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Second NATO lawsuit gets green light

A city attorney failed to prevent Brian Hildenbrandt from suing Colorado Springs for what he maintains was a wrongful arrest at a NATO military conference two years ago.

Hildenbrandt's case is the second involving the meeting at The Broadmoor hotel and the city's decision to install a security zone that spanned two blocks around the hotel.

In a prior, unrelated case, six activists with Citizens for Peace in Space argued they should have been allowed to protest in public areas inside the security zone. But the group, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, lost in August, with a federal judge siding with the city's security concerns.

That case is being appealed, says Mark Silverstein, ACLU legal director.

Hildenbrandt, a geotechnical engineer from Black Forest, says he didn't go to the area as a peace activist, but merely came to see the spectacle of the protesters and police.

"We just wanted to see what was happening," he says.

But he and a friend, Curt Curtis, were arrested on Oct. 8, 2003. Police alleged that the two men ventured into the security zone.

The criminal charges later were dropped, and Hildenbrandt's lawyer claimed the city's case was weak.

Hildenbrandt then lodged a civil case on the grounds that his reputation was damaged, and that his legal defense was costly.

In February, Thomas Marrese, a city attorney, offered to settle the case for $5,000, but Hildenbrandt said the amount wasn't enough.

Last month, a federal magistrate in Denver concluded that the trial could go forward on the basis that Hildenbrandt's right to assemble on city streets appears to be at issue.

Hildenbrandt, who is seeking a jury trial, says if he wins, the case could have implications for activists who want to protest the government.

"The case could be referenced in other similar cases around the country," he notes.

Marrese could not be reached, but in the past has described Hildenbrandt's lawsuit as "frivolous."

-- Michael de Yoanna

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