Aspen drug raid points to big problems at cop shop
December 12, 2005
Gee whiz! For a few moments recently I had the sinking feeling that George W., our compassionate-warrior president, and the Rumpster, our secretary of defense, had decided to invade Aspen. Those drug raids during the first week of December at Little Annie’s Eating House and the Cooper Street Pier had all the dysfunctional earmarks of a Bush-Rumsfeld operation. I am pleased to report, however, that there is absolutely no evidence that our dynamic duo was involved in the raids.I know this to be true because I was told as much by Condi Rice, our secretary of state, and we all realize that Condi is one of the most principled and credible individuals in Washington, D.C. Considering how desperately busy she has been of late trying to convince Europeans that “the United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees,” I felt she was being very considerate to comment about our little local problem. There is another reason to believe that George W. and the Rumpster were not involved. Instead of having a “coalition of the willing” in our local raids, we had the exact opposite: “A coalition of the excluded.” According to local news reports, Aspen’s top cop did not want anyone from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department to participate in the drug busts. What is with that?According to reports, some 53 law enforcement officers from Aspen, Snowmass Village and state and federal agencies participated. The raids took place in the late afternoon and guns were reportedly drawn in both of the involved restaurants. But not only did our local sheriff’s department not participate, the department was not even informed that all of this was coming down. Considering that we have one of the most professional sheriff’s departments anywhere, what transpired simply does not make any sense.Are we just talking about different philosophical approaches to law enforcement? If that is the case, it is understandable. It is pretty much human nature for each of us to approach our professional endeavors from a different philosophical perspective. But something is very wrong about what happened here. We may have two governments, city and county, but we are a single community and it is unsettling to imagine that the city police and the sheriff’s department are so at odds that they cannot cooperate in a project in which public safety should be a prime concern.Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick has called for a City Council work session to look into the raids and the police department’s policies and procedures on drug enforcement. Police Chief Loren Ryerson told the media that “I made some mistakes. I know it. I didn’t call him [Sheriff Bob Braudis] and I should have.” That is fine and good, but it simply does not address the question of why the call was not made.Ryerson called in the DEA, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Colorado Department of Revenue and even the Snowmass Police Department but not the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department, a department located literally right across the hall from the police.Another disturbing aspect of all of this is the unusual amount of force (53 armed officers) used to conduct raids on two of Aspen’s more low-key establishments. And the raids were conducted in the afternoon, when the après-ski crowd begins to gather. I’m not attempting criticize the Aspen Police for being tough on drugs. If the city fathers and the citizens are comfortable with that, than so be it. However, considering the end result of those raids, the minute amount of cocaine seized and the number of individuals arrested, perhaps another approach might have been considered.It is the holiday season and our valley is full of wealthy tourists, an endless collection of celebrities and, of course, far too many self-anointed VIPs. If I were searching for large quantities of cocaine and other illegal substances, I wouldn’t be snooping around a couple of local taverns. I would hit the most posh parties and restaurants in town. But such conduct is pretty much out of the question in a community that depends on the wealthy and the famous for its reputation. If the police chief were to focus his drug campaign on our many illustrious guests, odds are he would soon be working in Silt or South Possum, Wyo.It was my intent to defy my curmudgeon personality this Christmas (holiday?) season, to ignore George W. and his silly impersonation of a president, to turn my eyes away from all those dreadful scenes in Iraq – in other words, to return some “ho, ho, ho” to my outlook. Then the raids occurred in Aspen and my sour mood returned.But the “ho, ho, ho” is returning as I write this. All the snow and cold weather has created a joyous drive from my cabin in Lenado to Woody Creek. It is often like drifting through a Japanese print, one dominated by blacks and whites, with just a minimalist’s sprinkling of soft colors.OK, my “ho, ho, ho” has returned. It is my hope that a little sanity can return to law enforcement in Aspen. This is the 323rd article in a two-part series devoted to the community of Woody Creek, a place filled with drug-sniffing dogs. It should be pointed out that the dogs are not searching for drugs as much as abusing them.