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'Bigfoot' suit: NH is stomping on civil liberties

The Associated Press, Tuesday, March 8, 2011, 3:31pm (PST)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- First there was a Bigfoot sighting. Now, there's a Bigfoot suing.

A performance artist and amateur filmmaker who dressed as the mythical beast says New Hampshire park rangers didn't have the right to kick him off a mountain where he had been scaring, or at least amusing, hikers while friends videotaped his antics.

Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Jonathan Doyle is suing the state, arguing that the requirement to pay $100 for a special use permit 30 days in advance and get a $2 million insurance bond violates his free speech rights.

"The underlying activities are humorous, but the principle's important," said Jon Meyer, a lawyer representing Doyle. "We're talking about a very small-scale activity in a very large place. We don't believe there's any legitimate government role in regulation."

Doyle's attorneys say no one complained to the state park service after Doyle first dressed as Bigfoot, ran around the rocky top of Mount Monadnock, returned to human form and interviewed bystanders about what they saw Sept. 6, 2009.

"People loved it. It was socially engaging," Doyle, 30, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "When I showed up at the top of the mountain dressed as Bigfoot and beating my chest, everyone just laughed and hoorayed."

Hikers describing their encounters in a video Doyle posted on YouTube seemed happy to get in on the fun and inflate the legend.

"At first I thought it was just a man in a suit making some sort of documentary, but then I saw it devour this man's friend and a small child," one man said at the top of the popular hiking spot as others behind him relaxed, admired the view and drank water. "I still see blood on the rocks."

A boy who looked to be about 10 said he even took a photo of the legendary monster, which is more strongly associated with the Pacific Northwest than New Hampshire. "Yeah. I'm gonna put it on eBay, sell it for like $50," he said.

When Doyle let it get out that he planned to return Sept. 19 to film a sequel, Monadnock park manager Patrick Hummel noticed. The subject line in an e-mail he wrote to his supervisor: "Bigfoot problem on Monadnock...not kidding."

Hummel said in the e-mail he planned to intercept Doyle and added, "If you want to waste 5 minutes of your time, he's on YouTube."

So when Doyle returned with a small band of costumed friends to film "The Capture of Bigfoot," they were captured themselves, sort of. Hummel interrupted the skit and barred them from filming, saying Doyle needed a permit.

"Here I am in a Bigfoot outfit, and he's an authority figure and he's got a job to do," Doyle said, during a telephone interview from the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he is waiting tables to support his artwork.

The interrupted skit — of Bigfoot sneaking up on a friend of Doyle's — had about 2,200 hits on YouTube as of Tuesday, while his Sept. 6 video had about 2,300.

Doyle said he thinks officials found his Bigfoot stunt — and the publicity it generated — tacky for a mountain revered by literary giants Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Monadnock is a scenic mountain with views of four states from its 3,165-foot-tall summit. Emerson and Thoreau both hiked it and wrote about it. New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union attorney Barbara Keshen said in her brief that it is said to be among the most-climbed mountains in the world.

A lawyer who was among the friends with him when Hummel stopped the filming forwarded details of the case to the ACLU.

"Jonathan Doyle started this thing with nothing but good humor and intentions," Keshen said. "But it does have serious overtones."

Keshen and the state both filed motions Tuesday seeking favorable verdicts. Doyle is seeking attorneys' fees, nominal damages and to be allowed to videotape on Monadnock without having to get a permit.

Both sides agree there's no need for a trial because no facts are in dispute. What they dispute is whether the administrative rule requiring permits, as it was applied to Doyle, violates his First Amendment rights to free speech and expression.

New Hampshire's department of resources and economic development, which oversees the park system, referred all questions to the attorney general's office because the case is in litigation.

Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge said the rule is constitutional.

Doyle, who grew up in Keene and has attended several art schools but has yet to graduate, has done other stunts to elicit reactions. He created and drove a "Bat-Mobile" around Manhattan. He dressed as an angel and stood stock still in the main aisle of an Episcopal church. He also said he designs websites and murals and loves to paint.

"I don't want to be locked in a Bigfoot suit forever," Doyle said. "I'd like to be able to do more."

Bigfoot is the nickname given to sightings of large, hairy, human-like creatures that have been reported across the United States. Scientists are skeptical, at best, about its existence.

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