Aspen arrest highlights concerns about student marijuana use
Top administrators at the Aspen School District said Monday that concern is growing over students’ use of marijuana, a worry punctuated by Friday’s takedown arrest of a 16-year-old at a public bus stop that was recorded on video and went viral.
Police cited the student for resisting arrest and possession of marijuana after officer Adam Loudon spotted the junior allegedly rolling a joint at a bus stop off Castle Creek Road, located next to the school campus. The student was not injured from the arrest, during which time the suspect was combative and resistant, police said. Officers wrestled the suspect to the ground and applied pain-compliance techniques to force him into submission. He was later turned over to his parents.
The noon-hour apprehension was captured on videos by nearby students and raised the ire of some youth and parents because of tactics used by police. Relatives of the student said Monday they have hired a lawyer but wouldn’t provide further details about their motives.
Numerous other residents have expressed support for the Aspen Police Department and said the teenager’s behavior warranted the takedown. Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor also said the use of force was appropriate given the circumstances and called the matter an “open and shut” case.
Superintendent John Maloy was in Denver on Friday but said he saw some video footage of the arrest. He declined to weigh in on the arrest.
“It’s really not for me to say. I wasn’t there,” he said, but noted that marijuana use by Aspen students is a major concern.
“We have students who have a privilege, and that privilege is an open campus, and they’re choosing to abuse that privilege by leaving campus and smoking pot. That’s not OK,” he said. Open campus is when a student can leave campus during a certain time of the school day. “That, to me, is unacceptable because students are under our care during the day and it’s unfortunate that some kids are making poor choices. To go smoke marijuana and return to school with that mindset is not conducive for learning. … Studies have shown that it’s difficult to focus and learn while you’re high.”
Maloy said the school district has made a concerted effort to curb pot use by asking law enforcement to be on the lookout for students “who are walking to the Aspen Recreation Center, leaving the campus and heading toward Buttermilk.”
The school has two resource officers, one from the Aspen Police Department and one from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The campus is in the county’s jurisdiction and the stretch of Maroon Creek Road that goes by is in Aspen territory.
“They have been receptive in terms of patrolling Maroon Creek Road to see that kids are not participating in anything illegal,” Maloy said.
Students’ losing trust in police
The arrest also has sparked a sense of mistrust between some students and law enforcement, Principal Kimberly Martin said.
“I think the students have some concern about the use of force,” she said.
One student, who said she witnessed the arrest, sent an email to The Aspen Times on Monday saying that her version of what transpired was different from the Police Department’s account. She asked that her name not be used for publication.
“How is our community suppose (sic) to feel safe when a teen is arrested with the force shown?” she wrote. “The APD can say that the use of force was low and appropriate, but what I witnessed was not. I witnessed a civilian, a firefighter and what looked like an off-duty officer pinning a defenseless teenager against a metal wall, picking him up and slamming him on the concrete ground. The message our community is receiving by the way the APD handled the situation is that our cops are not here to help us. They are not here to protect us. They are not here to protect and educate the youth of the community of drugs. They are here to instill fear. They are here to oppress.”
Martin added, “I think it’s an unfortunate situation. It’s amazing how situations can go from seemingly calm to very explosive in a matter of seconds, even in a place like Aspen where I think we feel immune to these things.”
Martin said she planned to meet with police officials Monday.
Martin said she viewed three videos, including the one posted on The Aspen Times’ website.
“I think what (the student) was doing was just refusing to comply,” she said. “What you have is just plain, old resistance.”
Another video shows Loudon and the suspect exchanging words before the officer called for help, Martin said. He was aided by an off-duty police officer and a firefighter during the arrest. Other officers arrived as well.
“It shows more of the verbal exchange as the officers try to figure out what he has in his possession,” Martin said. “It shows more context, and you’re able to see what led up to it, not that I’m justifying it.”
The main video that’s circulating doesn’t tell the whole story, said Aspen defense attorney Jeff Wertz, who has no ties to the case.
“The critical moment in the police-citizen encounter is when police decided they have probable cause and they’re going to arrest,” he said. “Everything that happens then is extremely critical, and on the video I’ve seen, that critical moment isn’t captured. It has already passed.”
Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Hufnagle, who teaches a course called Street Law with the Police Department’s school resource officer, said the matter came up in Monday’s class.
“It went pretty good, I think,” he said. “The kids have a lot of misconceptions and there’s a lot of rumors flying around. It worries me that kids are spreading so many rumors that aren’t true. Where that’s coming from, I don’t know.”
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