Justice reform advocate Elisabeth Epps slated to begin jail sentence after Wednesday hearing in Aurora

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Elisabeth Epps walks into the Aurora Municipal Courthouse, Sept. 21, for her imposition of sentence hearing relating to an arrest for obstructing a peace officer in 2015.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/The Sentinel

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated when Epps’ hearing is scheduled to begin on Jan. 23. It will begin at 8 a.m.

AURORA | More than three years after Elisabeth Epps was convicted of interfering with police at an Aurora pool party, the criminal justice reform advocate is likely headed to jail. 

Epps, 39, is scheduled for an “imposition of sentence” hearing at 8 a.m. on Jan. 23 in Aurora Municipal Court. She’s expected to be detained following the hearing.

The criminal justice reformer, who works to bail people out of jail with the Colorado Freedom Fund and the Denver Justice Project, will serve a 30 to 90-day sentence for interfering with a police investigation, which stems from an incident in the summer of 2015.

Epps could spend as few as 29 days in jail pending good behavior, as 60 days of her sentence were suspended, according to Julie Heckman, deputy city attorney in Aurora. Sometimes, jail inmates like Epps are released early to make room for violent offenders.

Epps has been credited with serving one day in jail after she was briefly incarcerated following a previous hearing. 

As originally reported by Denverite, Epps’ case has trudged through the appeals process since she was originally charged with three different counts following a tempestuous arrest in September 2015. She was found not guilty of two of the charges, but she was convicted of an “interfering with police” charge during a trial in November 2015.

She appealed her case to the Colorado Supreme Court, which denied her writ earlier this month.

Aurora police arrested Epps at a Labor Day Weekend barbecue, where she tended to a man she said was “clearly having a mental incident.” Multiple officers were called to the scene, and the exchange between Epps and police quickly became combative, Facebook video of the event shows.

Throughout the litigation of her Aurora case, Epps has repeatedly rebuked Presiding Municipal Judge Shawn Day’s tenor from the bench.

“It’s absurd,” Epps said of Day’s sentence before a hearing in September.

While she holds a law degree and has passed the Colorado bar exam, Epps is not licensed to practice law in the state.

Day chastised Epps after handing down his original sentence more than three years ago.

“It’s clear to me not only by what I saw on the video but even her conduct here in court today and for the last two days of trial of her utter contempt for this court — for the rule of law,” Day said, according to courtroom transcripts. “There’s nothing that I can say that will change that. There may be something that I can do, though, with my sentence.”

Epps was charged with contempt of court in another case in 2015. That charge was later dismissed, Colorado Bureau of Investigation records show.

Despite the charges, Epps’ status as a criminal justice reformer has continued to soar. She has continued to bail people out of jail across the metro area, including parents on Mother’s and Father’s Day

Last month, Epps was featured on the cover of 5280 Magazine’s “disruptor” issue. The edition is still on stands across the state.

Epps also delivered the keynote address at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Marade” in Denver on Monday. In her remarks, she needled Day and Aurora’s court system.

“I cry freedom in a very personal way … because I’m just counting down the hours to go turn my body over to this state,” Epps said.

Local officials have come to Epps’ defense, with at least one local lawmaker and one state representative expressing their support for her.

“I will be holding you deep inside my heart,” State Rep. Nikki Jackson (D-Aurora) wrote on a Facebook page supporting Epps on Jan. 21. “I do hope that you will feel the love from those of us who can’t physically be there to show support.”

Aurora City Councilwoman Nicole Johnston last year criticized the sentence handed down in Epps’ case.

More of Epps’ supporters are expected to attend the hearing Wednesday morning.