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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Pandemic Policing : Uneven and Chaotic

     On Sunday afternoon, April 5, 2020, 33-year-old Matt Mooney and his wife were playing T-ball with their 6-year-old daughter in Donelson Park in the town of Brighton, Colorado. At the time, no other people were in the vicinity.

     According to the sign posted at the park entrance, people were allowed to use the park "To engage in outdoor activity individually, or in groups of no more than four persons. The park remains open for walking, hiking, biking, running and similar activities provided that individuals comply with social distancing requirements (6 feet)."

     When three Brighton Police officers approached the Mooney family that Sunday afternoon, Mr. Mooney, because he and his family were complying with the rules of the park, was not concerned. The sight of the officers, however, worried his daughter who said, "Daddy I don't want you to get arrested." Assuring his daughter that she had nothing to fear, the father replied, "There's no way they're going to arrest me, I've done nothing wrong."

     When one of the officers asked Mr. Mooney for identification, the stunned father asked why he had to identify himself to the police. What had he done that was  illegal? The officer informed Mr. Mooney that the park was closed and the he was violating the state's social distancing guidelines.

     As Mr. Mooney tried to explain that the park was open, and that he and his family were obeying its restrictions, the officer, in front of Mooney's wife and daughter, placed him into handcuffs and led him to a patrol car.

     From a distance, an onlooker who happened to be former city councilman Kirby Wallin, recorded the police confrontation and arrest on his cellphone.

     After sitting in the patrol car ten minutes with the police officer (who was not wearing a face mask), Mr. Mooney was allowed to rejoin his family in the park. To justify the arrest, the police officer muttered something about how COVID-19 policing was something new, something police officers were just learning to cope with. The officer did not, however, offer an apology. (They rarely do, it's not in their DNA.)

     A spokesperson for the Brighton Police Department issued a statement that the agency was looking into the matter.

     While police officers in big cities like Los Angeles and New York City are not allowed to arrest grocery store looters, a police officer in Brighton, Colorado arrested a man playing in a park with his daughter. In some parts of the country inmates walk out of prison into a cop-fee criminal paradise, in other places, law obeying citizens are afraid to leave their homes for fear of being arrested. 

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