See Updates Below!
I showed a friend the story below from the 3 October 1999 issue, and she found it way too hard to believe. I, of course, bet it was indeed true, and to prove it I drove down to Colorado Springs (about two hours south of me). As you will see, the story’s true.
No, Not “Firetruck”
Leonard Carlo likes a particular word, and it’s reflected in the decor of his Colorado Springs, Colo., bar. “F—ing Women” says the sign on the ladies room; “F—ing Men” it says on the opposite door. Another sign notes, “No f—ing tap or draw beer”. A state liquor enforcement agent, noting a state regulation prohibiting profanity in bars, confiscated 29 signs. “The mother f—er came in like a German storm trooper,” Carlo said. “He walked in my door and started ripping signs off my f—ing walls.” The agent, however, left up Carlo’s posting of the Ten Commandments and the U.S. Constitution. Carlo’s liquor license is in danger of suspension, and he is suing, saying his free speech rights have been violated (“If you walk in and see ‘f—‘ and you don’t like it, get the f— out. There’s 700 bars in town,” he says.) Meanwhile, Carlo has had a message tattooed on his bald head which reads, “F— U. Leave me the f— alone.” He challenged the agent, “Now, mother f—–, take that one!” (Denver Post) …They will if they can.
7 July 2000 Update
The Denver Post reports “Leonard Carlo is f—— happy.” In a settlement, the state has dropped all charges against him and has returned his signs in return for his dropping his civil rights lawsuit. While the “no profanity in bars” rule is still on the books, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees liquor enforcement, says that liquor agents will not enforce it.
Carlo had faced revocation of his liquor license, and was supported in his action against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s a victory not only for me but for everyone,” Carlo said. “We protected the First Amendment, so I’m happy about it, but I’m not gloating over it.”
The ACLU attorney notes “The Constitution does not permit government inspectors to monitor private businesses to ensure that the owners express themselves in accordance with government-approved standards of good taste.” After all, a bar is hardly a place where children would come in contact with the language. And any adults who don’t like it can find another place they prefer.
The First Amendment is there exactly for language or ideas people don’t want to hear. We would hardly need such a clear and firm guarantee in our Constitution for speech that everyone liked and agreed with, so of course it’s there only for language we don’t agree with! Whether or not you like what Carlo has to say, he has a fundamental right to say it. If you don’t agree, you don’t deserve to be able to say what you think, either!
June 2002 Update
In October 2000, after a “three-month investigation,” Carlo was arrested for allegedly dealing cocaine from his bar. In a June 2002 plea bargain, about 20 other charges against him were dismissed, including racketeering, cocaine distribution, illegal weapons possession, and witness intimidation and retaliation. Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Bain said the charges wouldn’t stick — because evidence was suppressed over improper searching by police. The main informant against Carlo had felony convictions, which would undermine his credibility, Bain said, and several of Carlo’s employees admitted they were doing the drug dealing without Carlo knowing. To settle the remaining charges, Carlo pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and was sentenced to two years of probation. “Everybody lied,” Carlo said after sentencing. The informant “lied, the detective lied and the DA lied.”
Thomas Ward, Carlo’s attorney, said Carlo was a small-time cocaine user, not a big-time drug distributor. After 50 years in business in Colorado Springs, Ward said, Carlo lost his business, his wife, and his house over the charges, saying the police targeted his client over his notoriety with the “f—ing” signs.
“In the course of our investigation, everyone almost laughed at the suggestion that Mr. Carlo was selling drugs,” Ward said.
It’s hard to decide the truth, but frankly Ward’s charges are plausible. You can fight city hall, but they might cheat to win.
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