Update below: Boulder has filed a temporary restraining order against Seth Brigham, a local known for irritating officials in public places -- once by stripping to his boxers at a city council meeting (more on that below). A city spokeswoman cites an expert on workplace violence who sees Brigham as a threat. In response, Brigham insists that he is a "committed nonviolent individual" who now feels like "a political prisoner in my own town."
Brigham's most memorable confrontation with the Boulder power structure took place in early 2010, around the time the city was considering a nudity ordinance that would have criminalized the baring of nipples, among other things, in an effort to undermine events such as the Naked Pumpkin Run and the Naked Bike Ride. The language about nipples was subsequently removed from the measure, which was approved.
At a February city council meeting, Brigham stripped to his boxer shorts as a way of ridiculing the nudity ordinance, which he thought would be debated that night -- which it wasn't. Here's video of his big moment:
Brigham was promptly arrested for trespassing and obstructing a peace officer, but he fought the charges and secured the assistance of attorney David Lane. In a letter to the city, Lane argued that actions preventing Brigham from speaking or being heard violated his right to free speech, and he hinted that sans a settlement, Brigham would "file a civil rights case in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado." To curtail such a prospect, Boulder paid Brigham a $10,000 settlement -- after which city council proposed a new set of decorum rules.
How much decorum Brigham has displayed since then is debatable. The restraining order, seen below in its entirety, describes him as having "a long history of disturbing behavior. He has stated publicly that he is bi-polar, that he smokes marijuana and drinks alcohol. He has a pattern of uncontrolled outbursts at public meetings" -- like a November 2010 incident when he allegedly called city councilman George Karakehian a "fucking fascist."
That's hardly the only incident cited in the document, which seeks to prohibit Brigham from coming within fifty yards of the Boulder Municipal Building, at 1777 Broadway, and forbidding him to contact all nine members of the city council, plus the city manager, the city clerk and Patrick von Keyserling, the city's communications manager. Take an April 17 exchange at the annual Sister City dinner, held in the lobby of the municipal building prior to a city council meeting.
The restraining order says Brigham entered the area, asked, "What kind of fascist meeting is this?" and offered up a "Heil Hitler" salute. After Brigham took a seat, von Keyserling reportedly asked him to be respectful, to which he said, "Fuck you, Patrick" and then placed his hand on Karakehian's shoulder. According to the narrative, Karakehian asked to be left alone and brushed Brigham's hand away -- after which words were exchanged between Brigham and another council member,Suzy Ageton, as well as a guest, Daryl Brown, whom the gadfly flipped off.
Brigham's version? He admits to the Hitler salute, but says Karakehian then told him, "Shut the fuck up." To that, Brigham says he offered a "Fuck you" that prompted Karakehian to jab him with two fingers in the chest and Brigham to jokingly ask von Keyserling, "Should you call the police to file an assault charge?" This query was followed by some back and forth with Ageton and a middle finger offered to "some guy I didn't know" who he remembers as telling him to "shut the fuck up," too.
Page down to continue reading about the City of Boulder-Seth Brigham conflict, and to see a copy of the restraining order. Given that this incident took place three weeks ago, Brigham has a hard time believing it's the reason for the restraining order. He suspects the action was motivated by a series of e-mails he sent to officials, as well as the press, making financially related allegations against yet another council member, KC Becker. Afterward, Becker spoke to Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr, the author of the restraining order, to say she was concerned about her safety and that of her family.
That's ridiculous, Brigham maintains. "I don't think anyone is afraid of me physically. It's just that they've been wanting to ban me from city council, because I'm a loudmouth and I talk too much. I might be obstinate, I might be insulting, and I have very little respect for these public officials. But as I've stated over and over, I'm not a threat to anyone, I've never been a threat to anyone, and I've never threatened anyone, either."
City of Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley offers a very different perspective. She says that after Becker's complaints, officials contacted Dr. John Nicoletti, an expert on workplace violence -- he was a primary source in my 2000 feature article "The Wide World of Grief" -- who'd recently made a presentation to the city council on the topic. After Nicoletti examined material about Brigham supplied by the city, Huntley says he concluded "that Mr. Brigham was definitely a threat and the city needed to take action."
Huntley stresses that the restraining order was in no way influenced by Brigham's political charges against Becker or anyone else, and she doesn't see it as an overreaction. "This decision was a very thoughtful and deliberative one," she maintains. "This behavior has been occurring for quite some time now, and we believe we are on solid footing on this.
"What it really comes down to is, no one in the city wants to be in the position of learning too late that we underestimated the consequences of Mr. Brigham's behavior and failed to take the appropriate steps to deal with it."
This isn't the last word on the topic. At a hearing scheduled in Boulder County Court for May 15, a judge will determine if the temporary restraining order should be made permanent. "If the court decides these aren't appropriate steps, we'll of course abide by the court's decision," Huntley says. "But the city is concerned about Mr. Brigham's conduct and feels the steps are appropriate."
For his part, Brigham says he's going to look for an attorney to represent him in the matter pro bono, because he can't afford to hire one. "This is very upsetting to me," he says. "I'm basically going up against the City of Boulder and the city attorney, and all their resources and power, and I consider it serious because of the freedoms I will lose. I mean, I go jogging every day by the municipal building.
"I've been here since 1983, and I've never committed any violence, never threatened anyone. And telling someone to fuck off or sending e-mails about financial conflicts of interest isn't something that should elicit this kind of response."
Update, 1:57 p.m. May 4: Just received an e-mail from Seth Brigham, who reveals that he'll be represented by an attorney at the May 15 hearing. While David Lane, who represented him after his striptease at a February 2010 Boulder City Council meeting, has other commitments on that day, Brigham reveals that a Lane colleague will be handling the case on his behalf.
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Here's the restraining order:
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