The pickleball persecution is over.
On Wednesday, in a courtroom surrounded by supporters and family, 71-year-old Arslan Guney was told by a Denver District Attorney representative that the office wouldn’t pursue charges against him. A judge said the bond against Guney was released and he was free to play pickleball again.
When he exited the courtroom, Guney was greeted by the cheers of about 12 supporters.
There were handshakes and hugs and one man said, “Now, I just have to beat you in pickleball.”
Dressed in a neat gray suit, which Guney said he only wears for weddings and funerals, he thanked his supporters.
“Today’s the greatest day for us,” Guney said. “It’s been two months. It’s been very hard. Very hard on my family and friends…The last two months we had great support, great outcry. We have an amazing community, amazing friends. Central Park strong. Four-thousand people live there and they’re amazing. Thank you.”
The pickleball problems began in early March. Pickleball is a popular racket sport, and Guney is known by fellow pickleball fans as the “Mayor of Pickleball.” He plays and voluntarily teaches the sport at the Central Park Recreation Center.
The courts aren’t permanently marked for pickleball. Instead, yellow raised cloth markers that resemble tape are used to designate the ins and outs of the playing field.
Guney was accused of destroying Denver Parks and Recreation property after he drew 1-by-1 boxes on the center’s court indicating where the pickleball boundaries should be placed.
He faced a felony criminal mischief charge, which carried a prison term of up to three years. An arrest warrant was issued on March 17. Guney turned himself in on March 24 and spent hours at a Denver detention center before being released on a personal recognizance bond.
Guney had never been arrested before.
Maintenance staff were asked to remove the markings with a “solvent,” but whatever substance was used “was also removing the finish on the floor,” according to an arrest warrant. The damages were tallied at $9,344.58.
But according to attorney Hollynd Hoskins and several witness statements she received, rec center staff drew Xs on the court floor to indicate where the yellow markers should go long before Guney. Hoskins said Guney simply and mistakenly followed suit, darkening the existing markings.
Hoskins and Guney initially sought mediation, but according to the arrest warrant, John Martinez, the deputy executive director of Parks and Recreation, said he “was not interested in meeting with Mr. Guney” and the department would move forward with the charges.
“They really should be ashamed of themselves for escalating this to a felony,” Hoskins said. “The fact that Arslan Guney, an upstanding citizen with no criminal history, who has been a volunteer in this community forever and was acting as a volunteer and had no criminal intentions… The fact that Denver Parks and Rec and the City of Denver would not sit down and talk to Arslan to find out what happened…I was unable to negotiate a summons and a complaint…This is a sad day for the city of Denver and Denver Parks and Rec.”
Parks and Rec didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.
Besides the charges, Guney was also permanently banned from all Denver rec centers and his membership was suspended indefinitely.
During mediations, ordered by D.A. Beth McCann, the ban was lifted. Guney was ordered to pay about $5,000 for the damages and write an apology letter.
“We’re all human beings,” Guney said. “We make mistakes and when you make a mistake, you have to pay in some way. I [will] continue to volunteer…When I get out of here, we’ll go out there and play pickleball and again volunteer myself and my time and hopefully go back to normal.”
Hoskins said the community will set up a GoFundMe to help Guney pay for the damages. She said the funding will also go to nonprofit organizations run by two professional pickleball players, Simone Jardim and Gizmo. She added that the organizations teach underserved communities pickleball, helping children and “the young at heart.”
Holding hands with his wife, Linda, on the steps of the county courthouse, Guney continued his thanks. He called Hoskins his angel. He thanked the pickleball community far and wide. He said he couldn’t wait to play pickleball later in the day.
“I was really lucky to have so many supporters,” Guney said. “I’m sure I’m not going to do it again. I’m sure you’re not going to see me again, but I think a lot of good things came out of [it] because as you can see the community is really strong…I can see that our neighbors are so strong and so tied together. From Maine to California, thank you. Picklers are amazing people and pickleball is not just a sport. It’s a community…They all love each other. That’s what makes it really nice.”