Underpants-clad protester Seth Brigham gets apology for arrest -- but he says it isn't enough

In mid-February, Boulder's Seth Brigham was arrested at a Boulder City Council meeting after trying to speak wearing only his boxers -- a protest of a proposed public-nudity ordinance intended to cover up events such as the Naked Pumpkin Run and the Naked Bike Ride.

Shortly thereafter, public opinion swung in Brigham's direction, with even city council woman Lisa Morzel suggesting that his free-speech rights might have been violated. It was no surprise, then, when late last week, Boulder City Attorney David Gehr decided to drop the charges against Brigham.

Then, at last night's city council meeting, at which a new medical marijuana code was unveiled, Mayor Susan Osborne read a statement saying how much she regretted the way events transpired. But while Brigham calls Osborne's actions "a nice gesture," he's dissatisfied with the city's actions in general, and says he's considering a lawsuit.

Osborne's statement is reproduced at the bottom of this item -- but here's how she explained her feelings about the Brigham incident in an interview for the council-meeting blog linked above:

"I am very sorry that it turned out the way it did," she says. "I think there is a level of decorum and focus on council matters we need to have in council discussions, and my intention when I interrupted Seth and asked him to please get to the point was really about trying to focus on that and deescalate a situation that seemed pretty poised to happen.

"The guy was in his underpants and started to make what I think most people would consider to be personal attacks, and my intent was to calm that down and defuse it -- and of course, that isn't what happened. And I'm very sorry about what happened. I don't think it was a bad thing to try to calm him down, and to try to calm the situation down, but I certainly hated the way it turned out."

Brigham didn't attend last night's meeting; he says he's uncomfortable with the idea of going in light of his previous treatment. But he reacts to Osborne's comments above like so:

"She has a right to free speech," he notes, laughing. "But the city in general hasn't apologized, and they haven't really come to terms with the slippery slope they've been going down."

At the time charges against Brigham were dropped, city attorney Gehr released a statement that read in part: "Given the confusion over procedures and in the interest of fairness, I've decided not to prosecute these charges against Mr. Brigham... The City Council is authorized to set and enforce standards for discourse and interaction at its meetings. We learned from this situation and will work toward applying these standards in a fair and consistent manner."

However, Brigham points out that neither Gehr nor any other Boulder official contacted him to confirm that the charges were being dropped -- and they still haven't. (He learned about the development after receiving a call from a reporter at the Boulder Daily Camera.) Moreover, he doesn't believe Gehr's statement addresses the main subject.

"They basically said it was a procedural error, and that's so far afield from the most important issues," he says. "As a person who often goes to city council meetings, I understood even before I was arrested that there was a threat on the public's right to speak out. I saw the direction things were going.

"I don't think the mayor is personally in the wrong here, and her personal apology is a nice gesture. But this issue goes beyond the mayor. It's about the activities of the council and the city government as a whole in regard to unfettered free speech."

As Brigham tells it, "I could have been in jail until last Friday if I didn't have a friend who came up with $800" -- money that won't be returned for several weeks due to procedural matters. In the meantime, he says "I'm keeping my options open" when it comes to the possibility of a lawsuit against the city.

That's the last thing Boulder needs right now. At last night's meeting, the council approved a $230,000 payment to a former CU student who was injured at a block party on Halloween 2004.

If Brigham goes ahead with such an action, he says he'd view it in part as preventative. In his words, "I think this could happen again."

Here's the statement Mayor Osborne delivered at the council meeting last night:

Before beginning public participation, I want to say a few words about an incident that happened at our last business meeting. My intention as mayor is to always conduct meetings that are welcoming and open. As your elected representatives, we are pledged to be respectful, honest and civil in our relationship to you and to each other, and it is my view that we should expect the same in return. At times we all miss the mark, but I believe that it is a worthy goal. In a time when civility and listening seem in short supply, let us all work to make these chambers a place where they happen.

At our last meeting, a member of the public was forcibly removed from the council chambers. For my part, I interrupted a speaker who I believed was poised to make a personal attack against a council member. I realize now that it is difficult at times to define what is, in fact, a personal attack. My intention was to de-escalate and de-fuse a situation which, unfortunately, became much worse. For this, I am very sorry.

The council will look again at this incident at the end of our meeting tonight. I know that we are all looking to make sure that role expectations are clear and that everyone's rights are respected.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts