This story was updated April 8 to add a comment from Matt Mooney. – Ed. Note
A simple game of T-ball at the park saw Colorado father Matt Mooney detained Sunday afternoon by local law enforcement officers for alleged violation of the state’s coronavirus-related social distancing guidelines.
Cooped up in the house like many American families by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Mooney, his wife and his 6-year-old daughter had been enjoying a bit of family fun and fresh air at Donelson Park when they were approached by three Brighton Police Department officers.
Mooney, confident he was well within his rights to be there, was unwilling to provide identification — and that was reportedly all it took for the responding officers to slap the cuffs on and escort the father to a patrol car.
“[My daughter is] like, ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to get arrested,'” Mooney told KDVR. “At this point I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way they’re going to arrest me. There’s no way. This is insane.’ So I’m telling her, ‘Don’t worry, Daddy’s not going to get arrested. I’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it,’ and then they arrest me.”
Mooney would spend roughly 10 minutes in police custody before his release.
A passerby, former Brighton City Councilman Kirby Wallin, captured part of the incident on video, seemingly stunned by the detainment.
“Brighton Police are apparently arresting a dad for throwing a ball to his daughter, in complete isolation in a park of about, I don’t know, 30, 40 acres,” Wallin commentated in the video clip. “But apparently that is not allowed by Brighton. According to our police, he is not allowed to do it. He’s being taken away.”
But at just 35 seconds in length, the video does not capture the entirety of the exchange, which Mooney alleged was a major overreaction by the officers.
“During this little contact, none of the officers had masks on, none of them had gloves on, and they’re in my face handcuffing me, they’re touching me,” the father said. “If we’re going to go ahead and start arresting people for no reason in front of their 6-year-old daughter, you’re just going to cause more problems later on.”
To make matters worse, Mooney told The Western Journal in a message, his simple demand for due process had Brighton police officers questioning whether the suburban father of one may in fact be a “sovereign citizen.”
“Based on my training and experience I believed the male was a ‘sovereign citizen’ from the comments he was making,” one officer noted in the official police report, according to Mooney.
Referred to by the FBI as members of a domestic terrorism movement, sovereign citizens are an unofficial body of “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States” and thus unbeholden to U.S. law or formal authority.
The assumption added insult to injury.
“I’m essentially labeled a terrorist for standing up for my rights guaranteed by our constitution!” Mooney wrote.
City officials, for their part, seemed to agree the situation was mishandled but have yet to indicate to what degree, awaiting the results of an internal police investigation.
“We recognize there was an error and we are doing a thorough investigation,” Cmdr. Al Sharon of the Brighton Police Department told The Western Journal. “I would say, at this point in time, I think they wouldn’t do it again the same way — and when the investigation is complete we’ll be sure of that.”
“It is evident there was an overreach by our police officers,” a city news release read.
According to the city’s account, Mooney was detained in relation to a concerned citizen’s complaint regarding a violation of social distancing guidelines at the park. In responding, the city said “officers encountered a group of about 12-15 people who appeared to be playing softball” and asked the crowd to disperse, claiming the park was closed.
KDVR, however, reported the park was in fact open to “groups of no more than 4 persons” for a number of outdoor activities.
Sharon was not able to verify the crowd size given his pending investigation.
The Mooney family deserves an apology.
We can’t let these guidelines be abused for authoritarian attacks on our civil liberties.https://t.co/YCFgM8CeFv
— Congressman Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) April 7, 2020
The Brighton Police Department is currently conducting an investigation into a situation that occurred late this afternoon at Donelson Park. This is an active investigation and we are unable to provide additional information until the investigation is complete.
— Brighton PD (@BrightonPolice) April 6, 2020
Both the city manager’s office and the Brighton Police Department have reached out to Mooney with apologies and requests to further discuss the matter in person, but Mooney has declined the invitation, according to the news release.
Mooney wrote on Facebook that he has spoken with a lawyer.
Substantial controversy also seems to have spun up surrounding the Colorado father’s unwillingness to comply or make amends with the city, judging from the response of some of the comments on the man’s Facebook page.
Mooney, however, wrote in a recent update that the incident should serve as a teaching moment for those who had called him out.
“To everyone that says I would have just listened and moved on, that is the whole point of this,” Mooney wrote. “The government is stripping us of our rights because people just roll over go along with what they say. Sometimes you have to stand up and make a stand regardless of the costs.”
“To those that say I’m the one that subjected my daughter to the traumatizing event of me being arrested. Yes, you are partially right, I could have backed down and just complied to spare her that but this is also a teachable moment. We can teach our kids that the government is always right and tyrannical or we can teach them that yes YOU can stand up for what is right,” the father wrote.
“My question for Brighton Police Department is since when are constitutional rights something that is new? How are officers enforcing anything that they aren’t properly trained on?”
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