Protesters seek to clarify the rules of engagement for picketing outside the home of a public health director in Southwest Colorado, and in doing so, also signaled they plan further demonstrations.
About 20 protesters first gathered outside the private home of Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, in mid-January. About 10 people gathered again more than a week later. State law says people or groups are not allowed to target specific people at their homes, in what’s known as “targeted residential picketing,” unless the event complies with certain criteria.
Aurora Attorney Randy Corporon, representing seven protesters, has sent a letter to Durango City Attorney Dirk Nelson asking for clarification about those criteria.
“The group has been and intends to continue peacefully protesting at the home of San Juan Basin Public Health Director Liane Jollon,” Corporon wrote in the letter. “Upon information and belief, Ms. Jollon has converted her home to her county office which begs the question of whether the targeted picketing statute even applies. However, in order to avoid any uncertainty, the group intends to comply with C.R.S. 18-9-108.5.”
Corporon, a tea party activist who serves on the Colorado Republican Party committee, did not respond to requests for comment this week.
According to his letter, he represents Cam Formby individually and on behalf of other protesters Stanley Patterson, Cathy Patterson, Bethany Cole, Ron Bogs, Cody Perkins and Mary Beeman.
Corporon also represents Jerry Martinez, who opened CJ’s Diner to indoor dining when it was prohibited because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s obvious from the letter that he (Corporon) was just trying to establish what he thinks the statute says,” Nelson said in an interview with The Durango Herald. “Not every activity that involves picketing in front of someone’s house is illegal.”
State statute attempts to strike a balance between a person’s right to privacy and protection in their home and people’s right to free speech, he said.
In the protests at Jollon’s residence, people have objected to COVID-19 regulations as well as the actions of SJBPH. They protested Jollon’s actions specifically, although public health orders are issued by the state of Colorado.
After the first protest Jan. 14, the Durango Police Department used body camera footage to identify protesters and issue written warnings. (Members of the group refused to give their names, which could have resulted in an obstruction of justice charge, according to Corporon’s letter.)
In the event of noncompliant targeted picketing, state law says individuals are first issued a written warning. If a person is caught again targeting a residence, a citation is written for a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $5,000.
At a later protest, the group was “outside the prohibited zone.” According to state law, protesting outside a residence is allowed if located 300 feet or more from the home.
“We do expect that they will be allowed to share their dismay at and opposition to the destructive and arbitrary response to this public health issue,” Corporon wrote.
Corporon’s letter asks the city to further explain its understanding of the law with regard to compliant targeted picketing, particularly regarding rules around signs and marching routes.
For example, state law says if protesters wish to be in front of a residence, they must continuously march on a route that extends 300 feet, or three structures, in each direction from the targeted residence.
He said Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer “threatened” the group in his warning letters by saying a second noncompliant protest will result in a citation with possible fines, jail time or misdemeanor charges.
The letter also questioned the department’s use of body cam footage to identify protesters. Corporon also accused the health department’s attorney, Michael Goldman, of making “free-speech chilling statements.”
Nelson said the Durango Police Department will patrol the area and review whether there has been a violation of statute, but other than that, the city has no role in the issue.
Any criminal charges would be issued into state court and prosecuted by the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, not municipal court.
“Any citation would have to be based on a violation of the provisions of that statute,” Nelson said. “I don’t know that there are any next steps at this point.”
Brammer denounced the first protest in January, calling targeted residential picketing a “disturbing new trend” and saying officers would enforce state law.
Durango has seen numerous protests and marches since the pandemic started in March.
The only other instances of protesters picketing outside a public figure’s home were when a group formed twice in the past year outside Durango Mayor Dean Brookie’s house.