Axios Denver

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Welcome, Monday. Thanks for meeting us back here.

  • ICYMI: We took a deep look at the local real estate market in a special edition Saturday. Catch up quick.

🧤 Today's weather: Snow and breezy before 1pm with highs near 41°. An inch of accumulation is possible.

Situational awareness: Denver public health officials have found the “stealth Omicron” variant BA.2 in COVID-19 tests and wastewater samples, but said they aren't concerned about a surge in cases given current immunity levels.

Today's newsletter is 914 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Trial highlights independent monitor's key role

Illustration of a cracked magnifying glass over a police badge.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

An exhaustive report on the racial justice protests in 2020 — and newly released documents that detail the Denver Police Department’s “total leadership failure” — are underscoring the importance of the city’s Office of the Independent Monitor.

  • The claims from top law enforcement officials about the agency’s breakdown were revealed in confidential memos written by the office’s two directors and first reported by Axios Denver. The documents drew from interviews the civilian oversight agency conducted for its review of the city’s response to the demonstrations.

Why it matters: The watchdog office has sat vacant for more than a year after former independent monitor Nick Mitchell resigned at the start of 2021 to take a job overseeing reform of Los Angeles County jails.

Driving the news: The Citizen Oversight Board earlier this month tossed out the three finalists in the running to take Mitchell's seat and decided to reopen the search.

  • "None were quite the right fit" nor had the "stakeholder consensus," the group wrote in a statement.
  • The board consists of nine appointed community members who oversee how effectively the monitor does the job. Denver's members are picked by the mayor and city council.

The big picture: Mitchell’s scathing report detailing Denver police officers’ use of force during the George Floyd protests is the foundation in the federal civil rights lawsuit against the city that is now entering its final week at trial.

Of note: The search for Mitchell’s replacement marks the first time that the Citizen Oversight Board — not Denver’s mayor — has the power to choose who sits in the seat, thanks to a measure approved by Denver voters this past November.

What's next

2. Forecast shows troubling signs of drought

Data: NOAA; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The drought forecast for the next six months doesn't look good for Colorado.

Driving the news: In an alarming new outlook, the National Weather Service says that drought conditions are likely to persist and even expand across the West this spring, Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.

  • The agency's initial summer forecast predicts above average temperatures from June through August for all of Colorado, with even greater than normal highs for the southwest half of the state.

The big picture: The official spring outlook released Thursday calls for "prolonged, persistent drought" in the West yet again.

Zoom in: Colorado's snowpack sits at 100% of median levels across most of the state after the latest series of winter storms.

What to watch

3. State withheld mental health report

A sign outside Grand Junction-based Mind Springs Health. Photo: Dean Humphrey, COLab

A sign outside Grand Junction-based Mind Springs Health. Photo: Dean Humphrey, COLab

A report detailing a pattern of "severe, life-threatening" errors at a Western Slope mental health center was withheld from the public's view and goes unmentioned on a state transparency website.

What's happening: Grand Junction-based Mind Springs Health gave dozens of outpatient clients high doses of the tranquilizer benzodiazepine over the course of a year, threatening the lives of nearly half of them.

  • Two died.

Why it matters: The findings are now being made public as part of an investigation by the Colorado News Collaborative and the Colorado Springs Gazette.

  • The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing never warned the public, even after an investigation into a whistleblower's complaint, and didn't update the Mind Springs website — where the public is supposed to have access to safety information.
  • The Polis administration also fought the public release of a letter detailing the findings for weeks and still won't divulge additional documents despite pledges of transparency.

The big picture: Mind Spring’s CEO Sharon Raggio and two top executives resigned in recent months as the news collaborative unearthed significant failures to provide care for vulnerable patients, despite receiving tens of millions in state and federal tax dollars.

Go deeper

4. Nuggets: Boulder shooting's impacts

A memorial service for Boulder Police officer Eric Talley, who was killed in a shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder on March 22, 2021. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

A memorial service for Boulder Police officer Eric Talley, who was killed in a shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder on March 22, 2021. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

🚨 The Boulder Police Department and emergency dispatch lost at least three dozen employees in the last year since the deadly shooting at the King Soopers grocery store with more than half citing related trauma as the reason. (CPR)

📊 COVID-19 vaccine rates for students vary widely across the state, according to a new public database. Boulder High School is 82% vaccinated compared to 32% at Palisade High School in Mesa County. (Chalkbeat)

🚩 Gino Campana, a GOP Senate candidate, was nearly arrested for obstruction after he argued with police who requested he shut down a loud high school graduation party at his house. (AP)

Trevor Story signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Boston Red Sox, ending his tenure with the Colorado Rockies. (ESPN)

5. A new Olympic sport perfect for Colorado

A skier competes in a skimo race in Norway. Photo: Kai-Otto Melau/Getty Images

A skier competes in a skimo race in Norway. Photo: Kai-Otto Melau/Getty Images

The next Winter Olympics will feature a sport dominated by Colorado athletes.

Ski mountaineering will join the 2026 Games in Cortina, Italy. Nine of the 10 men and women on the national teams hail from Colorado.

  • "Colorado and Utah are really the hotbeds," says Ram Mikulas, the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association president, who lives in Summit County.
  • The next sanctioned race in the U.S. is April 3 at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

State of play: The niche sport is increasing in popularity with explosive growth in backcountry skiing in recent years.

How it works: In skimo, competitors ascend the mountain with skins on the bottom of their skis for grip. They take them off to zip down, and repeat, completing multiple routes.

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6. 🐾 1 photo to go

A selfie taken right before Alayna, Rocco (center), and her fiancé Dave, headed home to Denver from Victoria, Texas. Ralfie (lower left) is containing his "excitement" about this new development. Photo: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

Hey friends, it's Alayna — and I'd like you to meet Rocco.

  • We adopted this goofball with a heart of gold over the weekend and are excited to shape him into his best doggie-self over years to come.

❤️ Of note: There are many animals in our area in need of new homes. Consider adopting a pet from a local shelter, including the Denver Animal Shelter, Dumb Friends League or MaxFund Animal Adoption Center.

Our picks:

🏀 John is celebrating after watching this amazing March Madness win.

🐕 Alayna is grateful for all your dog name suggestions and would love any recs you have on puppy schools. (This boy is boisterous!)

Follow us on Twitter @ByJohnFrank and @alaynaEalvarez