TAKEN FOR A RIDE | News | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado


In retrospect, Terry Casper's midnight bike ride through Cheesman Park wasn't the quickest route for him to get to work. It proved instead to be a shortcut to jail, where the 28-year-old Denver man was booked, fingerprinted, photographed and forced to cough up a $100 bond for violating a park...
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In retrospect, Terry Casper's midnight bike ride through Cheesman Park wasn't the quickest route for him to get to work. It proved instead to be a shortcut to jail, where the 28-year-old Denver man was booked, fingerprinted, photographed and forced to cough up a $100 bond for violating a park curfew.

Casper, however, believes the real reason he landed in jail was for violating an unwritten law: contempt of cop.

The cop, Deborah Anderson, rejects that notion, saying, "He's just angry that he got stopped." And Denver police lieutenant John Lamb describes the situation as "a discretionary call by the officer," adding, "He sounds like a whiner. It's a nothing deal. People get thrown into jail for a lot less than that."

A baker by trade, Casper keeps odd hours. When most people are fast asleep or just settling down to watch Letterman, Casper is slapping on his Walkman and mounting his bicycle for his commute, which takes him from his home near Colfax Avenue and Vine Street through Cheesman Park and to the Blue Point Bakery on East Sixth Avenue at Marion Street. It's a ride he's made regularly since landing the job about nine months ago.

Cheesman, like all other Denver city parks, is closed to the public from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. "I knew the park closed at night," Casper says now. "At least I had a vague idea that it did, but I had no real idea what time, because I'm usually at work then." But on May 21, Casper was running late. His commute took him through the park at 11:45 p.m., past curfew.

"I was going at a pretty good clip," he says, "when I see a car coming toward me. As it got closer, she flipped on the overhead lights, and I could see it was a policeman." Casper says he then swerved to the side, a maneuver that Anderson later described in her report as an "evasive move."

Casper claims that Anderson "was aggressive from the start. I had my Walkman on," he says, "and as I fumbled with it, she grabbed the handlebars and shook my bike." Anderson, however, says she "absolutely did not" do any such thing. Casper says also that he told the officer he was on his way to work.

Denver police officers are given wide discretion in such matters. They may, if they choose, simply let scofflaws go with a warning. They can also issue a ticket for a $24 fine, payable by mail. Or they can order the suspect in to court. Jail is an option, too, although the Denver Police Department Operations Manual says that for "minor misdemeanors," it's not advised "unless there is resistance or interference to the officer."

Casper says Anderson first lectured him about the curfew, the existence of curfew signs and a sign prohibiting left turns after 11 p.m. Then, he says, she told him she was going to give him a ticket. Much of the information Anderson needed to fill out the ticket was on Casper's driver's license, which he presented to her. He was reluctant, however, to provide her with more than that.

"She asked me for my phone number," Casper says. "I'd never had to give that before when I got a ticket. I said, `Unless you have to have it, I'd rather not give it out.' She made a face, but that was about it. Then she asked for my Social Security number. If I'm not mistaken, that's on my driver's license. So I asked her why she needed it. That's where things got ugly."

Anderson's response to his inquiry, he says, was to handcuff him and tell him that he was under arrest.

Casper says he didn't believe it at first. "I didn't think she could," he says. "I thought it was a scare tactic." He continued to think that until the moment a police van arrived to haul him off to jail.

In her report, Anderson wrote that Casper had refused to provide her with the name, address and phone number of his employer and that he'd declined to give his home phone number or Social Security number. (Casper is correct, however: Social Security numbers appear on the face of Colorado driver's licenses.)

Anderson wrote, too, that Casper told her he "would continue to go through the park and that he would not stop for the police again."

"Basically," Anderson says now, "he said that the next time, he'd run from the cops. If he hadn't said that, I would have just chased him out of the park. But to me, that indicated that he would not show up for court. So I sent him to jail so he'd have to post bond. Anytime someone indicates that they might not show up for court, it behooves us to make sure that they do, because that means much more paperwork."

Anderson, whose District 6 precinct includes Cheesman, says she keeps a close watch on activities there. The park has been the subject of hundreds of complaints from neighbors over the years, principally because Cheesman is known as a "meet and greet" spot for gays. "You get people back in the trees doing `habeus maybeus' back there," Anderson says. "It's a safety issue, also. People going through the park are sometimes preyed upon."

Anderson admits, however, that she "very seldom" jails someone for violating the park's curfew. Assistant City Attorney Paul Puckett, who supervises the section encompassing minor law infractions, says his office doesn't see many park-curfew cases, either.

Casper says the Denver sheriff's deputies who processed him through the jail joked with one another about having to deal with a "hardened criminal" like him. "They were kind of good-humored about it," he says. "I asked the guy who fingerprinted me if he'd seen many people arrested for violating curfew. And he said, `She just didn't like you, or you pissed her off.'"

As Lieutenant Lamb says, "No doubt someone's demeanor can sometimes come into play."

If the city attorney chooses to go through with the prosecution, Casper says he's prepared to take it to trial. "I want it off my record," he says stubbornly. "I've never been in trouble before."

Ironically, it seems that Casper wouldn't be in trouble now if he'd been driving a car rather than pedaling through Cheesman. According to parks safety director Ron Sanders, motor vehicle traffic is permitted through the parks after 11 p.m., although cars may not stop. But bicycles, he points out, are not motor vehicles and are prohibited.

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