Boulder Naked Pumpkin Runners = Sex Offenders? COME ON!

Scene of Boulder’s 2008 Naked Pumpkin Run busts, plus two nearby real (violent) crimes earlier that same day.

UPDATE NOV 4. The names of the 12 busted streakers have been published, so I’m following up on this case via local courts

On Halloween, as I wrote earlier, I went down to Boulder, CO’s Pearl St. pedestrian mall to check out the costumes — which are always spectacular — and to see the annual Naked Pumpkin Run. (Note: that link above goes to my blog post which includes a video containing nudity.) This loosely organized event has a lot of local fans.

The Naked Pumpkin Run is nothing more than that — sometime around 9-10 pm on Halloween, a bunch of people get naked, put jack-o-lanterns on their heads, and run en masse down the Pearl St. Mall. It’s not sexual, violent, dangerous, or threatening. It’s just silly. It’s unique. It’s fun. It’s exuberant. It’s positive and life-affirming.

And: It’s illegal.

Unlike in previous years, the Boulder police were out in force for this event, where they ticketed several runners for indecent exposure. Consequently, several fun-loving local folks may end up suffering life-altering public stigma as registered sex offenders.

No kidding.

The Colorado Daily posted this video of the event, including some footage of the busts:

Need some irony? All this happened less than 24 hours after two remarkably violent assaults, which occurred just a half-mile from the scene of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts.

Here are the details, as best as I’ve been able to gather them so far…

This was my first time at the Naked Pumpkin Run. (I was just watching, not running.) Attendees from prior years told me that so far the Boulder cops had always refrained from doing anything more than crowd management at this event.

But this year, I witnessed somewhere around 12-15 cops detaining and ticketing runners. (It was pretty dark and mobbed, with folks moving around, so I couldn’t get an exact count. But I’m confident with that ballpark figure.)

Yesterday our local paper confirmed that “12 runners were cited for indecent exposure.” I expect that on Monday the Boulder police blotter may offer more info (although the online version of this blotter is generally a summary of incidents, not details or names).

EXTREME LEGAL CONSEQUENCES

These citations could be much more than just a bummer to the folks involved. Under Colorado state law (18-7-302) indecent exposure is a class 1 misdemeanor. But: If these citations are upheld by a judge, the people involved probably would be required to register with the Colorado sex offender registry.

According to CO statute 16-22-103 (5), judges do have leeway to exempt people convicted of indecent exposure from required sex offender registration — but only for minors, which is not the case with the Naked Pumpkin Run. At least, that’s my reading of the statute, tell me what you think:

“(5) (a) Notwithstanding any provision of this article to the contrary, if, pursuant to a motion filed by a person described in this subsection (5) or on its own motion, a court determines that the registration requirement specified in this section would be unfairly punitive and that exempting the person from the registration requirement would not pose a significant risk to the community, the court, upon consideration of the totality of the circumstances, may exempt the person from the registration requirements imposed pursuant to this section if:

“(I) The person was younger than eighteen years of age at the time of the commission of the offense; and

“(II) The person has not been previously charged with unlawful sexual behavior; and

“(III) The offense, as charged in the first petition filed with the court, is a first offense of either misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact, as described in section 18-3-404, C.R.S., or indecent exposure, as described in section 18-7-302, C.R.S.; and… [procedural requirements follow...]“

…Seems to me that those “ands” confine permitted exemptions to minors.

Yes, those charges could (and probably will be) plea bargained down. But still: It looks like that in this case, for the sake of posturing, the Boulder police department was willing to seriously mess with people’s lives. The cops on the scene apparently were directed to issue citations for indecent exposure — not creating a public nuisance or some other charge with less dire consequences.

