Plea deal could lead to clean record for dissed rapper
A 23-year-old man pleaded guilty Monday to flashing a handgun at a group of local teens last fall after one dissed his “no flow” rapping skills.
Tyler Mancuello will serve 60 days in jail and three years on probation, though he will have a chance to clear the felony-menacing conviction from his record if he stays out of trouble while on probation thanks to a “deferred sentence” plea deal reached with the District Attorney’s Office.
“I do take responsibility,” Mancuello told Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin on Monday.
Mancuello allegedly used the location services of a social media application Oct. 10 to figure out the location of the teen who insulted his rapping on the same social media application, according to court records. He then went to the Aspen Recreation Center and confronted the teen, who had just finished playing tennis with three friends, by lifting his sweatshirt, showing the gun in his waistband and making verbal threats.
The teens told police they were scared, according to court records. None of the victims attended Monday’s virtual court hearing though they knew about the plea deal, prosecutor Tony Hershey said.
Mancuello obtained the gun legally, had a concealed permit and a clean criminal record up until the October confrontation, said Arnold Mordkin, his attorney. Mancuello lived in Snowmass Village for two years but has since moved to the Front Range.
Man disavows bogus defense before prison sentence
A Mesa County man who attempted to assert the bogus “sovereign citizen” defense to cover for squatting in a Mountain Valley home in 2019 disavowed the doctrine Tuesday and was sentenced to prison.
“(The sovereign citizen defense) is just stuff on the internet,” said Isaac Brehm said. “There’s no factual basis to it. I’ve seen the error of my thinking.”
Brehm, 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary in connection to his occupation of the home on Mountain Laurel Drive and theft between $2,000 and $5,000 for stealing a welder in Garfield County — both felonies — before District Judge Chris Seldin sentenced him to six years in prison.
The sovereign citizen defense is a false interpretation of the Constitution that leads adherents to trouble, Seldin said. Brehm attempted to assert squatter’s rights to the home — which had been vacant for about 10 years — and had posted an “adverse possession affidavit” at the home’s entrance when Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrested him.
Brehm entered the plea from state prison, where he’s serving a two-year sentence for theft and a drug charge.
After Brehm was arrested in March 2019, officials found tools, a motorcycle and other stolen property at the Mountain Valley home, though charges relating to the theft were dropped as a result of Tuesday’s plea deal.
Brehm was sentenced to 15 months in prison for stealing the welder in Garfield County, though that sentence will be served concurrently to the six-year burglary sentence.
In other court news Tuesday:
• A homeless man arrested in June for allegedly strangling and assaulting a woman who let him sleep on her couch pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor assault.
Aradeus Daffin, 33, was sentenced to 18 months of probation and must undergo substance abuse and mental health evaluations as a result of Tuesday’s plea. The alleged victim in the case wrote to the District Attorney’s Office asking that Daffin be released, said prosecutor Don Nottingham.
Aspen home used as bond collateral in Barrack’s criminal lobbying case
An Aspen home Thomas Barrack owns is being used as collateral for a $250 million bond connected to charges that the Trump ally engaged in illegal lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
A deed of trust filed this week in Pitkin County was another indicator of the wealth and connections Barrack has tapped to keep him out of jail. It also was filed in advance of a virtual status hearing scheduled Thursday.
Authorities arrested Barrack, 74, on July 20 in California, on allegations that he acted as an UAE agent from April 2016 to April 2018 and used his clout to influence Trump. The chairman of the Trump 2016 Inaugural Committee, Barrack through his attorneys pleaded not guilty July 26 to charges that he didn’t register his work for the UAE, made false statements to the FBI, and committed obstruction.
Barrack made bail on July 23 after three nights in custody. His release came after he reached an agreement with the prosecution to put up $250 million to secure his future appearances. The deed of trust for Barrack’s 277 Eagle Park Drive home was filed Tuesday with the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.
Barrack already had put $5 million cash into a trust account held by one of the law firms defending him — Paul Hastings LLP — as well his stake of $150 million in Digital Bridge, an investment company formerly known as Colony Capital. The remaining $95 million to cover the bail is being secured by real estate — including homes that his ex-wife, Rachelle Barrack, son Thomas Barrack III, and associate Jonathan Grunzweig have put up as collateral, according to court documents.
If Barrack were to violate his bond conditions by fleeing the country, for instance, the federal government could take the properties used as collateral and he’d lose his shares in Digital Bridge.
On July 22, Barrack signed off on a court agreement that stated: “I will not sell the property, allow further claims to be made against it, or do anything to seduce its value while this appearance bond is in effect.”
Release conditions limit Barrack’s travel to within the geographic court circuits of the Central District of California, the Eastern District of New York, and the Southern District of New York.
“Written advanced notice shall be provided to government of all itineraries not less than three business days in advance of travel between these districts,” according to a July 23-dated order signed by Magistrate Judge Patricia Donahue of the Central District of California in Los Angeles.
Release conditions also forced Barrack to surrender his passport and travel documents, and he also cannot have contact with the two co-defendants or officials from the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
One of the co-defendants is Aspen resident Matthew Grimes, 27, who allegedly reported directly to Barrack. He is free on $5 million bond after his parents reportedly put up their $2.5 million house in California as security and $2 million in retirement savings. He also has pleaded not guilty.
The third person indicted was Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, an UAE businessman. He remains at large after fleeing the U.S. three days after the FBI interviewed him in 2018, according to prosecutors.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Lesko in a statement on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice when the indictments were announced in July. “The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President. Through this indictment, we are putting everyone — regardless of their wealth or perceived political power — on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence.”
Barrack bought his Aspen house for $15.5 million in November 2017. The 10,859-square-foot structure is located in the West Buttermilk area. The real estate websites Trulia and Zillow gave it an estimated value of $23.3 million as of Wednesday.
“The court may order this appearance bond ended at anytime.This bond will be satisfied and the security will be released when either: (1) the defendant is found not guilty on all charges, or (2) the defendant reports to serve a sentence,” according to court records.
The case is based in the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn.
Candidates selected to replace Judge Fernandez-Ely
Two local lawyers have been nominated to replace Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely, and their names have been forwarded to Gov. Jared Polis.
Polis has until Sept. 15 to select either Ashley Andrews of Snowmass Village or Susan O’Bryan of Aspen, according to a Wednesday news release from the Colorado Judicial Department.
Andrews is a lawyer with the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office in Glenwood Springs and handles the public defender’s felony docket in Pitkin County District Court. O’Bryan is a lawyer in Aspen who also works with Alpine Legal Services, a non-profit civil legal assistance agency in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The Ninth Judicial Nominating Committee met virtually Tuesday and selected the candidates, according to the release. Anyone who wants to comment on the two nominees can email the governor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the 21 years Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely has been on the bench, she has helped lead the many strides made in approaching criminal defendants in a more humanistic manner by offering them resources rather than throwing them in jail.
Fernandez-Ely, who is retiring later this year, is considered by her peers as a pioneer in creating alliances with professionals in mental health, substance abuse, law enforcement and the judicial system to create programs that are designed to help people get out of the system with the proper rehabilitation.
“Her style is born out of compassion,” said Jeff Cheney, district attorney for the Ninth Judicial District, who has worked with Fernandez-Ely since her appointment by Gov. Bill Owens in 2000. “She has a heart of gold and cares about everyone who comes before her in court.”
Fernandez-Ely said it became very clear in her first few days as county judge that mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness permeated the criminal justice system.
Pretrial services and diversion programs were established within the Ninth Judicial District and county court early in her tenure, including partnering with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and a now-defunct organization called the Right Door to include mental health support services, case management and monitored abstinence.
“It was a wonderful, hands-on experience,” Fernandez-Ely said, noting that 80% of arrests and cases in her court are alcohol related, whether it’s assault, domestic violence or driving under the influence.
Working under the umbrella of problem-solving courts
There are fewer people going through the proverbial revolving door of the local criminal justice system as a result of establishing pretrial services in which a team of professionals and counselors work with defendants one on one to get to the root cause of why they are on the wrong side of the law.
“I do think a lot of people benefit from it,” said Roger Adams, who worked with Fernandez-Ely as a case manager in pretrial services for Pitkin County courts. “She is a trend-setter and responsible in some ways for the progressive stuff happening in Pitkin County.”
Problem-solving and wellness courts, such as drug court and DUI court, were established in the Ninth Judicial District in the early and mid 2000s.
Seeing a need to address the mentally ill coming through her courtroom and to reduce recidivism, Fernandez-Ely established mental health court in the Ninth Judicial District through state judicial community advisory meetings.
The idea was to disentangle the system so jail is not the solution, and a host of resources are provided as options for the defendant that involves Mind Springs Health, an Aspen counseling center that contracts with the Ninth Judicial District’s probation department, along with the public defender and the district attorney’s office and jail administrators.
Once in the program, participants receive help with medical and medication management, housing, employment, therapy and other needs.
The atmosphere of the wellness court is motivational rather than adversarial, with Fernandez-Ely often acting more like a counselor than a judge.
“She is the people’s judge,” said Lauren Maytin, an Aspen-based criminal defense attorney. “Parties in her court are treated humanely, their stories are heard … she’s had a broad spectrum of impact on people.”
Fernandez-Ely’s style is to let “people go on and on and I don’t worry about time,” she said. “I feel like there is a cathartic element to it.”
Fernandez-Ely’s colleagues describe her demeanor as engaging, neutral, fair, patient, and consistent.
She seeks to resolve conflicts using all the tools available to her, including firmness when necessary.
Abe Hutt, a Denver-based criminal defense attorney, said Fernandez-Ely is the benchmark of a good judge and he would like to clone her for the big city.
“She is ready, willing and able to be tough on people and she is ready, willing and able to be compassionate and lenient,” he said. “She has every trait you would want in a judge, especially in a county court.”
The Aspen Police Department now has dedicated officers who are trained in handling individuals with mental illnesses, which evolved from mental health court.
Pitkin County Health and Human Services expanded outreach with a grant for what’s called the Pitkin County Area Crisis Team in which a therapist rides along with an officer on 911 calls.
A different approach to misdemeanors, civil cases
Fernandez-Ely estimated that she’s seen around 30,000 people come before her in Pitkin County Court, whether it’s for small claims, civil lawsuits, restraining orders, evictions, petty offenses, domestic violence cases, assaults or DUIs.
When she first started the caseload was about 1,700 cases a year but that has been reduced by several hundred due to the programs in place that are designed to help people in crisis, along with Fernandez-Ely’s passion for making a difference in their lives.
“One of the good things about county court is that you have that connection for progressive engagement, that’s the term that really calls to me,” she said. “So much of it is addiction and mental health that it should be behavioral science, transformative justice.”
So she has worked diligently over the years to create a framework and approach for responding to violence, harm and abuse.
Progressive engagement is the practice of helping people end their homelessness as rapidly as possible.
The local system provides family information assistance and in 2008, the Aspen Homeless shelter was established, offering showers, a place to wash clothes, and access to a computer and a mailbox to help people get on their feet.
“It’s the simple things that help,” Fernandez-Ely said.
Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
Cheney said his exposure to that ethos had an indelible effect on him as a young prosecutor.
“I give credit to her for motivating me to appreciate restorative justice, having compassion for both sides,” he said. “I owe Erin a debt of gratitude of teaching me the importance of it.”
When it comes into play most often are careless driving causing death cases, which Fernandez-Ely said are the most difficult.
“You try to address the harm done and you try to honor the victim and the family,” she said, adding that she tailors useful public service based on the victim’s wishes. “It feels like they are engaged in the punishment and that’s what is so difficult about those cases because the consequences are so much more significant than the culpability.
“Those are super hard, it makes your stomach hurt, it makes your heart hurt because there is nothing you can do to bring back the person.”
Fernandez-Ely, 68, said she wanted to retire before the case in which a local woman struck and killed a 5-year-old with her SUV while she was crossing the street on Hyman Avenue came before her.
“I lose sleep over every one of those,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The defendant, Heidi Houston, avoided jail time as part of a plea deal, and part of her sentence was to come up with a plan that honors the victim, Hannah Heusgen’s love of ballet and horses at the wishes of her family.
Fernandez-Ely’s retirement goal was extended, however, due to the pandemic, which she said would not have been fair to a new judge to have to deal with virtual hearings while learning the job.
“That wasn’t the right thing to do to drop on someone,” she said.
She had been a civil practitioner and was one of the plaintiff’s attorneys in the 1982 case of Pennobscot Inc. (et al.) vs. Pitkin County, considered one of the most important land-use cases in the state. The decision limited the county’s powers in regulating development on property of 35 acres or more.
Before coming to Aspen, Fernandez-Ely was a prosecutor in South Florida, specializing in white-collar crimes and felonies.
She received her degree in philosophy from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Florida law school.
Fernandez-Ely’s official retirement date is Oct. 31.
After that, she said she’ll continue to volunteer in the areas of homelessness and mental health in the criminal justice system, as well as travel with her husband, John, garden, paint and get some projects done at home.
The job is part-time at a 55% weighted caseload and pays $93,931.
There are nine people who have applied, and a seven-person commission will meet on Tuesday to interview applicants and send two to three finalists to Gov. Jared Polis, who has 15 days to make an appointment.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the governor appoints someone with the same qualities,” Hutt said.
Maytin, who serves on the commission, said there are some outstanding candidates but it will be difficult to replace Fernandez-Ely.
“She’s somewhat irreplaceable,” Maytin said. “She is truly one-of-a-kind and forever she will have a place in my heart and in this community.”
Thieves are targeting high-end bicycles in Basalt
Basalt police are warning owners of high-end bicycles to secure them indoors when out of use because of recent thefts.
‘We’ve had a rash of them since the end of June,” Lt. Aaron Munch of Basalt Police Department said Friday. “Last night we had two.”
The Thursday night thefts occurred in Willits.
All told, eight mountain bikes have been lifted in about seven weeks. The values range from $1,200 to $10,000.
The crooks, Munch said, are “very brazen.” They have struck throughout town. One bike was taken off the porch of a house while others were snatched from garages. Two were taken after cables attaching bikes to racks were cut. Others were yanked from their perch on the tailgate on the back of pickups.
Thieves have been targeting Aspen and Snowmass Village as well through the summer. That is relatively common. Thefts have been less prevalent downvalley.
“We get thefts here every once in a while but not as much as in the last month-and-a-half,” Munch said.
It is clear that the person or persons know bicycles because they are targeting higher end rides, Munch said. He suspects they are stripping them down and selling parts.
He said having a bike on a private vehicle doesn’t deter the thief or thieves. Nor do they shy away from entering private property such as porches and garages or even cutting cables. Places that may have been safe for storage in the past are no longer secure. Munch advised storing bikes in a closed garage or secured backyard or even bringing them inside a residence.
Police have video from a surveillance camera and are working to identify a suspect. Anyone with information about the thefts should call Basalt Police Department at 970-927-4316.
Judge lowers bond for alleged RFTA groper
A judge Tuesday issued a $1,000 personal recognizance bond for a Carbondale man accused of inappropriately touching a woman on a public bus and also under suspicion for similar incidents.
Jonathan Jaime Hernandez, 35, made his first appearance in Pitkin County Court in connection to a misdemeanor harassment charge that came after deputies arrested him Aug. 18 at the Local’s Corner service station.
Hernandez came to the attention of law enforcement Aug 17, when a woman reported the behavior stemming from an alleged incident that morning on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus ride from Basalt to Aspen. She took three photos of Hernandez, and authorities later matched his image from RFTA surveillance video with identifying information.
A prosecutor from the Pitkin County District Attorney’s Office, part of the 9th Judicial District, said Tuesday during the virtual court hearing Hernandez is under investigation for committing similar transgressions in the area, including inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl on a RFTA bus. As of Tuesday, no charges had been filed other than the harassment count from last week’s arrest.
“At this stage, they are still working on whether or not they are going to have enough to charge the sex assault on a child,” Pitkin County Deputy District Attorney Luisa Berne told Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely.
As well, a summons for his arrest was issued this week in Eagle County, the prosecutor said.
“He has been given a summons for another case in Eagle,” Berne said. “And then we’re up to five victims from this incident on the bus up and down the valley.”
Arrest information out of Eagle was not immediately available Tuesday.
“At this point, I’m not sure what the Eagle charges are,” Berne said. “I would assume something close to this. I don’t know how much longer we can hold him on a harassment.”
Hernandez appeared virtually in court from Pitkin County Jail, and he did not have counsel but was aided in the hearing by an English-Spanish translator.
Fernadnez-Ely changed his bond from a $5,000 cash or surety bond to a personal recognizance bond in the amount of $1,000. She urged Hernandez to stay away from the alleged victim and make his next court date Sept. 14.
“The most important thing you have to remember to avoid a warrant for you arrest is to appear on your court date and have no contact with (the accuser),” she said.
Hernandez remained in Pitkin County Jail as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. He previously told authorities that he accidentally touched the woman but later admitted to it, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
“During the bus ride, (the woman) was reading the morning paper and kept feeling something on her right hip,” the affidavit states. “(She) reported feeling this 2-3 times, but it was very faint. She kept looking down thinking it was her jacket, but she didn’t think much of it. She then felt something on her upper waist and looked down and saw a hand.”
She then turned around and confronted the man sitting behind her, the affidavit said.
“Stop touching me,” she told told Hernandez, who she did not know, according to the affidavit. “Don’t do it again. If you touch me again, I’ll hit you.”
Police investigating downtown Aspen car theft
The Aspen Police Department is investigating a car theft that occurred in downtown Aspen late last week, according to assistant sergeant Ryan Turner.
The victim parked their blue Toyota 4Runner on Durant Avenue by Big Wrap restaurant around 7:30 p.m. Friday. Based on security footage and the timing of fraudulent charges made on the victim’s credit card in Glenwood Springs, “the time frame seems to indicate that the car was stolen almost immediately after it was parked,” Turner said.
Turner said he has “some sneaking suspicion” that the suspect may have seen the victim stash their keys in the vehicle shortly before the suspect stole the car.
Investigators learned Saturday that the vehicle passed through the Front Range when the license plate was captured on a scanner, according to Turner.
An officer on the Front Range who was in the area where the vehicle was scanned searched the region but could not locate the vehicle at that time, Turner said.
“It could be anywhere,” Turner said, but the investigation will be under the purview of the Aspen Police Department because that’s where the theft occurred.
Local police have been successful in resolving several other vehicle thefts in the past six months, but they‘ve also had good luck on their side, according to Turner.
“We’ve got a pretty good track record as of late, but I think we’ve been getting lucky,” Turner said.
‘Agitated’ man tased after leading police on chase, crashing on Highway 82
A 40-year-old man led three Roaring Fork Valley police agencies on a chase that ended with officers pulling weapons on the man after he crashed on Highway 82 near Emma, sources said.
Joshua Shroyr of Glenwood Springs, whose BMW SUV ended up on top of the median between the east and westbound lanes of the highway, got out of his car after the crash and acted aggressively toward Colorado State Patrol troopers before one of the officers tased him, according to video footage of the arrest.
“He was incredibly agitated and probably high on crystal meth, so he was very aggressive,” said Glenwood Springs Police detective Jeff Fain, who was with officers in West Glenwood when Shroyr was first contacted.
The incident first occurred just before 10 a.m. when emergency dispatchers in Glenwood Springs received a call about a man acting suspiciously, talking to himself and waving his hands in the air at the Kum and Go convenience store in West Glenwood, Fain said. Not long after, the store’s panic alarm was triggered by clerks, who later said Shroyr threatened to retrieve a gun and shoot them, he said.
Police arrived on scene and tried to talk to Shroyr, but he instead jumped in his vehicle and sped off, nearly striking Fain’s car. Officers again tried to stop him on Midland Avenue in front of Target but were again unsuccessful, so they turned off their emergency lights and backed off the pursuit, Fain said.
“He was driving crazy and passing people,” he said.
Carbondale police officers also attempted to pursue Shroyr in that town, but he made it on to Highway 82 and CSP officers took up the pursuit. Near Emma, Shroyr ran into the front passenger door of one of the CSP vehicles, then spun all the way around the trooper’s car and struck the driver door, before flipping over the concrete barrier median and ending up partially in the downvalley lane of traffic, Fain said.
Trooper Josh Lewis, a CSP spokesman, confirmed that an officer used a Taser to subdue Shroyr after he crashed.
Video footage shot by valley resident Jay Stahl showed Shroyr’s arrest and tasing by CSP troopers.
No officers or civilians were injured in the chase. Shroyr’s condition was not available Wednesday, though he was transported to Aspen Valley Hospital.
Scott Thompson, chief of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority, gave credit to the CSP officers who were able to stop Shroyr within 2 miles of intercepting him on Highway 82.
“The two troopers that stopped this guy could very well have saved lives today,” Thompson said. “The outcome could have been very different.”
Shroyr was charged with felony menacing and misdemeanor charges of eluding, harassment and trespassing, Fain said.
Judge approves attempted rape charge against Basalt man
A district court judge ruled Tuesday that probable cause exists to charge a Basalt man with attempting to rape a female tourist in the bathroom of a downtown bar a month ago.
District Judge Chris Seldin cited video surveillance of the incident played in court Tuesday — which recorded the victim’s screams and her running out of the bathroom — as well as her statements that Robert Marlow held her against a wall and exposed himself to her as evidence that supports a charge of attempted sexual assault.
“Holding a woman against her will while displaying your penis seems like the most obvious inference to me (of attempted sexual assault),” Seldin said. “I’m not sure what other spin you could put on that behavior.”
The incident allegedly occurred July 7 at a downtown Aspen restaurant and bar with relatively secluded bathrooms located down a flight of stairs at the back of the establishment. The victim — a young woman from out of state — told police she went to the women’s bathroom about 1 a.m., but found Marlow, 40, inside with his pants down.
At that time, she became scared that she might be in the wrong bathroom, and quickly exited, said Aspen Police Detective Jeremy Johnson. She said she then entered the men’s bathroom across the narrow hallway, but Marlow allegedly barged into the room behind her before she could close the door, pushed her up against the bathroom wall, told her she wasn’t going anywhere and began pulling his pants down, he said.
The woman then told police she began to kick, punch and scream, and was able to get the bathroom door open and flee back into the bar area, where her male companion and bar employees were located, Johnson said.
Marlow was later identified after Johnson was able to take a still photo from the video surveillance and hand out copies to night shift officers, who took it to bars around town. A bar manager at another downtown bar recognized Marlow as an employee, and he was arrested July 9 in Basalt, Johnson said.
Ashley Andrews, Marlow’s public defender, said her client never touched the victim’s private areas, tried to kiss her or made any statements about his intent to rape her. She said he was embarrassed to have been found in the women’s bathroom and tried to correct his mistake and entered the men’s bathroom.
“If he wanted to sexually assault someone, he could have at least grabbed an intimate part or kissed her in the bathroom,” Andrews said. “Perhaps the victim misconstrued Mr. Marlow’s intent.”
Seldin said the explanation was plausible, until the woman begins to scream on the video and runs away.
The video played in court Tuesday shows Marlow first sitting at a booth outside the bathrooms, though he enters the women’s bathroom just before the victim comes down the stairs and does the same. Not long after, the woman yells something like “No!” and “F— off!” before she screams and runs out of the bathroom.
Marlow pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the charge against him and was set for trial in early January. He remains incarcerated in lieu of a $20,000 bond.