December arrest in Carbondale raises racial bias questions
Man brought up on resisting arrest charges after ‘finger-pointing’ incident
A recent Carbondale arrest involving a Black man that is wending its way through the municipal court system has raised questions about police discretion in the matter and alleged racial bias.
The situation even prompted a message from the town’s mayor ahead of a Monday afternoon court hearing where some residents have urged a public protest against the charges and a show of support for Michael Francisco.
“I would ask that we all approach this situation thoughtfully, and with due consideration, until we all reach a better collective understanding,” Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson wrote in a statement posted to the town’s Public Works Facebook page, in which he called for a formal “evaluation” of what occurred.
Francisco, 54, was arrested on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020, at the Carbondale City Market store following an incident in which a fuel station attendant reported he had made a threatening hand gesture in her direction after buying gas and a few items there before entering the store.
The incident was first reported in the Sopris Sun newspaper on Feb. 24, which tipped off a firestorm of social media comments.
Some of those comments have questioned the police decision to level misdemeanor charges including resisting arrest and disorderly conduct against Francisco, while others have urged the public to let the evidence and criminal justice process play out before jumping to conclusions.
According to a summary of the police incident report provided by Francisco’s attorney, Michael Edminister, after pulling away from the fuel station and into the main parking lot, Francisco entered the grocery store with a friend.
Already at the store at the time was Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson, who was off duty at the time and picking up some items, Edminister said.
At some point, the fuel station attendant called over to a store manager to report that she had felt intimidated by Francisco. The manager and Chief Wilson spoke, and it was requested that Francisco be removed from the store, Edminister said.
Police officers on duty at the time were called and confronted Francisco at the self-checkout, asking for his identification.
Apparently, according to Edminister’s reading of the police account, instead of immediately presenting his driver’s license, Francisco questioned why he was being contacted by the police and things took a confrontational turn.
“This is a guy who has never been arrested in his life,” Edminister said. “He probably could have showed his driver’s license and been done with it, but because he questioned them it agitated the situation.”
That shouldn’t matter, though, he said in defense of his client.
“Before he knew it he was on the floor and handcuffed and dragged out of the store … a pretty excessive show of force for a guy who was just checking out with a couple of groceries,” Edminister said.
At no point before Francisco’s arrest does it appear that officers spoke to the complainant in the gas station kiosk, he said. Ultimately, after Francisco was initially detained, he was issued a summons on the charges and released.
Edminister said there is video surveillance from City Market that seems to suggest the initial “threat” at the gas station kiosk may have been taken out of context.
“It looks more like a friendly point, like, ‘hey, how you doing?’ And he walks away. There’s no angry confrontation or anything,” Edminister said.
Francisco initially appeared in the Carbondale Municipal Court on Feb. 8, where he was formally advised of charges including misdemeanor disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing government (police) operations.
Chief Wilson did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story, but told the Sopris Sun in its Feb. 24 story that the video does show Francisco clearly pointing his finger at the gas station clerk.
Wilson also said witness accounts of an incident can’t simply be dismissed, and that the arrest was made on the premise that Francisco acted inappropriately.
Francisco is due back in court at 4:30 p.m. Monday and Edminister said his client intends to plead not guilty and will ask for a jury trial.
Mayor Richardson’s statement also attempted to diffuse things ahead of the court hearing.
“Despite our incredibly strong and compassionate community, Carbondale is not immune from unfortunate situations arising from time to time,” he wrote. “My expectation is that the town will carefully evaluate the incidents that took place at City Market last December in more depth and in a manner that is consistent with Carbondale’s vision of community policing and the values that shape that vision.
“We are resolved to more fully understand what happened and why,” he continued. “While the particulars as to how an evaluation happens, and who will be involved, remain to be determined, please know that an evaluation will occur, and that the town as an organization is fully committed to learning all that we can from the events that took place.”
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