Hating Eric Brandt has gotten expensive for Denver-area municipalities. The idiosyncratic activist best known for wielding a sign shaped like a flipped bird emblazoned with the slogan "Fuck Cops" has annoyed local authorities for years — and for one of them, the bill has come due.
Just over a week after the Colorado Supreme Court nixed a Denver bust over jury nullification, Brandt emerged triumphant in federal court yesterday, October 2, when a jury ruled in favor of his complaint (shared below) against the City of Westminster for cuffing him when he was trying to speak during a city council meeting in 2014. And that's not all.
"This makes my third major victory in as many weeks!" Brandt exults in a Facebook post shared at 3:36 a.m. "I won my Supreme Court case on jury nullification. My protection order case for arriving at the courtroom to testify against the protected party has been dismissed. And now this win in federal court!"
The amount of money awarded to Brandt after a three-day trial conducted by Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP associate Andy McNulty — $12,000 — is modest, particularly given that the case has dragged out for half a decade. But attorney David Lane, a partner in the firm, notes that Westminster is on the hook for his firm's legal fees, which he estimates at around $150,000. Additionally, he notes, "They hired outside council, so they probably spent an equal amount," bringing the estimated total for muzzling and cuffing Brandt to more than $300,000.
Over the years, Brandt has used social media to blast what he sees as police corruption and excessive force, as seen in this 2014 video aimed at Westminster:
He planned to make similar remarks during a public-comments section of a Westminster City Council meeting on August 11, 2014. Lane refers to it as "an open-mic segment designed to allow anybody to take five minutes and say whatever they wanted to say to the council. And Eric Brandt wanted to talk about police brutality."
He didn't get far. Soon into Brandt's address, which was captured on audio, Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison interrupted to say that Brandt couldn't continue speaking due to a pending lawsuit against the city. (As Lane told us back in 2014, that wasn't correct: While Brandt had submitted a complaint against Westminster, that shouldn't have precluded council from hearing what he had to say.)
When Brandt tried to continue, Atchison insisted that he wouldn't be allowed to do so and warned that if kept talking, he would be forcibly removed. In response, Brandt began speaking more loudly, albeit without the use of profanity, and became upset when law enforcement hands were laid upon him. He could be heard complaining passionately as he was led away.
In the end, all charges against Brandt related to the arrest were dismissed, Lane says, "and we filed a lawsuit alleging that this was a First Amendment violation." The jury's decision will cost Westminster plenty if officials forgo an appeal — and if they choose to fight on, the meter will keep running.
The judicial winning streak that Brandt is celebrating extends beyond his own activism. Last year, Joshua Candiotti-Wade was awarded $175,000 after a Commerce City officer tased him while trying to take him into custody on another dubious charge; he was protesting with Brandt at the time.
As for Westminster, the city portrays the verdict as a victory of sorts in a statement provided to Westword. It reads:
The City of Westminster is pleased with the outcome of [the] verdict involving a lawsuit brought by Eric Brandt against the City of Westminster and its Mayor. The claim arose out of an incident in which Mayor Herb Atchison cut short Mr. Brandt’s public comment and had him removed from City Council chambers during the Aug. 11, 2014 Westminster Council meeting when Brandt refused to answer questions about the nature of his comments and his disruptive behavior. The Mayor, however, recognized that he made a mistake and invited Mr. Brandt to the next City Council meeting in which he was given additional time to address his issues with City Council. In spite of this, Mr. Brandt filed a lawsuit in US District Court claiming a violation of his First Amendment rights and asking the jury to award him $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The federal jury found in favor of the Mayor on Brandt’s First Amendment retaliation claim, denied his claim for punitive damages, and awarded him $12,000 in compensatory damages on his First Amendment claim, which the City admitted violating. It appears from [the] verdict that the jury recognized that the Mayor made a mistake in stopping Mr. Brandt’s comments, rather than an intentional act to deprive his constitutional rights.
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Brandt can certainly be prickly, but Lane sees him in heroic terms. "You may not agree with his message, but Eric Brandt stands up to the rich and the powerful in our society," the attorney points out. "When they try to shut him down, he will take them to court, and he will prevail. He is vindicating all of our civil rights in the process."
His next date with justice is scheduled for October 16 in Denver County Court. That's when Brandt will be going to trial over a weird incident on a city bus. According to him, "I was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct because the man next to me used the word 'gonads' and the driver got all butt-hurt, stopped the bus during rush hour, and had the police come arrest not the guy that said 'gonads' but rather me!"
Click to read Eric Brandt v. the City of Westminster.
This post has been updated to include a statement from the City of Westminster.