A Colorado Springs municipal court jury Tuesday gave Douglas Bruce the holiday present he asked for: acquittal on a trespass charge stemming from an attempt to gather petition signatures at a Costco store.
The five-woman, one-man jury took about three hours to find Bruce and fellow anti-tax activist Doug Stinehagen not guilty of the misdemeanor charge.
Bruce had asked the jurors to defend their right to petition as a way to limit government by acquitting them.
“In this holiday season…I’m asking that you give all the people of Colorado Springs a gift of freedom,” Bruce told the jury at the end of a 3-day trial.
According to juror Heidrun Robertson, the panel initially split 3-3 before finding consensus first to acquit Stinehagen and then Bruce.
Prosecutors had argued that Bruce and Stinehagen should not be allowed to trample a private property owners’ rights in order to assert their own.
“We have a lot of freedoms in this country, but freedom is not described as Mr. Bruce and Mr. Stinehagen getting their way at the expense of others,” Assistant City Attorney Michelle Keller told the jurors.
The case stems from an Aug. 15 incident at a Costco store at 5885 Barnes Road. Bruce and Stinehagen had been gathering signatures on petitions that would later become Ballot Issue 300.
The measure, approved by voters, required the city to phase out the funds it receives from enterprises, such as the Stormwater Enterprise.
Costco officials previously had complained about Bruce petitioning at the store. On Aug. 15, the two activists were given several opportunities to leave the store property before a police officer issued them tickets.
“That is trespassing,” Keller told the jurors. “The defendants would like you to believe the situation is more complicated than that. It’s not….They were told to leave and they refused."
“Just because they (the defendants) were mistaken about what the law is, doesn’t mean they get to violate it,” she said.
Bruce compared his situation to civil rights activists who were accused of trespass for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter and to women who were arrested for fighting for their right to vote.
He welcomed the verdict but warned that he’s not done with the city.
“I thought this was an entirely corrupt proceeding on the part of the city,” he said. “And there’s going to be consequences.”
“They are going to regret what they did to two innocent people,” he added. “Dragging us through the mud for 3 and ½ months when we did nothing wrong but petition the government. It’s obviously a civil rights violation.”
For more on this trial, go to the Sidebar blog at Gazette.com