Out of Court and Back on the Court: Denver and "Mayor of Pickleball" Reach Deal

The Denver District Attorney’s Office just announced that it has dropped the criminal charges against Arslan Guney, the 71-year-old man known as "the Mayor of Pickleball" who got in a pickle when he drew one-by-one-inch squares on the basketball court at the Central Park Recreation Center in order to make it easier for people to set up temporary pickleball courts.

Guney volunteered at the rec center, teaching others to play pickleball, and he redrew previous markings made by staffers so that the courts could do double duty. He thought he was helping, but he used a permanent marker. According to the warrant later issued for Guney's arrest, when employees tried to remove the marks, the cleaning product ended up removing the finish on the floor, too, causing $9,344.58 in damage.

After Denver Parks and Recreation reported the incident, Guney was charged with criminal mischief, a felony; he turned himself in to the Denver Police Department on March 24.

According to Guney’s attorney, Hollynd Hoskins, the fact that an arrest warrant on a felony charge with no bond was issued for her client was essentially “a pickleball shakedown," she says. “He had to be booked into the Denver County Jail. He had to have a mug photo. His wife had to sit outside not knowing what was going to happen or when he was going to get out.”

Guney was released on a personal recognizance bond later that day, but in the meantime, the experience was "pure hell," says his wife, Linda.

After a public uproar over his treatment, Guney and Parks and Recreation — which had also revoked Guney's Parks and Rec membership indefinitely, banning him from all facilities and anywhere the department was hosting a program — went into mediation.

On May 10, Guney and the department reached a settlement agreement: Guney will pay half the damages, $4,672.29, and issue an apology; in exchange, the department recommended to the DA's Office that the charges be dropped and also agreed to reinstate Guney’s membership to all Parks and Recreation facilities and programs. Guney's record will be sealed, clearing his good name.

“Arslan has been so gracious and forgiving,” Hoskins says. “The fact that Denver Parks and Rec and the City of Denver would not sit down and talk to Arslan to find out what happened…this is a sad day for the City of Denver and for Denver Parks and Rec. They really should be ashamed of themselves for escalating this to a felony.” All it should have taken to solve the situation was a conversation, she suggests — rather than court, jail and district attorney-ordered mediation.

The exact details of that mediation are confidential, but Hoskins shared estimates on floor costs with the District Attorney's Office, so those are public. According to Hoskins, Craft Wood Floors, a company that regularly surfaces gym floors, said it could erase the marks with magic eraser at a nominal cost and agreed to donate a new floor, complete with pickleball stripes, to the department.

Guney says he can't comment on whether pickleball stripes will be added to the floor at the Central Park Recreation Center.

Hoskins has set up a GoFundMe to help Guney cover the costs of the settlement. Guney is also partnering with pickleball pros Simone Jardim and Gizmo to donate any extra funds raised to their nonprofit foundations that help teach the game to underserved communities.

Though it’s only been two months since the March 15 incident that landed Guney in such trouble, he says it feels like a year.  Support from the pickleball community helped him make it through: In court on May 11, when the deal was announced, friends and supporters filled multiple rows. “I can see that our neighbors were so strong and so tied together. I was really lucky to have so many supporters,” he says.

“We're all human beings,” Guney continues.  “We make mistakes, and when we make a mistake, we have to pay for it some way, and I'm going to continue to volunteer for my community.” He's looking forward to teaching more people to play pickleball — and to taking off the suit he wore to court, which is usually reserved for weddings and funerals.

Then it's off to Gates Tennis Center for a round of pickleball with his wife, his friends and Hoskins, whom he calls his angel.

“Today is the greatest day for us,” Guney concludes.