Colorado Police Apologize For Handcuffing Man Playing Ball With Daughter Over Coronavirus Social Distancing Concerns

A police department in Colorado has apologized to a man who said officers handcuffed him in front of his young daughter while playing ball in almost empty softball field.

Matt Mooney, a former Colorado State Patrol trooper who now runs a construction company, told ABC News that he had walked to Donelson Park in Brighton with his wife and 6-year-old daughter on Sunday to play softball.

Mooney, 33, said when police officers arrived, they told him and others in the field that the park was closed and they needed to leave.

Mooney said he told the officers that he believed he was adhering to the social distancing rules in place due to the coronavirus crisis. "We're just having a good time, not near anybody else. The next closest person is at least 15 feet away from me and my daughter at this point," he told ABC News.

Last month, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order beginning March 26. Residents are only permitted to leave their homes to essential reasons, which includes taking part in outdoor recreation at a distance of six feet or more from others.

Colorado testing
A sign directing people to Colorado's first drive-up COVID-19 testing center sits on a police car outside the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Mooney said he had refused to show his identification to the officers because he hadn't broken any rules—and said that's when officers threatened to detain him. "They then proceeded to make a threat against me saying, 'If you don't give us your identification, if you don't identify yourself, we're going to put you in handcuffs in front of your 6-year-old daughter,'" he said.

He was handcuffed, he said, and put in a patrol car for around 15 minutes, but he was released without a citation.

According to ABC News, the incident was captured on camera by Kirby Wallin, a former Brighton City Councilman Kirby Wallin, who is heard saying in the clip: "Yeah, it's Sunday and the Brighton police are apparently arresting a dad for throwing a ball to his daughter."

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Brighton Police Department apologized and said it had launched an internal investigation into the incident.

The department said its officers had been dispatched to the park after a complaint about a group of people gathering. Police said officers had asked the group of between 12 and 15 people to disperse because the park was close, which was incorrect. But although there "may have been a misunderstanding" about the park's closure, the group needed to disperse due to Colorado's order about public gatherings, police added.

"The Brighton Police Department is currently conducting an internal investigation into what led to officers detaining Mr. Mooney while responding to the complaint," the statement said. "While the investigation sorts through the different versions of what took place by witnesses who were at the park, it is evident there was an overreach by our police officers."

The statement added: "This is an opportunity for us to come together and do better for the community. We are deeply sorry for the events that took place on Sunday and the impact on Mr. Mooney, his family, and the community."

The statement added that Mooney had declined the offer of a meeting with Falconburg and Brighton Police Commander Frank Acosta to offer an apology. However, Acting City Manager Marv Falconburg conveyed an apology during a phone call, it added.

Mooney declined to comment on the apology to ABC News, but said he is considering taking legal action. He added that the officers who handcuffed him weren't wearing any protective gear and may have exposed his family to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"They could very simply be asymptomatic, not even know they're sick, and now I've been exposed. My daughter's been exposed; my wife's been exposed," he told ABC News. Mooney has been contacted for additional comment.

Coronavirus, update, April 8, Statista
The chart shows the spread of coronavirus cases across the U.S. as of April 8. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.