In the ever-growing list of stories of individual liberties being violated in the name of safety, this is one of the worst. A Colorado man was harassed and handcuffed by police at Donelson Park in Brighton, Colo., on Sunday. Luckily, a former Brighton city councilman, Kirby Wallin, saw and recorded the arrest. He described it on video saying, “He’s being taken by the Brighton police for playing softball with his daughter in an empty park.”
The man, 33-year-old Matt Mooney, is a former state patrol officer. Local FOX31 reported that Mooney refused to give his identification to police officers who approached him and demanded it. Knowing he wasn’t breaking any laws, Mooney was under no legal obligation to interact with the officers. He told Fox his daughter was scared. “She’s like, ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to get arrested.’ At this point I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way they’re going to arrest me, this is insane.’ I’m telling her, ‘Don’t worry, Daddy’s not going to get arrested. I’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it,’ and then they arrest me.”
But handcuff him and stuff him in the back of a police car they did, while the officers radioed in to their supervisor to find out what to do with the man they decided wasn’t “socially distancing” properly. Mooney said the interaction with the police was the only violation of the social distancing guidelines that he had been involved in. “During the contact, none of the officers had masks on, none of them had gloves on, and they’re in my face handcuffing me, they’re touching me,” he said.
That’s not proper social distancing, officers.
Mooney asked for an apology for being arrested while playing with his kid. The Brighton Police Department issued a lengthy apology on Tuesday:
Today, Acting City Manager Marv Falconburg reached out to Brighton resident Matt Mooney by telephone in an effort to arrange a meeting in person with Falconburg and Brighton Police Commander Frank Acosta to offer an apology by Brighton Police Department in person. Falconburg conveyed an apology, however, Mr. Mooney has declined the offer for an in person meeting.
On Sunday, at about 4:30 p.m., officers were dispatched to respond to a complaint from a concerned citizen about a large group of people gathering at Donelson Park. Upon arrival, officers encountered a group of about 12-15 people who appeared to be playing softball. Although the officers asked them to disperse due to the park being closed, which was incorrect, disbursement was needed due to the state’s public health order regarding group gathering.
The Brighton Police Department is currently conducting an internal investigation into what led to officers detaining Mr. Mooney while responding to the complaint. While the investigation sorts through the different versions of what took place by witnesses who were at the park, it is evident there was an overreach by our police officers.
As officers are required to interpret several layers of state public health orders and local closures as they change, there may have been a misunderstanding about the park closure. It is imperative that we improve communication with our front line first responders so they are up to date on the latest rules in place regarding COVID-19 for addressing public safety.
This is an opportunity for us to come together and do better for the community. We are deeply sorry for the events that took place on Sunday and the impact on Mr. Mooney, his family, and the community.
Brighton Police did the right thing by apologizing quickly. One of the main problems with the new “guidelines” is that they are not laws and enforcement is highly questionable. If the governor issues an executive order to fine people for standing too close to one another, that order can be challenged and most likely overturned on the basis that it’s unconstitutional.
It’s a much better approach for the government to acknowledge that the steps we are all taking to mitigate the coronavirus are voluntary. They only have our cooperation as long as they stay reasonable. The minute the government starts trampling on the rights of people to get outside and get fresh air is the minute the citizens start suing and winning. Brighton may have saved itself from a very expensive lawsuit. Let’s hope that other law enforcement agencies take this event as a warning that they may not overstep their bounds without consequence. We have rights and they are not negotiable, even during a pandemic.
Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo,” and host of The Fringe podcast. Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter