Aurora drops picketing ordinance change targeting September GEO warden protest

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Protesters in the southeast Aurora Tollgate neighborhood Thursday night are targeting the home of Johnny Choate. Choate is the top official of the Aurora GEO ICE prison, a detention center for illegal immigrants. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | An effort to update a targeted picketing ordinance in Aurora has been postponed indefinitely. Council member Francoise Bergan, who introduced the ordinance, said she wouldn’t work any further on it. 

Protesters targeting the Aurora home of a GEO-owned immigrant detention center warden late last summer prompted Bergan to seek limits on such neighborhood picketing.

Pending and previous amendments to the ordinance update led Bergan to drop the piece of legislation, she told the Sentinel, saying it no longer offered the type of protections for neighborhoods she was looking for. 

“I had so many residents that contacted me via email, texting, on Next Door, that I just felt that something had to be addressed,” Bergan previously said of why she was bringing forth the ordinance update. ” … It was very scary I think for a lot of the residents.”

A targeted picketing ordinance has been on the books in Aurora since 2000. But the effort to clarify began after a protest in the Tollgate Crossing neighborhood, in Bergan’s ward, in September. Protestors were demonstrating against Johnny Choate, the warden a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, privately owned by GEO Group Inc., in north Aurora.

Bergan said she felt that any forthcoming amendments would hinder her focus on protecting neighborhoods, but she didn’t cite a specific amendment. 

While the council unanimously agreed to table the measure, some council members, like Juan Marcano, said they believed the proposed ordinance actually strengthened protections for protesters. 

The city council was set to cast a final vote on the ordinance proposal Monday after a tied vote in December. Marsha Berzins was absent from that meeting.