Rant & Rave: Big Blue Bear Vandal and Senate Bill 250

May 2013

Rant: The Big Blue Bear Vandal Has Not Yet Been Charged

This week, Denver police arrested its prime suspect in the defacing of our iconic Big Blue Bear. Law enforcement officials say Joseph Rivas, a 21-year-old art student, allegedly pelted the bear with balloons filled with bright green paint on March 31, possibly from the roof of the Convention Center. The vandalism caused about $11,000 in damages and is a felony.

Unfortunately, officials were forced to release the suspect after Denver's District Attorney's office declined to accept the charges, fearing the case wasn't air-tight enough to ensure a conviction. Police are now gathering more evidence and hope to re-arrest Rivas later.

Whether or not Johnny Law got the right guy, the act itself—while hardly earth-shaking or life-threatening—was a pointless gesture of...what? There doesn't seem to be a protest element behind staining one of our city's most beloved works of public art, so for now we can conclude that it was perpetrated by someone who simply decided to be a jackass. If it had been committed by kids, we could write it off to stupidity. But if the offender is an adult, a harsh sentence would be more than welcome if it deters future vandals from going down the same, silly path.

Rave: Senate Bill 250 Is Flawed But Worth Pursuing

Speaking of sentencing, the United States' 30-plus-year "War on Drugs" has devolved into a national disgrace. It overcrowds our prisons with nonviolent offenders and ruins the lives of people who are decidedly not beyond reclamation.

That's why it's been heartening to see Colorado Senate Bill 250 advancing through the chamber with bipartisan support. This week, the Senate sent the bill—which creates a specific category for drug-only sentences that focus more on treatment and rehabilitation than on draconian incarceration—to the House for debate.

But the potential law is not yet a slam dunk, and for good reason. Co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Pat Steadman and House Rep Claire Levy, SB 250 would reduce the length of mandatory sentences for users and addicts, but in its current form it also would shrink such sentences for certain drug dealers. This catch has prompted Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey to vociferously oppose the bill as it now stands.

It's a situation in which everyone's right. SB 250's supporters are trying to correct a horribly dysfunctional penal situation, and Morrissey wants to make sure we aren't giving drug dealers a free pass, a perfectly reasonable position. Given the relatively amicable vibe between the GOP and Dems these days—here, not in D.C.—it seems like Colorado is well positioned to craft a law that begins to address America's drug problem (and drug incarceration problem) much more sensibly, thus providing our state with yet another opportunity to set an example for the rest of the nation.

—Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.