, along with an ad that alleged he fell asleep on the bench—a claim he disputes and that Factcheck.org said wasn't proven—may have helped generate votes that cost him the race.
"People aren't buying judges," he said. "People are buying an approach to the law. And that's a very different thing."
The fight against money in judicial elections by groups like Justice At Stake, he said, is a political ploy to advance liberal policy that otherwise didn't get through state legislatures.
"They consider the judicial branch to be the action arm of the American left," he said.
The money spent, such as the $1.6 million spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee across three states and the $2 million spent in Illinois by the trial-lawyer-backed Campaign for Illinois, disproportionately goes to fund television ads. Some of the ads are fairly positive, but the report notes that many of them distort opponents' records—such as the one portraying Taylor as sleeping on the bench—or, more typically, paint opponents as soft on crime.
During the 2013-14 cycle, more than half the television ads focused on criminal justice themes. The report points to studies that have linked the number of television ads that run during a state Supreme Court election to the decreased likelihood that a judge is to rule in favor of a criminal defendant. The report cites a 2013 US Supreme Court death penalty case in which Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent discussing judges' ability to override jury decisions in death penalty cases. Citing data that pointed to Alabama having a higher number of cases where judges overrule juries who vote against the death penalty, Sotomayor said electoral pressures were likely to blame:
"The only answer that is supported by empirical evidence is one that, in my view, casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures."
She also cited ads in Alabama where judges seem to boast about the number of people they have sentenced to death.
Another major issue highlighted by the report is the continued rise in spending in retention elections—it has increased twelvefold, according to the report. In 20 states, judges run in retention elections to earn additional terms on the state Supreme Court bench. As the report points out, these races, historically, were low-budget affairs. But after 2010, when three Iowa Supreme Court justices faced a brutal retention election, and lost, retention elections have been seen as a way to flip courts. During the last cycle, spending on retention elections in four states (Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Wyoming) came in at nearly $6.5 million.
"Any form of judicial selection is going to have some form of politics in it," Bannon says. "I think the concern is when, in the context of judicial elections, what we've been seeing is that the role of money has become so all-encompassing and is really privileging a certain set of interests in ways that I think raise legitimate questions about whether or not that might be impacting the decisions courts are making."
Which one of these GOP candidates acknowledged having smoked weed?
When GOP presidential candidates appear at the University of Colorado-Boulder for their third debate, they will focus on jobs and the economy. Given this theme and the debate's location in the first state to legalize marijuana, it's likely that the state's recreational marijuana industry will be discussed.
But the Colorado model—and similar ones in Washington, Alaska, and Oregon—isn't exactly popular amongthe political right. Presidentialhopefuls have had to walk the line between their commitment to states' rights and a GOP base that's generally anti-drugs and pro-enforcement of federal drug laws.
Marijuana legalization is a tricky subject: Nearly half of Americans have tried marijuana, and a growing percentage supports legalization, according to the Pew Research Center. But not all demographic groups support it equally. Hispanics, for example, support legalization at lower rates than whites and blacks. And public consumption is still opposed by a majority of those surveyed. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul have admitted to trying pot—Marco Rubio has been impossible to pin down—but they all oppose federal legalization.
Here is a rundown of the candidates' public statements on legal weed. (Some were collected by an advocacy group, the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization of marijuana.)
Donald Trump: The GOP front-runner's position has changed over the years. In 1990, he was quoted in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as saying that US drug enforcement efforts were "a joke" and that drugs should be legalized to "take the profit away from these drug czars." Fast-forward 25 years and now Trump is opposed to legalization. "I say it's bad," he told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in June, in response to a question about Colorado's legal weed. "Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think [recreational marijuana] it's bad. And I feel strongly about that." But what about states' rights? "If they vote for it, they vote for it. But they've got a lot of problems going on right now, in Colorado. Some big problems. But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent."
Dr. Ben Carson: Carson has said he's a fan of the war on drugs, and he told the Blaze he would "intensify it." He also supports medical marijuana "in compassionate cases." At a June campaign event in Colorado, he noted that "regular exposure to marijuana in the developing brain has been proven to result in a decreased IQ. The last thing we need is a bunch of people running around with decreased IQ." Therefore, he says, he'd enforce federal drug laws in which the use of marijuana is considered a crime.
Sen. Marco Rubio: Rubio does not oppose the use of medical marijuana, provided the substance has been through an FDA vetting process, but he opposes legalization in all other cases. When radio host Hugh Hewitt asked him about enforcing federal drug laws, Rubio said yes. But he left open the states' rights question.
"I think we need to enforce our federal laws," he said. "Now, do states have a right to do what they want?" He then got a little confusing. "They don't agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don't have a right to write federal policy as well." He then asserted that he doesn't "believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you're sending a message to young people is it can't be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn't be legal."
This interview was in April. In February, Alex Conant, his campaign spokesman, told Politicothat Rubio believes that legalized recreational marijuana "is a bad idea, and that the states that are doing it may well come to regret it. Of course, states can make decisions about what laws they wish to apply within their own borders."
Sen. Rand Paul: As far as Paul is concerned, marijuana regulation is yet another states' rights issue. He's said he doesn't have a position on whether it should be legal or not, just that the federal government shouldn't be able to tell states what to do. "I'm not for having the federal government get involved," he told Roll Call in November 2014. "I haven't taken a stand on…the actual legalization. I haven't really taken a stand on that, but I'm against the federal government telling [states and territories] that they can't."
Paul helped spur one of the more memorable moments in the last GOP debate when, refusing to name names, he implied that one of the candidates was a hypocrite for having smoked marijuana as a teenager but then opposing it as a governor. "There’s at least one prominent example on the stage of someone who says they smoked pot in high school," Paul said. "And yet, the people who are going to jail for this are poor people, often African Americans and often Hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t."
Gov. Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor acknowledged that Paul was talking about him and that yes, as a teen, he'd smoked pot. "I'm sure other people did it and didn't want to admit it in front of 25 million people," Bush said. "My mom's certainly not happy that I just did."
Gov. Chris Christie: Christie was outspoken in his opposition to legal recreational marijuana during the last debate. After Paul was asked about legalizing marijuana, Paul said smoking marijuana only harmed the person doing it. But Christie pounced, saying that smoking marijuana is not a victimless crime, and underscoring its supposed devastating effect on families. "Look at the decrease in productivity, look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug," he said. "It is not them that are the only victims—the families are the victims too, children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also." Christie has said that, as president, he'd enforce federal laws when it comes to marijuana. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," he told a New Hampshire town hall crowd in July. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws."
Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO has come out against marijuana legalizationunder all circumstances, but she also supports states' rights. "I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth," she told the Hill in June. "But I think Colorado voters made a choice, I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."
Sen. Ted Cruz: Cruz has consistently opposed recreational marijuana but nonetheless believes that legalization is up to thestates. "When it comes to a question of legalizing marijuana, I don’t support legalizing marijuana," he told Hugh Hewitt in April. "If it were on the ballot in the state of Texas, I would vote no. But I also believe that’s a legitimate question for the states to make a determination…I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision, and one of the benefits of it, you know, using Brandeis’ terms of laboratories of democracy, is we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State."
Gov. John Kasich: The Ohio governor is flatly opposed to all marijuana—recreational and otherwise—but also considers it a states' rights issue. He did tell Hewitt in April, "If I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country."
Gov. Mike Huckabee: Huckabee is another states' rights proponent, but otherwise is adamantly opposed to marijuana. "This idea of recreational marijuana, let's have Colorado have at it for a few years and let's see how that works out for them," he told an Iowa television station in October. "I've been to Amsterdam a few times. I don't want us to look like Amsterdam." But he added that he "probably" doesn't agree with federal raids of legally operating pot dispensaries.