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Scarlet Ranch: City council refuses to pay off lawsuit alleging police misconduct

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The Scarlet Ranch swingers club, which moved last year from Denver to Littleton, won't be getting an infusion of city money anytime soon. Last night, the city council narrowly rejected a $42,500 settlement agreement to resolve a federal lawsuit alleging that in May 2010, Denver police "illegally entered, searched and seized Scarlet Ranch" and roughed up a volunteer.

The lawsuit, which is on view below, alleges that several plainclothes officers signed up to be members of the swingers' club on May 5, 2010, "and searched public areas of Scarlet Ranch for evidence of drug sales." When they didn't find any, the lawsuit says, they "alleged that they observed municipal code violations" and proceeded to raid and seize the club, detaining two volunteers -- Bradley Mitchell and Erin Schreiberg -- in the process. The lawsuit alleges that when Mitchell questioned the cops' actions, they put him in a chokehold, jumped on him and rubbed his face into the concrete. The police then took a videocassette they believed contained a recording of the incident, the lawsuit alleges.

The cops, through their attorneys, deny much of what Scarlet Ranch representatives say happened -- though they admit that they were there to conduct an undercover investigation pertaining to the potential sale of narcotics, the potential distribution of alcohol without a license and the potential display of adult entertainment without a license. They arrested Mitchell and Schreiberg on several charges each, including illegally dispensing alcohol.

Last night, a proposal before city council to pay the Scarlet Ranch $42,500 to settle the lawsuit failed in a 7-to-6 vote. Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz was emphatically opposed.

"Is it that the $42,500 is too much and $30,000 would be fine?" she said. "No. In fact, zero is a nice round number, and that's just about right."

Faatz continued, "I do not believe, in this case, that the police did anything wrong. There have been documented, on the other side, drug purchases, sale of alcohol when there was no license to sell alcohol. When the plaintiff perhaps has more problems than the police, I do not believe that this is a settlement we should be making."

Councilwoman Robin Kniech also spoke against the settlement. "When there are facts that are strongly in favor of us taking responsibility, I believe it's critical for us as a city to do that and to make whole those who've been harmed by our actions, whether intentional or inadvertent at times. This is not one of those cases for me, either.

"I believe that it is not in our best interest to reward bad behavior. It's one thing to raise procedural concerns in the course of defending oneself against a criminal action. It's an entirely other thing to sue the city that was taking its best steps to protect the public safety. So I will also be joining Councilwoman Faatz and vote no tonight."

Councilman Charlie Brown, Councilwoman Judy Montero, Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, Councilwoman Jeanne Robb and Councilwoman Susan Shepherd also voted no.

When reached today, Scarlet Ranch owner Kendall Seifert said he hadn't heard that the city council voted to reject the settlement. He says he doesn't pay much attention to legal matters. "I haven't been following it," he says. He advised Westword to call the law firm handling the case. We did, and we'll update this post if and when we hear back.

Continue to read the Scarlet Ranch's lawsuit and the city's response.

Scarlet Ranch v. Denver
Scarlet Ranch v. Denver Answer

For more on the Scarlet Ranch, read "Scarlet Ranch Swingers Club, now Squirrel Creek Lodge, serves oysters and rescues animals."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar!

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