A controversial "security zone," set up by Colorado Springs police during a military summit at The Broadmoor hotel last fall, is now being challenged on two fronts.
Brian Hildenbrandt, one of two men who were arrested for allegedly entering the sealed-off area during an Oct. 8-9 gathering of defense ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, sued the City of Colorado Springs last week, claiming his civil liberties were infringed upon.
"It's a violation of our constitutional rights, what happened that day," Hildenbrandt said in an interview.
In a separate case, the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has already sued the city on behalf of a group of peace protesters who were denied entry into the area.
The ACLU is not representing Hildenbrandt, a geotechnical engineer who says he doesn't belong to any activist groups and was not in the area to protest.
Checking it out
Citing security concerns, police closed off an area extending two blocks in all directions from The Broadmoor during the NATO summit, forcing neighborhood residents to drive through checkpoints and show identification.
Hildenbrandt says he and his employee, Curt Curtis, were driving through the area on Oct. 8 when they saw the concrete barriers and decided to find out what was going on. They parked their truck, got out and began walking along the barriers.
The two men claim they were standing at the edge of a barrier when a military police officer threatened them with arrest. The two started walking away but were arrested shortly after by Springs police.
The city attorney's office, meanwhile, maintains the two men crossed the barriers.
"They're claiming that they never went into the prohibited area, and we dispute that," said Tom Marrese, a lawyer for the city. "The lawsuit makes it sound like they never went into the restricted area and were just arrested for no reason, and that's false."
While in custody, Curtis and Hildenbrandt were interrogated by FBI agents and by an undercover police officer masquerading as a peace protester. Police also searched their truck.
The two were cited with trespassing. However, after months of preparations and court appearances, city prosecutors dropped the charges just as the case was set to go to trial.
Hildenbrandt says he's now suing the city because police violated his civil liberties including the First Amendment right to peaceful assembly and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. He also says the city's prosecution of him and Curtis was an effort to harass them.
Hildenbrandt's lawsuit also challenges the legality of the "security zone" itself. While police had the right to protect the NATO summit, sealing off such a large public area around The Broadmoor was a draconian measure that should not be repeated, Hildenbrandt argues.
"I think it sets a bad precedent for future 'security zones' in the city," he said.
Hildenbrandt is asking for a jury trial and damages to cover his attorney's fees from the current suit as well as the city's past effort to prosecute him. He said Curtis decided not to join the lawsuit for financial reasons.
The lawsuit is similar to another one filed in March by the ACLU on behalf of members of Citizens for Peace in Space, a local peace group. In the still-pending suit, members of the group claim police violated their First Amendment rights by blocking them from demonstrating on a public sidewalk outside The Broadmoor during the summit.
Like Hildenbrandt, the ACLU argues the "security zone" was an unreasonable measure.
Marrese, however, says the zone was prudent: "We believe that the size of the security area was reasonable, considering the type of threats that exist today."
-- Terje Langeland