Charlie Hunt got a speeding ticket on his birthday, March 16, just a couple blocks from his house in the Villa Park neighborhood. In the strangest way possible, it would set his life in a downward spiral.
When the officer walked up to the car, he “didn’t introduce himself. He wrote me a ticket, handed it to me, and walked away,” the 34-year-old Hunt recalled.
Hunt was not pleased with the officer’s manners, but he knew, “you can’t do nothing to a cop,” he said. Instead, he went home and made two signs that read “FUCK DPD,” which he left on the front and back of his new BMW sport-utility vehicle.
“I’ve spoke my mind in tons of ways — but I never expected speaking my mind to be charged with a bomb hoax in a million years,” he said.
That’s exactly what happened.
The wind blew the first two signs away, so he next marked the same message on a shoebox-sized cardboard box with black electrical tape, weighted it down on the hood of the SUV and went back inside with a measure of satisfaction.
Hunt left early the next morning for a meeting with his employer, where he works as a cable technician. When he returned in his work truck at around 8 a.m., he found police officers circling the BMW.
“I’m thinking, ‘What in the world’s going on? Is this over my sign?'” he said. More cops kept coming as he prepared in his truck for the day ahead.
“And then the bomb squad came, and I’m just like, ‘What the hell?'” he said. “That piqued my curiosity.”
So he walked over to the bomb squad, he said. They quickly figured out that the BMW was his. They started questioning him, he recalled: Why was he trying to make it look like there was a bomb in his car?
“I’m just sitting there, like, ‘It’s a sign,'” Hunt said.
An officer claimed in an affidavit that he saw “a series of wires, electrical components, and metal tube prominently displayed upon the hood.” The officer also noted that the car was parked across from Eagleton Elementary School, whose staff had alerted police and parents about the sign.
But Hunt says that the car contained an LED light connected to a red button for illumination purposes –- like this, he said. No pipes, he insists.
Either way, the officers put Hunt in a squad car, he said, and he signed a document allowing them to search his vehicle.
“I asked, what is this — practice? Am I going to jail on this?” he said. “And the cops are like, ‘It all depends on what side of the bed the bomb squad woke up on.'”
Well, apparently they woke up on the felony side of the bed.
Hunt was detained for 24 hours at the downtown Denver jail, and the District Attorney’s office is pursuing a class-five felony charge of possessing hoax explosives or incendiary devices.
Colorado law doesn’t give a lot of guidance on this charge, simply saying that it applies to anyone who possesses “false, facsimile, or hoax” devices.
Hunt’s employer found out about the charge promptly, thanks in part to seeing it on television news, though his name was not disclosed in early reports. “They DVRed it,” he said.
He picked up a second job in construction, but was suspended when he asked for his court day off.
“It’s completely shut me down,” he said.
Without work, he hasn’t been able to hire an attorney, and expects instead he’ll have to rely on a public defender. The police still haven’t given him his phone back, he said. Meanwhile, his landlord has asked him to move out, said Hunt, a divorced father of one.
“The school sent out a massive text. Some of these neighbors won’t even look at me,” he said. “They stare at me like I’m a zoo animal.”
The Denver District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case. Hunt’s next court date is May 17.
“I’m fighting the court backwards here,” he said. “They’re deeming me guilty and I’m having to prove my innocence.”