Judge blocks release of Casa Bonita plans over mass shooting concerns

Casa Bonita aerial

Casa Bonita is Lakewood is undergoing renovations. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

A Jefferson County judge on Tuesday temporarily prohibited the City of Lakewood from publicly releasing schematics of Casa Bonita due to fears they could aid a mass shooter.

The popular restaurant, which has undergone major renovations since being purchased by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone last year, sued the city Monday to prevent it from giving news outlets 121 pages of building plans.

The question before Jefferson County District Court Judge Randall Arp was whether the plans show “critical infrastructure” and are, therefore, exempt from the Colorado Open Records Act. He said it’s “a stretch” to call Casa Bonita critical infrastructure but acknowledged concerns.

“We live in a different world than we did perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, with mass shootings occurring in concert venues and grocery stores and schools and bars and nightclubs and other public locations that are not necessarily infrastructure but certainly are targets,” Arp ruled.

“There is some merit to suggesting that certain information, such as where cameras are located and other security features are located, should not be readily accessible to those types of individuals,” the judge said at the end of a 25-minute hearing.

Arp determined that at least three of the 121 pages showed camera layouts and another page showed audio and video controls. The judge said, “Certainly, those would be of interest to any mass shooter or someone wishing to do harm at Casa Bonita.”

Casa Bonita main

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park,” purchased Casa Bonita in 2021. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

The restaurant and the city now have 21 days to go through the 121 pages in question and determine which should be redacted or not released at all. He was skeptical that maps showing fire exits need to be redacted, since those are visible inside a restaurant.

“The judge is doing the thing that judges do,” Ashley Kissinger, a Colorado media law attorney with the firm Ballard Spahr, said in an interview, “which is to try to resolve this in a way that they don’t have to reach a difficult legal (decision) that may have negative public policy implications.”

Jessica Smith, an attorney with Holland & Hart, represented Casa Bonita in Monday’s lawsuit and Tuesday’s hearing. She said, “Our big concern is that once these plans are out there, they can’t ever come back. We can’t ever ensure that Casa Bonita will be safe.”

“Releasing this information would cause injury to the public interest because the public has an interest in not being subjected to mass shootings and especially not subjected to mass shootings where the perpetrator had access to security information,” Smith added.

She said one news outlet received the schematics last week and wrote about them but later agreed to take the information off its website at her urging. Arp’s ruling stopped the same documents from being sent to other news outlets at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Gus Schenck, an assistant city attorney in Lakewood, said the city doesn’t take a position on whether the documents should be released. Lakewood believed they were public and that it must turn them over, so it planned to, but welcomes a contrary ruling, he said.

“The city, frankly, does not see this as critical infrastructure,” Schenck said of Casa Bonita. “However, the city wants everybody within its borders to be safe.”

Casa Bonita aerial

Casa Bonita is Lakewood is undergoing renovations. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

He said it’s “a stretch” to call the restaurant critical infrastructure but some information such as camera locations could help a shooter.

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