A man wrongly imprisoned, a city seriously disgraced
It is difficult to find appropriate language to describe the recent jailing of an apparently innocent man for two weeks, but such words as “outrage” come to mind instantly.
Plus, the feeling that a few Aspen law enforcement officials ought to be looking for a new line of work.
To recap for those who might have missed it, a British citizen was arrested and jailed July 14 on suspicion of possession of cocaine. The alleged substance was found on Brian Palmer when he was taken to the local hospital after being found unconscious on the streets of Aspen.
An initial field test by APD Officer Bill Linn tested “positive” for cocaine, and Palmer was arrested and jailed pending an appearance in court two days later.
After Palmer insisted the “cocaine” was actually baking powder, the local district attorney’s office had more tests done on the same day as his court appearance. This time, three different tests came back negative.
But rather than being released, with perhaps an appropriate apology, Palmer was kept in jail for another two weeks, until he was next due in court. That means he spent 14 days in jail after the police and the DA’s office all knew the substance he was carrying may well have been what he said it was: baking powder.
How did this obvious miscarriage of justice happen? And what should be done about it?
To begin with, it is not out of line to ask how the original, simple field-testing procedure, which is generally assumed to be idiot-proof, came out wrong. Yes, to be truly fair, such things happen, so perhaps the police can be forgiven for assuming the test was correct and that they had their man dead to rights.
But when not one, but three subsequent tests turned out negative, for both cocaine and methamphetamine, what were the police and the sheriff’s department thinking when they kept this man behind bars?
Do our local law enforcement officials really need to be reminded that, in this nation people are presumed innocent until proven guilty? Has Aspen somehow become a totalitarian society, where the presumptions are reversed, and it is up to citizens to prove their innocence, and it is their lot to rot in jail until they can make their case convincing enough to overcome overzealous prosecutors and heedless, incompetent cops? No, it is not, but this incident might lead some to think otherwise.
Clearly there needs to be an official investigation into this matter. Luckily for the local governments, Palmer is a British subject and not a lawsuit-happy U.S. citizen. Otherwise, we’d be facing certain legal action, and it’s difficult to see how it could end with anything but a huge monetary settlement for Palmer.
This is not a simple, administrative oversight we are looking at here. This is two weeks taken out of a man’s life for no good reason except that our cops were too eager to arrest, too incompetent to test and too stubborn to release a man who apparently had done nothing wrong – except to fall into the hands of the Aspen Police.
We put a man in jail based on false presumptions, and kept him there after we knew we were wrong. This is a violation of fundamental civil rights, and it ought not to have happened here.
It was an outrage. It was a disgrace. Those are indeed the right words to describe what happened here, in Aspen, this summer.
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