This consequence seems unnecessarily putative to me. I mean, hundreds (if not more than a thousand) people were gathered on the Pearl St. Mall specifically to celebrate this event. I saw very, very few minors present, all of whom appeared to be accompanied by their parents. Yes, some people were drunk and/or rowdy, and I’m glad that cops were on hand to manage those cases — which they did, capably and professionally. But by and large, the mood of this gathering was jubilant, fun, and friendly. As a woman wandering about the crowd mostly independently, I never felt the least bit endangered, threatened, or scared there.

Believe me: the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade in Philadelphia (which I’ve attended several times) is a vastly more menacing and risky crowd scene — often involving many incidents of public nudity that are intended to demean, embarrass, or intimidate innocent bystanders. (Now, THAT could reasonably be considered “indecent exposure.”)

In Boulder, rarely do you see more than 3-4 cops together at a time. Therefore: 12-15 Boulder cops in one place, detaining and ticketing people at nearly 11 pm for nonsexual, nonviolent nudity which the surrounding crowd was enthusiastically cheering (I saw NO ONE who appeared surprised or offended — and I was looking for that!) appears conspicuously disproportionate.

NEARBY, SAME DAY: GANG RAPE AND RACIAL BEATING

As if that’s not enough, there’s the larger context: Didn’t the cops have more important stuff to do that day than bust streakers?

Indeed they did.

Less than 24 hours before the Naked Pumpkin Run, at 12:45 am on Halloween — and just a few blocks away — a 20-year-old woman was gang-raped. Yep, right here in Boulder: gang-raped on the street. Two assailants held her down, while the other two raped her. Just about a half mile away from the scene of the Naked Pumpkin busts!

But wait, there’s more! Also at about the same time as the rape, just over a half mile to the west (and also just over a half mile from the courthouse on the mall), another violent assault occurred — this time, a racially motivated beating. According to the Boulder police:

“A 22-year-old male victim reported that he was assaulted by an unknown suspect who used ethnic slurs. The victim, who is Asian-American, told investigators he was walking down the street with some friends, singing a song from the movie Team America. The victim and his friends were confronted by a group of four men. One of the suspects came up to the victim and began challenging him.

“According to the victim and witnesses, the suspect said something to the effect of, ‘Do you think you are an American?’ and called the victim a ‘Chinaman.’ He punched the victim in the face multiple times. Initial reports were that the suspect pulled a knife, but subsequent interviews lead investigators to believe that the suspect may have referenced a knife but did not show one.”

This map shows how close all these incidents — which occurred on the same day — really are.

View Larger Map

OK, let’s assume the Boulder police department is investigating these violent crimes (including the crime scenes) thoroughly and professionally — and that the Naked Pumpkin busts Halloween night did not draw away any resources from those investigations, or from other normally required local law enforcement activities at that time. So what?…

CONTEXT MATTERS, FOR LOCAL POLICE AND NEWS OUTLETS

Given this context, the key question becomes: Why — when several violent criminals, including a gang of rapists — are on the loose, would Boulder police chief Mark Beckner make a deliberate choice to issue potentially serious and life-altering citations to nonviolent streakers at an annual (although unofficial) celebratory event?

Here’s what Beckner told the Daily Camera about this enforcement decision:

“‘We wanted to do something before (the event) got out of hand,’ said Police Chief Mark Beckner. ‘This was a good opportunity to enforce the law.’

“In past years, police haven’t had the staffing levels to ticket the runners, Beckner said, but this year the Halloween run fell on a Friday when a lot of officers were scheduled to work. Beckner likened streaking to speeding — police can’t catch them all, but they do what they can.”

There’s reason to question Beckner’s claim that “In past years, police haven’t had the staffing levels to ticket the runners.” The Naked Pumpkin Run started in 1998. In its 2007 annual report, the Boulder’s police department reported that it employs 171 officers. The department’s 2006 report and most other annual reports do not quantify the number of Boulder cops. But the 2005 report does mention, “During 2005, the Boulder Police Department was as close to fully staffed as it has been in several years.”

