Cocaine-possession trial gets underway in Aspen
Ryan Summerlin July 29, 2014
What Aspen policeman Jeff Fain said he saw early the morning of Sept. 6, 2012, was somewhat unusual, he testified in Pitkin County District Court on Monday.
A drug suspect handed over a small bag of cocaine — one of four that had been in his pockets — before Fain had even started to search him, the officer said while being questioned by prosecutor Blake Feamster.
Fernando A. Fuentes-Silva, 30, of Carbondale, is standing trial on a charge of felony possession of more than 4 grams of cocaine. Fuentes-Silva seemed overstimulated and drunk when Fain and two other officers contacted him at around 2:45 a.m. in the vicinity of the Highway 82 bus stop near the Truscott Place apartments in Aspen, Fain said.
But Fuentes-Silva understood what was happening and answered Fain’s questions, the officer said. He asked Fuentes-Silva if he had been using cocaine and the suspect said “yes,” Fain testified.
“I asked him if I could search him, and then the gentleman said ‘no,’” Fain said. “I asked if he had any cocaine on his person, to which he answered ‘yes.’ He reached in his right front pocket and pulled out a bag of cocaine and handed it to me. That doesn’t happen a lot. I have seen it a few times.”
Feamster also played and entered as evidence an audio recording of what police say was a conversation between Fain and the defendant in which Fuentes-Silva — as he is being taken to jail — says he purchased $200 worth of cocaine in a bathroom of a South Galena Street bar. She also showed the 12-person jury photographs of four small cocaine baggies that police say they seized during the arrest.
Fain, an eight-year veteran of the Aspen Police Department with experience that includes more than 200 cases involving drugs, allegedly is heard to ask Fuentes-Silva if he bought three bags.
“I bought four,” was the reply.
Fain’s testimony followed brief opening remarks from Feamster and Aspen defense attorney Beth Krulewitch. Feamster said Fuentes-Silva, when confronted with one of his own cocaine bags containing rolled-up paper money, told police, “I know I’m in trouble.”
The case is nearing the two-year mark. Fuentes-Silva — who according to court filings faces a possibility of deportation if found guilty — pleaded not guilty to the charge in October, and a trial was set for late March.
Also that month, the court held a hearing on Fuentes-Silva’s motion to suppress evidence in the case. Krulewitch argued that the officers’ initial contact with Fuentes-Silva was illegal and that all evidence and statements were invalid. That motion was denied.
Soon after, the trial was continued to late July.
Police say they made contact with Fuentes-Silva following a 911 call from his ex-girlfriend at Truscott Place. The two allegedly argued and Fuentes-Silva left her apartment and made his way to the bus stop on Highway 82.
Krulewitch said police had “no reason to believe a crime had been committed” that morning. Fuentes-Silva and his girlfriend argued — but there was no physical altercation — and he simply left, she said.
Krulewitch said police had no description of the person who had been involved in the argument when they stopped Fuentes-Silva as he was walking away from the Truscott Place bus stop, heading west down a bicycle path.
“And he stopped. And he spoke to them,” Krulewitch told jurors. “I ask you to keep an open mind as to what transpired when police stopped my client. I ask you to keep an open mind when you consider whether the prosecution can really prove that the substance Officer Fain says he took from my client was actually cocaine.”
Jury selection took nearly five hours Monday as Feamster and Krulewitch questioned prospects about their stances on U.S. drug policy and other issues. Some potential jurors with extreme views on the War on Drugs issue were excused from duty by the attorneys. Other delays occurred when a few would-be jurors told Judge Gail Nichols they had seen a newspaper story last week that previewed the trial.