Skateboarding shouldn't be a crime -- but it is in certain parts of Denver. And during my recent run-in with the Denver Police Department after I was caught skateboarding on the 16th Street Mall, I learned that not only do some cops hate skateboarding, they also hate being questioned about their excessive flex of authority.
Here's my firsthand account of being arrested for my choice of transportation -- after taking it for a ride in a place I knew it wasn't allowed.
At 9:35 p.m. on Wednesday, December 12 (12/12/12 was not as lucky for me as it apparently was for others), I decided to skateboard on the sidewalk between Lawrence and Larimer streets along the 16th Street Mall. Fully aware of the rule forbidding skateboarding and bicycling along the center of the mall, I pushed up the hill on the sidewalk where there were very few pedestrians -- but there was a horse-drawn carriage blocking the path.
Was I too loud? Maybe the clacking of my wheels rolling on concrete was disturbing. Those pesky wheels are so much harder to tolerate than a giant, overpriced horse-drawn carriage in the middle of the walkway.
In any case, I hadn't gone far when Officer Lisa C. Aitken-Nelson pulled her motorcycle in front of me in the 1100 block of 16th Street and demanded my identification. Backing her was Officer R. Bloodworth. They said they'd been ordering me to stop; I said I hadn't heard them.
I handed my wallet to the officers and told them I was a freelance journalist. They were not impressed, and demanded that I sit down at the telephone pole on the corner. Instead, I leaned against it, commenting that "I'm perfectly fine standing."
When Bloodworth got a little heated that I would not sit, I finally did. They then asked me to cross my feet; I crossed my legs. They didn't like this, either. So I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone to record the incident, and before I could even open the application, I was on my back in handcuffs, being arrested for interference (violation 38-31(a)(b).
I didn't think I should have to stand for that. But then, I couldn't stand at all, because I was on the ground in handcuffs between what was now four police officers.
Fortunately, a friend who'd been riding his bicycle down the bus lane had spotted the activity, and he came over. I asked him to record the incident, and he quickly learned that the police are not fans of civilian videographers -- and they shouldn't be, not when they are pulling ridiculous stunts like this.
I respectfully asked for every officer's business card, badge number, district and/or precinct. Officer Bloodworth told me that they weren't part of a precinct, and that I, a journalist, should know this. This is when they all started laughing.
We argued for about twenty minutes, with them repeatedly telling me how much I don't know about what they do, how I am just another skateboarder, and how they have nothing to hide. I brought up cases in which Denver police officers have been bullies (the Denver Diner incident, the Michael DeHerrera beating), and mentioned how they can generally bend the law in their favor when they see fit. They countered that with the assertion that skateboarding is "the number-one violation and complaint on 16th Street Mall."
Finally, a sergeant came up and signed off on my ticket without even reading it. At no point was I read my rights, and I was never even told what was written on the ticket. Bloodworth said that he didn't have to show it to me, and that if I wanted to know that bad, the judge would read it to me in court.
After that, I was hauled off to the new Denver jail. The city put a lot of money into this place, and it was furnished like a fancy new bus stop -- except that the bathroom had a peephole looking into it. The chairs are ergonomically designed so that sleeping in them guarantees a crooked neck; if you put your feet on these coveted seats, you got yelled at. You couldn't sleep on the floor, either. One very unhappy sheriff's deputy wouldn't even let me use the antibacterial hand sanitizer.
I called my friend on the phone provided, but because it's the 21st century and no one uses land lines anymore, I couldn't connect with a collect call. So instead I just left a 1.5-second message in the "please clearly state your name now" window. I did this roughly ten times, explaining my situation in bits and pieces.
After posing for what might be the best photo of me since middle school -- and one with which the deputy was not pleased (I held that expression for at least thirty seconds while he waited for me to relax -- which I didn't), I sat and watched Zorro on the flat-screen televisions in the intake area. The television facing the intake deputies was showing reruns of Cops, which seemed beautifully ironic.
At around 3:30 a.m., another detainee and I were finally escorted to our cell, C-115, in C Block. This is where I would spend some real hard time...almost ten hours' worth.
That gave me plenty of time to chat with my cellmate, Brandon. He inquired what I was in for, then quieted down as I made my bed with two sheets and a single blanket that seemed better suited for a museum display that would show people what General Jeffrey Amherst gave to the American Indians at Fort Pitt. Seriously, the blanket smelled like mothballs and was as ragged as an old sweater. I finally fell asleep, but was soon awakened by the sound of doors unlocking: Chow time.
After that, I fell back asleep -- but was soon awakened by the call for 8 a.m. court. That was the time listed on my paperwork, but apparently that note didn't make it to the sheriff overseeing C-Block. Instead, I had to wait two more hours until 10 a.m. court. While I waited, I walked around my cell singing what parts I could remember from Les Miserables -- mostly "Look Down" and "Stars" -- and tried to find a connection to "prisoner 24601." The closest thing I had was my booking number, 126442, so I changed the lyrics and commenced singing my sorrows through the eyes of Victor Hugo's famous characters.
Finally I was called to the 10 a.m. court along with a large group of people I perceived to be real criminals. Shirts tucked, we walked down to the observation room, where we would be judged through thick panes of glass by family and friends as well as Judge James Breese. (It was here that I realized how important my vote is during the election of judges.)
After a few females who were arrested for solicitation and a few guys who were charged with open containers in public, domestic violence and more people-on-people crimes, I was called to the microphone.
"For the charges of skateboarding on the 16th Street Mall and interference with police business, how do you plead?" Judge Breese asked.
"Guilty, Your Honor." I replied.
"Are you making this decision out of your own free will, with a clear mind, and not on any medications or drugs?"
I really wanted to say "I wish!" But instead, I just responded "Yes, Your Honor."
"Is there anything you would like to say in your defense?" he asked.
You bet. As I explained the background around the interference charge, the judge read the first few lines of notes outlining how I had defied the police officers' requests, and that I was not following their orders. Then the judge said those magic words: "Time served."
I was instructed to leave the room, given a lunch, and sent back to my cell to eat it. What could be in the paper bag? I was thinking a sandwich of sorts, but the bread turned out to be a cross between sweaty gym socks and the cheapest possible flour-yeast-water concoction; between the slices was a piece of pink, processed indigestion. I took two bites and trashed the rest, then slugged the 3.5 ounces of milk provided -- in one gulp.
After that, we finally got communal time -- which was good, because I was bored of doing pushups and situps and singing my altered lyrics to Les Miserables. Instead, I shot some hoops with a young lad named Brandon, who had a mean sky hook. I also played chess with a guy named Dave, and then with Brandon. I won both games, but both opponents put up a good fight. We were ordered back to our cells around 1:20 p.m. I took a nap until I was called -- time to go.
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At this point, it was four hours after the judge had uttered those precious words, "time served."
What a waste of time.
From our archives: "You'll be stir-crazy after spending the night in Denver's new jail."