Elected Official Eyed in Stolen Newspaper Investigation

Contact: John Weiss
719-577-4545 or 719-271-0404

Colorado Springs, Colo. — May 20, 2004 — The Colorado Springs Independent on Wednesday filed a police report after as many as 50 of its May 13 newspapers were stolen from its distribution site at the El Paso County administration building at 27 E. Vermijo in downtown Colorado Springs.

As detailed in this week’s Independent, videotaped evidence, as well as statements from county employees, suggests that County Commissioner Jim Bensberg may have removed a stack of newspapers from its regular distribution site, in violation of a new state law that prohibits theft of free newspapers.

The May 13 edition of the newspaper included a column detailing Bensberg’s decision to cast the deciding vote that absolved himself and the county from legal responsibility following a harassment charge that had been levied against himself and a senior manager at the county. District Attorney Jeanne Smith has since said she plans to hire a special outside prosecutor to determine whether Bensberg’s vote was legal.

This Wednesday, the Independent filed a stolen property report with the Colorado Springs Police Department.

On April 13, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill into law making it a criminal offense for anyone to steal copies of free newspapers “with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading that edition of the newspaper.”

When the law goes into effect on July 1, violators could be fined up to $5,000. In addition, publishers can seek civil penalties of $10 per newspaper stolen, plus attorney fees.

The new law states that an “attempt to chill the press’ important constitutional role by stealing newspapers is a serious affront to the First Amendment.” In addition, the law specifies that “In order to protect the freedom of the press as expressed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there must be criminal sanctions for newspaper theft.”

“Far too often politicians and their operatives believe they can break the law,” said John Weiss, publisher of Independent, the Pikes Peak region’s largest locally owned newspaper. “Several times over the past few years, The Independent has had papers stolen because someone doesn’t want the public to see what we have written. We have asked the police to investigate because we want this undemocratic practice to stop.”

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The Independent, founded in 1993, is a 36,000 circulation award-winning free alternative newsweekly. The Independent also serves as the sales agent for the Sunday Denver Post TV Week distributed in Southern Colorado. Its web site is www.csindy.com