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Springs men, accused of trespassing, question cops tactics

click to enlarge Brian Hildenbrandt, left, and Curt Curtis, are being prosecuted for allegedly breaching a security zone around The Broadmoor hotel during a military summit last October. - TERJE LANGELAND
  • Terje Langeland
  • Brian Hildenbrandt, left, and Curt Curtis, are being prosecuted for allegedly breaching a security zone around The Broadmoor hotel during a military summit last October.

Gaunt, young and black-haired, and sporting baggy black pants, a chain and a T-shirt bearing the name of the punk band Social Distortion, Patrick McElderry could easily have passed for one of the dozens of peace activists who rallied outside a military summit at The Broadmoor hotel last October.

But McElderry wasn't there to shout anti-war slogans at the 26 defense ministers who had gathered inside for the meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

He was on assignment as an undercover Colorado Springs police officer.

More than a year after the public learned that Springs police have routinely spied on political activists, information that has surfaced through a municipal court case suggests that local cops continue to monitor protest groups, working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and employing tactics that include posing as protestors.

According to two men charged with trespassing into a "security zone" around The Broadmoor during the summit last Oct. 8-9, McElderry was not only in disguise. He and agents from the FBI also questioned the two about their political affiliations following their arrest.

The two, local residents Brian Hildenbrandt and Curt Curtis, deny having trespassed. And though they say they don't belong to any activist groups, they're concerned about the political overtones of their arrest.

"My constitutional rights have been completely violated," Hildenbrandt said in an interview.

The edge of a roadblock

Hildenbrandt, a geotechnical engineer, and Curtis, his technician, were out doing business on Oct. 8 when they came across barriers marking the "security zone" that police had established for the NATO summit, sealing off entire neighborhoods around The Broadmoor.

Curious about what was going on, Hildenbrandt and Curtis parked their truck and began walking along the barriers. What happened next is in dispute; city prosecutors maintain that the two men crossed the barriers, while Hildenbrandt and Curtis say they merely stopped and stood at the edge of a roadblock.

Either way, within seconds, a military police officer ordered Hildenbrandt and Curtis to move away. The two say they obeyed, but that the military police officer nonetheless called Colorado Springs police officers, who arrested Hildenbrandt and Curtis.

While the two were being detained, McElderry, wearing his punk outfit, identified himself as a police officer and began asking whether they belonged to any activist groups.

"He starts rattling off names of leaders of protest groups, and I don't know any of these people," Curtis recalled.

Two FBI agents, one of whom identified himself as Andrew Stearns of the bureau's Colorado Springs office, participated in the questioning.

Hildenbrandt and Curtis were eventually cited for trespassing and released. They have pleaded innocent and are scheduled to go on trial in municipal court Feb. 20.

Infiltrating activist groups

As revealed by the Independent in 2002, Colorado Springs and Denver police have collected information on political activists in the Springs for years. Occasionally, police have infiltrated activist groups and passed information about them to the FBI.

Asked about McElderry's activities during the NATO summit, Colorado Springs police refused, through a spokesman, to comment.

An FBI spokeswoman said Agent Stearns questioned Hildenbrandt and Curtis merely to determine whether they represented a threat.

"He had a responsibility to ensure that this act of trespass was nothing more than an act of trespass -- that these persons were not intending to, say, get access to the grounds to plant a bomb or something," said the spokeswoman, Ann Atanasio.

Hildenbrandt and Curtis, meanwhile, say it troubles them that police can turn public areas into "security zones," arrest people who get too close, and question them about their beliefs.

"To me, a 'secured area' is a martial-law zone," Hildenbrandt said. "We're getting our rights just trampled on."

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