Steamboat case unveils racial lessons
February 29, 2008
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS Six weeks after a jury found 15-year-old Steamboat student Randall Nelson not guilty of charges stemming from a racially charged incident that left another boy with a broken jaw, legal and financial ramifications remain for the family.During Randall Nelsons years at Steamboat Springs Middle School, the other boy, who is white, taunted and threatened Randall because of his race.Administrators depicted the incident in February 2007 as a wake-up call about harassment in local schools, which prompted a revamp in policies for the Steamboat Springs School District where 91.7 percent of students are white, according to enrollment figures for the 2007-08 school year.Brad Nelson said hes proud that his sons harassment shed light on racial intolerance, but that lesson came with a heavy price. He said the legal bills may force the family to move from Steamboat, where they have lived for more than 10 years.Thats still definitely in the cards, no doubt, he said. My wife has been on a medical leave of absence for seven to eight months because of the stress of this, and one income in Steamboat doesnt quite make it. Due to financial reasons, we may have to jump ship here, unfortunately.In defending his son, now a freshman at Steamboat Springs High School, Brad Nelson learned a tough lesson: good legal defense doesnt come cheap.If you want the best, you pay for the best, said Brad Nelson, who faces more than $40,000 in legal fees and other expenses related to his sons defense.The legal bill to the familys Steamboat Springs attorney, Kris Hammond, is about $25,000.Im sure I put in more than 100 hours of work into the defense, Hammond said. With having an expert witness, who they had to drive up to Steamboat twice from Denver, having to pay for his expenses and transportation, and also having hired an investigator to work on the case, its possible they accumulated around an additional $15,000.Hammonds work on the case included interviewing witnesses, finding expert testimony, and attending numerous pre-trial hearings, including the prosecutions attempt to block the Nelsons expert witness, Dr. Wilbert Miles, a psychologist who discussed racial and societal issues.He helped explain that the constant use of the N word by the victim created in Randalls mind a threat, Hammond said. There is no other word like it in the English language. It conveys a threat without coming out and saying it. … There is no nice way for a white person to say that to a black person, regardless what the meaning is.Some Steamboat residents are determined to keep the Nelsons from leaving. On Sunday, a social mixer and tennis exhibition will be held at the Tennis Center of Steamboat Springs to benefit the Randall Nelson Defense Fund.Its almost regrettable that we are going to throw him back in the spotlight again, but at the same time, Brad said (Randall) understands he has a greater statement to make now, said Tennis Center director Jim Swiggart, who helped organize the fundraiser.Hammonds legal work on the case may be over neither he nor the Nelsons expect the victims family, which has moved out of the area, to file a civil case but the case is still making waves in the legal community.Hammond and Miles spoke to University of Colorado Law School students this week about how black youths are treated in the American judicial system.
What: Tennis exhibition benefiting the Randall Nelson Defense FundWhen: Tennis mixer from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday; exhibition match from 5 to 6 p.m.Where: The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs on Pine Grove Road Cost: $25 minimum donationContact: Register at the Tennis Center Pro Shop or call (970) 879-8400To donateTo help the Nelson family with their legal bills, make a non-tax deductible check to the “Randall Nelson Defense Fund” at Wells Fargo Bank, P.O. Box 774888, Steamboat Springs, CO, 80477-4888