Teen cited for drinking fights citation, says deputies violated her civil rights
August 25, 2008
ASPEN ” While five of her friends pleaded guilty to alcohol possession charges following a concert on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village, one local teenager is fighting it out in county court.
During a concert in early June, Pitkin County deputies received a report about a visibly sick teenager in the hilltop area of the concert venue.
Deputies stopped and cited six teenagers who had all allegedly been drinking, and later transported the youths to a makeshift detox center run by the Right Door, a drug and alcohol case-management nonprofit.
In court, despite pleading guilty, some of the accused teens claimed that Pitkin County deputies had been rude and violated their civil rights.
And in a motions hearing last Tuesday in Aspen, one local girl, whose name is being withheld because she is under 18, filed a motion through her attorney, Chip McCrory, to have her on-scene testimony suppressed because police allegedly violated her civil rights.
McCrory alleged that his client was intimidated by officers who did not actually arrest her or read her her rights ” something they must do in the presence of a parent or guardian ” but strong-armed her and took her to the temporary detox tent.
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Ron Ryan, the sheriff’s office director of investigations, and Paul Hufnagle, the office’s school resource officer, said they responded to the scene at the concert to protect the children’s welfare, and that there was at least one of the kids who was in dire straits (one’s breath test later a blood-alcohol content of 0.20, well over the driving limit).
The deputies said they stopped the girl and one of her friends as they were trying to walk away.
The girl admitted that she had “a few sips,” and said she knew it was illegal.
McCrory, a former district attorney in Aspen, said that while the deputies were “flag waving” in court about safety and community health, that night they were trouncing on the girl’s constitutional rights.
A consensual encounter with a law enforcement official requires consent from both sides, he said, and the girl was intimidated by the deputies and was later confused by a breathalyzer test and questioning from Right Door staff.
“It was not a consensual encounter,” McCrory said, and if the deputies had wanted to take the girl into custody, they should have read her her Miranda rights.
Instead, they simply ordered her around, McCrory said, and he argued that any testimony from the moment a deputy first tapped the girl on the shoulder should not be admissible.
Deputy District Attorney Richard Nedlin said that police were just responding to a dangerous situation of a group of children who’d been drinking.
Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely said that statistics on substance abuse among teens are shocking.
Some 30,000 Colorado kids ages 12 to 17 are substance abusers, and between 60 and 80 percent of kids in juvenile courts have addiction problems, she said.
Ely will rule before a scheduled Sept. 9 hearing about whether the evidence from the concert will be admissible, but said Tuesday that at first blush she believes officers were just doing their duty, and part of that duty is asking question such as, “Have you been drinking?”
Ely did say, however, that there was some confusion over the girl being taken to detox and some question about whether any testimony there would be admissible.