Earlier this month, the Boulder City Council considered an ordinance that would have criminalized the displaying of nipples -- at least those belonging to a woman -- by way of trying to undermine events such as the Naked Pumpkin Run and Naked Bike Ride. In the end, the council kept the proposal alive, but stripped out the nipple language.
That should have been good news for Seth Brigham, a local gadfly who last night decided to comment to the council wearing only his boxer shorts as a way of ridiculing the ordinance -- which he thought would be debated again but wasn't. Unfortunately for him, however, he wound up being arrested anyhow -- for trespassing and obstructing a peace officer. And he's pissed, especially since he told plenty of people in advance what he'd been doing and was assured he wasn't breaking any laws.
"I've said way more critical things about the council than I did last night," he says. "So why was I suddenly forbidden from speaking -- other than the fact that I had a bare chest?"
Brigham, who twice ran unsuccessfully for the council ("I never believed I could win, but there were issues I wanted to talk about," he says), is a frequent presence at these sessions.
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"I go before council, I'd say, every third meeting," he points out, "and I've been doing it for years. I began going when they shut down public access TV several years ago, basically because they couldn't control the content. I was a producer there, and I was forced to go to city council to demand my public-access TV back. But they didn't bring it back. So now, I use the three minutes of public access every citizen gets at the meetings to speak before the council on issues that I'm concerned about -- sometimes ethical behavior of council members, sometimes traffic mitigation, sometimes because I think people should shovel their walks..."
For the February 2 meeting when the nudity ordinance was first discussed, Brigham planned to speak against the notion while clad in his boxers -- but, he concedes, "I wimped out." Instead of abandoning the idea, however, he moved forward, and let as many people as possible know about it in advance.
"I even called the police department and asked their opinion," he notes. "I didn't get a call from Chief [Mark] Beckner, but I talked to a sergeant who said that as far as he could tell, there wouldn't be anything wrong with me standing there in my briefs. He said the only problem would be if I disrupted the assembly, and I had no intention of doing that."
In addition, he previewed his performance to the Boulder Daily Camera, which dutifully reported in an article also featured in the Colorado Daily that Brigham has a history of mental problems -- an assertion he confirms, but with a caveat.
"I'm bipolar, and I've experienced different ranges of emotion and thought," he acknowledges. "But I was completely in my right frame of mind last night. I premeditated everything and informed everyone. I did it in a very reasonable and rational manner. So to continue to use these mental health issues in the newspaper to make me sound crazy is unfair."
Also hipped to the show to come were council members -- which explains why Deputy City Clerk Sandy North sat down with Brigham prior to the meeting.
"She said, 'Seth, we all know what you're planning, and we just don't think you should do it,'" he recalls. "And I said, 'I'm just expressing my rights to free speech.'"
Rather than stripping down during his three-minute slot, Brigham planted himself in the front row at the meeting and disrobed early, "so no one would be alarmed," he says. He was already down to his skivvies by the time a presentation was made in relation to Boulder's sesquicentennial. "They were honoring some of our elderly residents, and I stood up and clapped like everybody else," he allows.
Then, when the big moment came, he headed to the podium. "I said, 'Sometimes even city council members should have to stand naked, and let's start with Suzy Ageton. I think we should make an ordinance about her campaign contributions." Specifically, Brigham was troubled by Ageton's reported decision to accept donations from a Boulder developer whose project would come before the council, which fellow councilwoman Lisa Morzel publicly criticized.
At that point, Mayor Susan Osborne cut Brigham off: "She told me I couldn't talk about council members in a personal way," Brigham remembers. "I basically protested that, saying, 'I can speak about what I want to speak about. This is my three minutes.' And then a police officer came up to me and handcuffed me and escorted me out."
After that, Brigham says, he spent time in an assortment of police cars before being put "in isolation for three hours. And I never would have gotten out of jail if I didn't have a good friend who was able to come up with $750 at midnight. I have no money. I'm indigent." He's also mystified by the charges. He has no idea how he could be guilty of trespassing, since the city council meeting was open to the public, and he swears that he didn't resist arrest. All he can think is that he didn't leave the podium fast enough by the police officer's standards.
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This isn't the first time Brigham's been hauled off to the hoosgow in a high-profile matter. Back in 2006, he was arrested after shouting to disrupt a CNN live shot about the JonBenét Ramsey case.
"I was expressing what I thought was my right to public speech on a public sidewalk, and CNN didn't like my voice being heard," he says. "But all those charges were dropped in the name of justice. They dropped them the day before a jury trial. But it was a lot of stress. It went on for six months."
Brigham hopes the latest case doesn't drag on for that long, but he refuses to back down to make things go any more smoothly. "I have a court date on March 2," he says. "That may just be an arraignment, but I'm definitely going to plead not guilty when I can. Because I didn't do anything wrong. I have constitutional rights. And my constitutional rights were violated."
Even though his nipples remain technically legal in Boulder.