December 9, 2023
Serving as a corrections officer in a juvenile detention center has to be a tough job. You need to keep the peace between people who have been put there due to committing a wide variety of crimes, some quite violent. However, you also have to constantly remind yourself that your charges are still kids and tailor your responses accordingly.
Dean Hawkinson is learning this lesson the hard way. In September, Hawkinson, a longtime officer at the Spring Creek Youth Services Center, allegedly grabbed the arm and squeezed the neck of a juvenile inmate. The inmate was treated and cleared at a medical facility the same day, and is no longer an inmate at Spring Creek.
Hawkinson’s story is not the first involving the Spring Creek Youth Services Center. Two days after Hawkinson allegedly assaulted an inmate, the director of the center’s Division of Youth Corrections stepped down from his position because a whistleblower came forward and spoke about multiple assaults and incidents of child abuse at the facility.
In February, Hawkinson was arrested and surrendered to the police. He is currently on administrative leave, and Spring Creek has released statements condemning the actions of Hawkinson. The longtime officer has yet to be charged, but may end up facing criminal charges of assault and child abuse. Moreover, due to the way in which Hawkinson allegedly assaulted the inmate, he may face relatively new, more serious charges involving strangulation.
Colorado Takes Strangulation Very Seriously
As mentioned earlier, Hawkinson allegedly squeezed the neck of the inmate. If prosecutors decide to argue that Hawkinson was attempting to strangle the inmate, he could face assault by strangulation charges.
This type of crime was only created this past June, when the governor signed a bill defining the act and the associated charges. In Colorado, strangulation involves:
- Intentionally causing serious bodily injury through strangulation as a means of committing the crime of first degree assault
- Intentionally causing bodily injury through strangulation as a means of committing second degree assault
Even if the charge is second degree assault, assault by strangulation makes this charge an “extraordinary risk crime” and increases the maximum presumptive sentence that can be given if someone is found guilty. Other extraordinary risk crimes in Colorado include assault of a peace officer, stalking, or aggravated robbery.
The Penalties for Assault Charges in Colorado
There are three levels of assault charges in our state. Third degree assault is a misdemeanor, and does not warrant more than a year behind bars. Second degree assault is a class 4 felony, and upon conviction individuals may face 2-6 years behind bars (or 2-8 years, if they are charged with an “extraordinary risk crime” like assault by strangulation). First degree assault is a class 3 felony, and upon conviction, individuals may face 4-12 years in prison (or 4-16 years, if the crime is an “extraordinary risk crime”).
The bottom line is that if Hawkinson is convicted, he may face quite a few years behind bars. However, Hawkinson is far away from sentencing. Not only is it possible that he won’t be convicted, at this point he hasn’t even been charged with assault. Depending on the specific details and evidence in his case, Hawkinson’s attorney may be able to help him in a number of ways, including possibly preventing him from ever being charged.
If and when he is, there are a number of defense strategies that his lawyer might consider using, such as the fact that Spring Creek seems to have had a systemic culture of violence in terms of how corrections officers interacted with inmates.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.