So far, the Camera’s staff coverage of the Naked Pumpkin Run (Oct. 27, Oct. 31 morning and late night, and Nov. 1) has neglected to note that these citations can result in mandatory inclusion in the CO sex offender registry. Same for coverage by the Denver Post and all other local mainstream media I could find. (If you have seen coverage that does mention this potential consequence, please comment below with links or cites.)

However, several comments on those stories have noted this consequence, as have some Camera letters to the editor blog posts. (See the Nov. 2 Letter to the Editor post titled “Overreacting to juvenile streaking,” and this letter from Les Halbek.)

However, local blogger David Thielen did interview chief Beckner before the Naked Pumpkin Run about the Boulder police’s apparently selective strategy on enforcing streaking laws. An excerpt:

“[Chief Beckner and I discussed] the specifics of [Boulder's June 2008] naked bicycle ride, tonight’s Naked Pumpkin Run, and students streaking. [Beckner said that police] did not arrest any of the naked bicycle riders because ‘there were too many.’ At the Pumpkin Run tonight he said if it was just 1 or 2 [runners], then they probably would be arrested. If there were lots then he said it depended on the situation but was not willing to say anyone would be arrested if it was a large group.

“So here’s where it gets interesting. I asked what would happen if 40 or 50 students streaked the football game. And his reply was they would probably only be able to catch and arrest 5 or 6 of them. When I asked why in that case they would arrest 5 or 6 but did not do so for the naked bicycle ride and probably would not for the Naked Pumpkin Run — he said ‘Because they are different.’ Yet when I pressed him for what was different, he was not able to give me anything specific.

“Here’s my theory — the only difference is that in one case it’s students and in the other it’s adults. It’s a double standard, it may even be subconscious. But unless Chief Beckner can give us a clear credible explanation about how they are different and why that difference deserves the different approach, I think we should assume it’s discrimination.

“On a related note, I pointed out that the ‘crime’ of streaking carries with it the possibility of being labeled a sex offender. Yet the police view it as a crime to enforce as resources allow. I asked him if he could think of any other crime where you can be labeled a sex offender, yet the police view it as enforce it only if resources are available. He couldn’t think of any other.”

Pretty telling — and worthy of further examination, I think.

But apparently the Camera staff is aware of the potentially dire legal consequences of streaking in Boulder. This Oct. 25 Camera story on another recent Boulder streaking incident (at an Oct. 24 Boulder High School football game, involving the 17-year-old son of State House Majority Leader Alice Madden ) pointed out:

“The boy faces a class-one misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure, Boulder police Sgt. Pat Wyton said Saturday.

“The charge carries fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 and/or a sentence of six to 18 months in jail.

“Wyton said it’s also possible that a judge would order the teen to register as a sex offender, although that scenario is unlikely because a judge might view the stunt as less serious than other indecent exposure offenses.

“‘It’s a kid running across a field as a prank … I’m sure he’s going to get some kind of referral or restorative justice,’ Wyton said.

Irony, much? Yes, a minor could be exempted from the sex offender registry. But, according to state law, it looks like an adult probably cannot.

WHAT COMES NEXT, AND WHAT CAN YOU DO?

…I’m very sad that my town’s police department chose such an unfortunate time to crack down on a popular, festive, nonviolent, nonsexual longstanding annual event involving public nudity. Whether this decision was made because of that day’s earlier violent assaults, or despite them, I cannot say.

Clearly, chief Beckner’s own remarks indicate that making a point was the point here. The Naked Pumpkin Run citations were clearly not a matter of protecting public safety, as far as I can tell — and I was there. Rather, the point seems to have been to make the Boulder police look busy and tough.

If anything, the officers’ actions on the Pearl St. Mall Halloween night actually exacerbated public safety risks in that situation by inflaming the crowd — which grew quickly and circled closely around the cops and detainees, chanting “Let them go! Let them go!” Indeed, that was the only time that night when I feared violence or panic might erupt.

