DENVER–Gov. John Hickenlooper described it Sunday as a “nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from”: the son of a longtime friend is now the chief suspect in the murder of a member of the governor’s cabinet.
Making matters worse is speculation over whether governor had intervened on behalf of Evan Spencer Ebel, the former Colorado prison inmate who died Thursday in a shoot-out with Texas deputies before being named a suspect in the killing of Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements.
“I mean, the whole week . . . I was in a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from, right?” said Hickenlooper on CNN’s State of the Union. “That all these things kept happening to people that I loved. And they didn’t seem to be connected in any way.”
Hickenlooper issued a statement Friday denying any involvement with Ebel’s prison treatment after acknowledging that he is good friends with Jack Ebel, the suspect’s father. Their friendship dates back to when they worked for the same energy company 30 years ago.
Jack Ebel, a Boulder lawyer who has contributed $1,050 to the governor’s campaigns, is also a vigorous opponent of the prolonged use of administrative segregation, or solitary confinement. In 2011, he told a legislative committee that his son’s lengthy stays in administrative segregation were causing him psychological harm.
In a bizarre coincidence, Hickenlooper referred Wednesday to Evan Ebel, although not by name, at a press conference following Clements’ death. The governor also said that he and Clements had discussed administrative-segregation reform.
“When I first interviewed him, we talked about what’s called administrative segregation,” said Hickenlooper. “I had an old friend whose son had gone on the wrong track and had been arrested and been put in administrative segregation for a long period of time, solitary confinement.”
Hickenlooper had no idea at the time that Evan Ebel may have been involved in Clements’ murder. In a testy interview with KUSA-TV, the governor insisted Friday that he had never discussed Ebel’s situation with Clements.
“I never talked to anyone, I never specifically named him to anyone,” Hickenlooper said in the taped interview. “A, Jack Ebel would never ask me; B, I would never do it . . . Tom Clements had never heard of Evan Ebel, never knew he existed or knew that I knew someone named Evan Ebel.”
Asked by reporter Jace Larson whether he could “assure Coloradans” that he played no role despite receiving campaign donations from Jack Ebel, Hickenlooper exploded and threatened to cut off access to the top-rated NBC-TV affiliate.
“What a stupid question. Why would you even ask that question? I just got through telling you that, A, I wouldn’t do it, I told you I didn’t do it,” said Hickenlooper. “So now you’re asking me that question again? That’s your choice, but you lose your ability to have access when you treat people like that.”
Larson said afterward, “I can tell you it is not often we have an elected official threaten our access like that, especially on camera.”
KUSA-TV later issued a statement defending its reporter’s decision to pursue the line of questioning.
“We are all sorry the governor lost his friend [Clements]. It is obvious it has been a difficult week for him and his staff,” said the statement. “However, we strongly believe that it is our job to ask tough questions of our elected officials without fear of losing the ability to ask these hard questions on behalf of the public.”
Evan Ebel, 28, was released in January after receiving an eight-year sentence for second-degree assault and another six years for assaulting a prison guard. He was killed in Montague County, Texas, after shooting and wounding a sheriff’s deputy, then leading authorities on a high-speed chase before crashing into an 18-wheeler.
Ebel exited the burning vehicle and exchanged gunfire with deputies before being shot. He is also suspected in the murder earlier this month of Nathan Leon of Denver, who was gunned down and killed while delivering a pizza for Domino’s.
Ebel has been linked to a prison white-supremacist group called 211 Crew. Hickenlooper said Sunday that his friend’s son exhibited a “bad streak” from an early age.
“From the beginning, his son just seemed to have this bad streak, this streak of cruelty and anger,” said Hickenlooper. “They [his parents] did everything they could. They worked with Evan again and again, but to no avail. He had a bad, bad streak.”