Aspen cop under suspicion before his firing for showing up drunk
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” City officials confirmed Wednesday that on three separate occasions leading up to his termination, officers suspected rookie Aspen cop Ron Hutchings had been under the influence of alcohol while on duty.
Hutchings, 53, was fired Jan. 7 after Sgt. Linda Consuegra noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath, prompting Sgt. Bill Linn to administer a Breathalyzer test that showed Hutchings was legally drunk, officials said.
Linn smelled what he believed was alcohol on Hutchings on three separate shifts. Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said he was not informed about the incidents until the day he fired Hutchings.
The first time Linn smelled alcohol, he did not inform anyone of his suspicion, but on the second and third occasions, he notified fellow police sergeants.
Sgt. Rob Fabrocini and Sgt. Brian Nichols talked with Hutchings on those days, but found no reason for further action. Hutchings was not given a Breathalyzer test or other diagnostic for intoxication on those days, Pryor said.
“They just observed him and looked at other behavioral signs and didn’t see anything at all,” Pryor said. “It’s exceptionally surprising that no one would notice signs of intoxication if they were there.”
City Manager Steve Barwick and Pryor said they did not believe Hutchings presented any risk to the public.
“You can surmise that there may have been some public risk but there’s nothing to support that,” Pryor said.
Said Barwick: “More than likely, it appears he was not drunk on those occasions. I can’t imagine that someone who surpassed the legal limit for being drunk could be looked at by a police officer who was not able to tell. That’s what they’re trained to do.”
Both Barwick and Pryor stressed that if Hutchings or any other officer were intoxicated on the job that it would be a serious problem and public safety risk.
“If he was under the influence it wasn’t so far that anyone noticed,” said John Worcester, city attorney. “In fairness to Ron, we don’t know if he showed up drunk on those three prior occasions.”
The case has been handed over to District Attorney Martin Beeson, who said he will decide by next week whether to charge Hutchings. Potential charges are drunken driving or prohibited use of a weapon, as it is illegal to carry a firearm while intoxicated.
Hutchings was hired Aug. 21 by former Police Chief Loren Ryerson. He graduated from his three-month training period on Nov. 26 with good reviews from superiors, Pryor said.
All three times Linn smelled alcohol on Hutchings were between the end of Hutchings’ training period and the day he was fired, though Pryor could not provide specific dates.
Pryor already has talked with Linn about the first time Linn smelled alcohol and did not tell anyone of his suspicions. Linn faces no disciplinary action, Pryor said.
Pryor also said he is having a meeting Monday with all of the police sergeants to make sure everyone knows superiors should be notified of issues such as an officer possibly being intoxicated.
This incident is the latest in turbulent times for the Aspen Police Department; nearly a third of the department left in 2007, including Ryerson. Of the six new officers hired in 2007, Hutchings was fired and another resigned. The department still has two assistant chief positions and a detective position vacant. Pryor had not even been police chief for one month before he was faced with the decision on whether or not to fire Hutchings.
Hutchings did not return a telephone message seeking comment Wednesday.
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