On March 14, Arslan Guney, 71, was doing what he loves—playing pickleball and teaching newbies how to play at the Central Park Rec Center.
Twenty-four hours later, the rec center canceled all pickleball, revoked Guney’s membership to all city rec centers and filed felony criminal mischief charges against him for $10,000 in damages, a crime that carries up to three years in prison.
The Central Park Rec Center resumed pickleball on March 23.
On March 24, Guney turned himself into the Denver Police Department and was booked into the Denver County Detention Facility. He was released a few hours later on his own recognizance. At the time Front Porch went to print on March 24, it wasn’t known whether District Attorney Beth McCann would file criminal charges.
UPDATE: On March 29, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement “My office has not charged Mr. Arslan Guney with any criminal counts regarding the pickleball incident with Denver Parks and Recreation. At my suggestion, the parties will attempt to resolve this matter through mediation with a city mediator. I am optimistic that by sitting down and working out a mutually-agreeable solution, this matter can be solved amicably.”
The dispute erupted on March 14 after Guney refreshed 45 small X marks that had been drawn by the staff in fall 2021 to show where temporary, L-shaped markers should be placed to delineate pickleball boundaries on the court.
Guney started communicating with rec staff in late January about improving the pickleball experience at Central Park. He contacted the Deputy Executive Director, John Martinez, asking for permanent pickleball lines. In a cordial email, he said that the L-shaped yellow markers the players use are dangerous; they don’t stay in place and curl up at the ends posing a tripping-hazard for the players, many of whom are older.
Martinez—also cordial—responded that they avoid taped lines because it deteriorates and damages the floor. He said another reason for not painting extra lines is that the primary use of the gym is for basketball and volleyball, and adding extra lines might create confusion and errors for those athletes. He said that the floor was refinished in 2020 with two additional coats added in 2021 and was not scheduled to be redone for at least another five years. He also said that the safety director believed the L-shaped markers to be a safe option.
On March 9, Central Park pickleball players, including Guney, met with Martinez and two other parks and rec officials, Seth Howsden and Elizabeth Supple, to discuss a possible solution for the pickleball-line problem. According to follow-up emails, it seemed to go well.
Guney sent an email to Martinez thanking the rec staff for their time. He called the meeting “productive” and said he felt “encouraged” by the rec staff’s “commitment to pickleball.” He wrote, in part, “The results of our meeting include the following: Mr. Howsden is going to look into any viable options to add pickleball lines to the Central Park Rec Center, Ms. Supple is going to assess expanding the hours of the current pickleball program throughout the spring and summer and Arslan Guney will provide drawings for the pickleball nets and strips set-up locations to Ms. Supple.”
Sidenote: What Guney calls “strips” in the previous paragraph, we have called “L-shaped markers.”
Howsden responded with an email saying, “It was a pleasure to meet you and your fellow pickleball aficionados” and that he would schedule time in the future to discuss their progress.
On March 14, Guney and approximately 20 other pickleballers played at the center. After they finished, Guney re-examined the staff’s pre-existing X marks to prepare to draw the diagram of the court he promised the staff. Guney’s attorney, Hollynd Hoskins, said that the staff’s markings from the fall had faded and were confusing. So Guney borrowed a marker from the front desk, refreshed and drew boxes around some of the existing Xs and added a few more.
Forty-five marks total.
On March 15, the rec center put a sign on the door suspending all pickleball until further notice and sent Guney a letter saying his membership to all facilities had been revoked. The notice said in part, “There are 45 marks on the basketball court which cannot be removed without degrading the finish on the basketball court. The basketball court will have to be completely refinished to remove the marks made by Mr. Guney with a permanent marker. The estimated cost for this is $10,000. The letter was signed by Martinez and Howsden.
On March 16, Guney sent an email to Martinez and Howsden saying he’d been contacted by the Denver Police Department and was “shocked and saddened” to learn they were accusing him of vandalism. He said, “I am not a criminal. I am a 71-year-old retiree, and I have never damaged anything in my life.” He added, “The detective recommended I talk to you about this issue to get it resolved between us as soon as possible.”
Guney’s attorney, Hoskins, said, “Mr. Guney acknowledges this was an honest mistake and he should have consulted with the supervisor before; however, at the time he fully believed he was acting with the consent and at the request and direction of the Denver Parks and Rec (DPR) staff. His markings are small, inconspicuous and have not damaged or destroyed the gym floor. Furthermore, these markings do not interfere with activity at the gym. Finally, these markings could be removed from the center at a nominal cost.”
Guney tried reaching out to the rec center staff again through his attorney. Hoskins said they were willing to pay reasonable damages and wanted to provide free pickleball lessons to at-risk kids at any Denver Parks and Rec facility.
In the arrest affidavit, Martinez said: “We want to move forward with charges as his actions caused significant damage to the gym floor and will cost the city thousands of dollars to repair.” He also said in the March 9 meeting that he made it very clear permanent lines would not be added for pickleball.
In a separate statement, Cyndi Karvaski, a media relations person for DPR said, “It is our duty and responsibility to the citizens of Denver to protect city assets and public property. Defacing or damaging public property is unacceptable, a criminal offense and will not be tolerated in any of our public buildings or spaces.”
For updates on this story, go to www.frontporchne.com.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch