Colson: Valley cops facing a little scrutiny these days
Lot’s about cops in the local news lately, eh?
Upvalley, downvalley and in the midvalley, the police and sheriff’s deputies have been in one spotlight or another — questionable takedown tactics in Aspen, an officer-involved shooting near Glenwood Springs, extreme quiet surrounding a murder case in Carbondale.
These are the people we pay to serve and protect us, on a domestic level, shielding us from harm or damage we might do to ourselves or each other in the course of life on this wayward planet.
We pay them to train up for making life-and-death decisions in a split second, and as has been mentioned by another local newspaper commenting about this issue, we expect them to be rational and right in their decision-making and reasonable in their actions, every time.
It’s a lot to ask of a flawed human being in any circumstance, that’s for sure.
Up in Aspen, the question is whether a city cop overreacted when confronted with the possibility that a teenager was rolling a joint at a bus shelter near the Aspen schools campus.
Now, in retrospect, there appears to be some question as to whether the kid was rolling a joint in the first place, which leads to questions about whether the cop involved had what is known as “probable cause” to grab him, rough him up and call for backup.
Downvalley, deputies of Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario shot a Parachute man to death along I-70, after he reportedly beat up his wife and threatened her with a pistol, then fled when another individual appeared on the scene and went to the wife’s aid. He was later chased down and shot after he pointed his pistol at his own head and then started running “toward traffic,” according to reports.
In Carbondale, police have been somewhat slow to issue key information about a Feb. 16 incident that began, for the cops, when an unnamed man rear-ended an empty cattle truck on Highway 133 and, while being airlifted to Grand Junction for treatment of serious injuries, reportedly told the flight crew he had earlier killed his wife in Carbondale.
The situation immediately slowed down due to a variety of factors, including the complexity of getting a man out of a wrecked car and to a hospital, then flying that same man to another hospital for further treatment, then communicating between different agencies with different missions to fulfill (EMTs, doctors, cops, dispatchers, and the local police hierarchy come immediately to mind), with the result that the Carbondale cops didn’t even learn of the reported murder until well into the afternoon.
Once they started looking, it wasn’t long before they found the victim in a bedroom of an apartment where several families reportedly were living.
Aside from those basic facts, the cops have been mum on numerous salient details, such as the nationalities of the suspect and the victim, whether a weapon was found at either scene (accident or apartment) and what type of weapon it is, and the time of the victim’s death.
Police Chief Gene Schilling has told me that he is constrained by the fact that multiple agencies are now involved, including the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, each of which apparently demand they be informed of every item of information sent out to the public.
So, we hadn’t gotten much in the way of such information, at least not as of my Monday morning deadline for this column, which comes out on Thursday.
But that’s not the issue, really.
The issue is whether we trust the cops or not, to act rationally and reasonably, to tell us what they can when they can, basically to be public servants and not a bunch of macho members who feel entitled to push the rest of us around whenever they want to and then retreat behind the Blue Wall of Silence when asked about, well, whatever.
And that, dear reader, is a question that is being asked all across the land, as police shootings, corruption in the prisons and other matters grab headlines and generate considerable concerns, if not fear, among the citizenry about what some have been calling our growing police state in the U.S.A.
I should note that, in my 36-plus years covering news in this valley, I’ve had fairly good relations with the cops, occasionally blooming into friendship with individuals in different cop shops.
But I also have had to write stories that have not exactly endeared me to the cops involved in those stories, to put it mildly.
I don’t have any answers about the questions posed above, I really just wanted to get a conversation going. I should note that in the main I think our cops around here believe they are righteous in the performance of their jobs, usually with justification, though their paranoia about media types is frustrating to people such as myself.
As time moves along, we will learn more about what’s happened in these recent incidents and what, if anything, we need to do in reaction.
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