By Jenny Paulson – The City of Pueblo has finally agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by civil rights attorney, Matt Martin, on behalf of Janet Wilson, head of at the East Side non profits, E.A.S.T. and the Pueblo House. Wilson, one of Pueblo’s most vocal activists and community leader, and her attorney, Matt Martin successfully forced the City of Pueblo to dismiss multiple charges made against her in 2015 in Pueblo Municipal Court, and are now celebrating their second victory of this recently settled civil rights lawsuit.
The settlement, coupled with the July, 2017 retirement of former Police Chief Luis Velez, ended ongoing dispute that started in 2015, when Velez revoked Wilson’s parade permit application less than 24 hours before the event, mandating that she rent expensive barricades to place along her planned route and pay for police officers to direct traffic. The Pueblo Chieftain blasted a front page headline that year that Velez would have her charged if she continued with the parade, and another headline as Wilson defied the Chief’s mandates, continuing with the parade, using caution tape and volunteers instead.
Wilson said she didn’t have time to appeal Velez’s decision that year and believed she had the constitutional right to hold the parade. She said she believed that Velez ordered police officer Howard Jackson to “trump up” multiple charges to retaliate against her. The charges against her included not only holding a parade without a permit, but nuisance and impeding traffic, all of which Martin forced the City of Pueblo to dismiss in municipal court in 2016. Wilson says Velez wanted to “run me out of town” and had been misusing his authority. She said she’s not the first that Velez targeted, that he was was successfully sued as chief in Colorado Springs before by the ACLU for conspiring against activists there.
Martin issued a statement saying that the primary basis for their civil rights lawsuit was that the police chief had exercised unfettered discretion in setting conditions for issuing such permits. Wilson took over the organization of the Cinco De Mayo parade in 2015 to continue the traditional parade on the East Side. She says that former organizer councilwoman Eva Montoya, never had such restrictions, and that she was discriminated against by Velez. Since 2015, Wilson has organized two more successful family parades, without barricades.
Martin, who has won other highly publicized local civil rights cases, said he assisted Wilson at a reduced rate because he wanted her to be a role model in paving the way so others would be able to express themselves without fear of retaliation from local government. “I believed in the righteousness of the case and it’s always appropriate to stand up and defend a fundamental constitutional right,” said Martin, who recently moved his practice from Pueblo to Denver.
Wilson manages two non-profit organizations and has been restoring “The Pueblo House,” a community music, art and education space, and two other East Side homes that were donated to her organization. She ran for city council and recently launched a local radio station. After the Chieftain reported on the settlement from a statement from Martin, Wilson reported back to the community through Facebook, saying the recent article didn’t say what she wants people to know about the dispute and the case.
“Finally the lawsuit is over with and I for one am happy to be moving on,” she said. “The premise for this suit was to ensure everyone is treated equally under the law. If we do not have this in Pueblo we are being run by gangsters who can pick and choose who, when and how things are done in this city. It shouldn’t take being favored or having to be liked in order to bring good things to this city or in this case keep a tradition alive. If we’re to have a fair and equal treatment of our citizens we have to hold officials accountable when it’s not being honored.”
She continued, “I wasn’t afraid to take it all the way to court, so that all of the information could be public. In my opinion, this was done because I’m an activist and Velez didn’t like me challenging his outrageous decision and demands for this particular parade. For him to take away the only parade & festival on the Eastside was over the top. Then having to watch many of the city people try and justify what he did was even more disturbing.”
Furthermore, she said, “thankfully I had a good lawyer (Matthew Scott Martin), who saw the injustice and represented me, a few police officers who stood with me and gave me pertinent information that I would not have known otherwise. There are some great people in Pueblo and if we all stand together we can make it a great place for our families and friends We need changes in Pueblo and most everyone I speak to knows it. You only have to go out and collect signatures to find out what people are thinking about their city. This Nov. could be a pivotal changing opportunity if the right people were voted in to city council. With 4 seats up that’s a majority 4/7 and the ability to do some great things for Pueblo. Thank you to all who stood by me during all of this.”
Wilson, a native of Canada, moved to Pueblo after she visited the city while traveling cross country with the Occupy movement. She is a banker, turned activist and community organizer.
Story by Jenny Paulson, publisher of www.SouthernColoradoIndependent.com.