I’m not blaming the cops who issued the citations. They were doing what they were told, and they have no discretion about legal penalties. And, as far as I could see, they executed their duties professionally.

I hope the judges who consider the Naked Pumpkin Run citations decide to dismiss the charges. This appears to be the only option under current law that would keep the Halloween streakers out of the sex offender registry. Furthermore, Boulder’s law enforcement strategic decision was, I think, irresponsible and cynically motivated. I intend to attend these hearings if I can, to report on what happens. I hope other local bloggers, citizens, and news organizations will do the same.

Of course, dismissing charges against these defendants doesn’t really solve the problem.

This is why I think Colorado residents should petition our state legislators to change Colorado’s sex offender registry law. Our judges should be able to exempt people of any age who are cited for indecent exposure from having to be registered as sex offenders. Also, we might want to lower the minimum fine for indecent exposure in CO to something that would be reasonable in situations like the Naked Pumpkin Run. $500 is pretty steep in that context. The authorities would still have discretion to find up to $5000, the current maximum.

Here’s who to contact in the Colorado legislature:

  • HOUSE: Currently, Boulder County’s state representative is Alice Madden (303-866-2348, alice.madden.house@state.co.us. Yes, that’s the very same Alice Madden whose 17-year son was busted earlier this month for streaking at a Boulder High School football game — and since he’s a minor, he could be exempted from the sex offender registry even if convicted. But her term limit is up, so after the Nov. 8 election Madden will be replaced by either Republican Dorothy Marshall, or Democrat Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. Stay tuned, and contact Madden’s successor once she is in office.
  • SENATE: Boulder’s state senator (District 16) is Democrat Dick Gibbs (303-866-4873, dan.gibbs.senate@state.co.us. He’s running for re-election against Republican Don Ytterberg. Again, after the Nov. 8 election would be the time to contact our state senator about modifying these laws.

Finally, let’s hope the Boulder police catch the perpetrators of those truly heinous violent Halloween crimes. And let’s hope the victims recover well. And let’s hope that others don’t suffer at the hands of those criminals in the meantime.

What do you think of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts, and their possible legal consequences? Please comment below.

14 thoughts on Boulder Naked Pumpkin Runners = Sex Offenders? COME ON!

  1. Pingback:   Boulder Naked Pumpkin Run: Halloween 2008 — contentious.com

  2. police officers and the law have become absolute buffoons and represent the biggest threat to americans than any terrorists ever could be. i used to respect officers until they turned themselves into laughing stocks. it’s hard to respect anything that has shown itself to be stupid and without any wits at all. true homer simpsons… duh!

  3. It didn’t surprise me to see the Boulder cops in force and busting people. They have always preferred a riot to a peaceful demonstration and they’ll start the riot themselves if they have to. I’ve seen it happen (Central Park, June 1986), so you can’t tell me I’m paranoid. Why is streaking such a big deal? What are the cops afraid of? Naked kids with pumpkins on their heads?

  4. Actually, the more people that the police can force onto the registry, the more money they will be able to get from the feds, thanks to the Adam Walsh Act. However, I personnely think that they went a little overboard myself.
    Think about this, some state require teens to be put on the sex offender registry for having consenual sex with other teens. Where’s the sense in that?

  5. Amy – hadn’t had time to check out this well-reported post – but saw the Camera noted this problem today… tho i suspect these pumpkin runner’s and Alice’s son will get a chance to plea to a lesser offense, it seems like parts of Colorado are having an issue with this problem. i don’t want to see the guy routinely jogging down the street (be he priest or not) naked. The occasional football game streaker or naked pumpkin runner (ick to inside of pumpkin!) or the summer naked bike ride, not so much… But i’m sure there are those offended by the latter (tho are they around to witness the events? likely not)…
    anyway, it IS an issue that needs to be addressed…

