Stapleton Airport police arrested a woman for holding a folder-sized "Boycott Colorado" sign over her head, then kept her overnight at the county jail, her lawyers said yesterday.
The Denver chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is negotiating a settlement with the city over the February arest of Janet Hertz, which the legal group called extreme and unconstitutional.
"We think her constitutional rights to free speech were violated and she was jailed for expressing her political beliefs," said Nancy Solomon, ACLU spokeswoman in Denver. The ACLU will press a lawsuit for damages over the matter if negotiations fall through, she said.
Police declined to comment on the case because of the potential litigation.
Stapleton Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said there is a regulation against posting or displaying any sign in the airport without a permit from the avia- tion director.
He confirmed, however, that the city is trying to negotiate a settlement.
Hertz, whose hometown was not released by the ACLU, was flying from Massachusetts to Setatle on Feb. 5 when she had a layover in Denver. She had tried unsuccessfully to avoid a layover here because she supports the boycott over the anti-gay-rights Amendment 2.
As a personal protest during her layover, Solomon said, Hertz wrote "Boycott the Hate State" on a manila file folder and held it over her head at the entrance to Concourse C, a high-traffic area on the way to Continental Airlines gates.
Hertz was soon confronted by Denver police stationed at the airport, who told her there was a regulation against unauthorized commercial or political signs. They asked her to promise not to display the folder again and she refused, Solomon said.
"They arrested her and detained her in the airport jail. Then they took her to Denver County Jail and held her overnight," Solomon said, because they were not able to complete her bond that day.
The airport has a longstanding regulation against signs for advertisements not specifically authorized by the aviation director, Cannon said.
The rule is "designed to speed and smooth the flow of passengers through the terminal," Cannon said.
"If we didn't have it, they would be plastering signs all over the aiport, and we just can't have that."
He acknowledged it was unusual for such an incident to result in arrest, adding he could recall no other arrests on the rule in his two years at the airport.
Hertz asked for formal permission to display her sign during a layover on her return flight from Seattle, but was denied, Solomon said.
The ACLU is optimistic about a settlement, she said. "I think everybody is mostly embarrassed by this."