31 October 2005

Menacing and Assault Sentence: Death

Frank Ortega was being held on charges of menancing and assault. The charges would have put him in jail for five years at most, probably less, and then, only if he was convicted. It wouldn't have been unusual to plea bargain in a case like that one. The man in his 50s could even have been acquitted when he went to trial.

He wound up dead, killed by a cellmate in Denver's jail. Jail officials say it is the first jail murder in 20-30 years. It wasn't just a coincidence, however. Denver's jail is so overcrowded that they have inmates sleeping in tents. Overcrowding in Denver's unaccredited jail also likely contributed to this murder.

Ortega's cellmate will, no doubt, be promptly convicted of murder. But, the City and County of Denver has a legal responsibility to keep people held while awaiting trial from ending up dead. They failed in their duty.

This should have been a front page story. It wasn't. The Denver Post apparently believes that this event is so insignificant it belong in a brief without a story of its own deep in section B. Have we come to the point where I homicide in which the City and County of Denver of partially responsible is so insignificant? Apparently so.