  6. Pingback:   12 Naked Pumpkin Runners Named, Camera Catches Up — contentious.com

  7. I’m finding the Boulder Police response to harmless fun more than surreal. Their response is a waste of tax money, time, attention and can only be viewed as seriously mean-spirited aggression. As one who just returned to the US after living a decade abroad, I’m questioning what kind of environment in which I found myself. Most other western cultures carry a casual acceptance of nudity while the US seems to have moved in the opposite direction. There is no link between nudity and violence and many links between acceptance of nudity in parents and children with lower incidences of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and criminal behavior. So how could it be possible that a law exists in Colorado linking of sexual offenders with nudists? Did those law-makers switch their brains off when they wrote that legislation?

    Thank you for your thorough reporting; I will be following this case closely.

  8. Pingback:   Boulder Police DID Have Options: Disorderly Conduct Citation — contentious.com

  9. Pingback:   Plea Bargains in Process for Boulder’s Naked Pumpkin Runners  — contentious.com

  10. Ever wonder why there is such a proliferation of laws, and tougher enforcement of those laws at some times more than others? We must remember that every conviction provides a source of revenue for the government. Not only will those people be “labeled” as something they clearly are not, but there will be fines, court fees, monitoring and all associated costs will be paid by the “violator.”

  11. Great article! In response to your request for a citation, one major news publication, the Wall Street Journal, did mention the dire consequences of being found guilty of indecent exposure in Colorado. Here’s a link to their coverage: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125693458626119361.html. You may need an account to read it so email me if you want a copy and I’ll CaP it. However, I’m not concerned that any of the 12 will be found guilty of indecent exposure since, according to Colorado state law 18-7-302, the acts that qualify as indecent exposure are: (a) An act of sexual intercourse; (b) An act of deviate sexual intercourse; (c) A lewd exposure of the body done with intent to arouse or to satisfy the sexual desire of any person; and (d) A lewd fondling or caress of the body of another person. Clearly, the Pumpkin run doesn’t fall under any of these acts but, the part the D.A. will likely TRY to use against the runners is: “A lewd exposure of the body done with intent to arouse or to satisfy the sexual desire of any person.” First off, no one in their right mind will argue that the act is lewd (lustful, licentious, lascivious, dirty, prurient, salacious, lubricious, libidinous; debauched, depraved, degenerate, decadent, dissipated, dissolute, perverted, or wanton) and intention is tough to prove regardless of the fact that I doubt anyone was “aroused” or had their “…sexual desire[s]…” “…satisfied.”

  12. Ooops. Not only is the article to which I commented from 2008 (last year,) I researched the wrong C.R.S. Regardless, I think its a stretch (albeit a shorter stretch than with C.R.S. ยง 18-7-301) to argue that the Pumpkin Run amounts to indecent exposure since the conduct need to be LIKELY to cause “affront or alarm” to another person. Plus, the Wall Street Journal says this: “It’s not illegal to be naked in downtown Boulder. In fact, the city has had a long, proud history of nudity.” I guess a “history” of nudity doesn’t trump the law but it’s a shame we’ve become a nation of so many laws and regulations…

  13. Man, I wish we had a naked pumpkin run in Texas…:( but law enforcement people have no sense of humor, they need to lighten up. Charging these streakers as sex offenders is excessive, the type of thing that happened in Nazi Germany and in the Eastern Block countries during the Cold War. Next thing LE will be doing is charging nursing mothers as sex offenders! America wake up, we need common sense here!

  14. Ok, we all know that so much of what Gov does is all about revenues (i.e. excessive traffic tickets at the end of every month). So, my suggestion is why doesn’t the Boulder City Gov establish a permit to be a naked pumkin runner? This creates a win-win situation, anyone that wants to run buys a permit for say $100 and can run with impunity, the PD just checks runners for valid permits and tickets those that don’t have the proper permit, the PD dept gets the permit revenues, the police get paid overtime for monitoring the situation and everyone is happy and forget charging people with ridiculus crimes since its really all about money.

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