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Aspen High School’s resource officer placed on leave; students’ safety not at issue

A school resource officer at Aspen High School is on leave pending the outcome of an investigation by his employer, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

Paul Hufnagle

Authorities on Thursday confirmed that Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Hufnagle, who informally goes by “Huff,” has not been on campus this week.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Hufnagle was placed on leave Dec. 4. Interim Superintendent Tom Heald said he was notified of Hufnagle’s status on Monday.

Hufnagle did not respond to a message left on his residential line Thursday. Emails sent to his work address could not be delivered and his cellphone was not accepting calls.

Heald and DiSalvo said the investigation into Hufnagle is not related to his interaction with students or their well-being.

“Right now he is on leave of absence from this office,” DiSalvo said. “And the reason he is on leave is a personnel matter. … It has nothing to do with the safety and security of the children at the school, or the school itself.”

Hufnagle did not attend two meetings DiSalvo tried to set up with him since he was placed on leave, the sheriff said.

“It’s such a muddy situation right now,” DiSalvo said of whether Hufnagle will return to his job.

Hufnagle had been one of two SROs the Sheriff’s Office assigns to Aspen public schools. Juvenile investigator Bruce Benjamin had worked part time an a SRO at the elementary school until he was replaced this year by Deputy Monique Merritt, DiSalvo said. The Aspen Police Department provides a single SRO, Brian Stevens, who declined comment when reached Thursday.

Heald said Hufnagle has been well received by and popular among high school students over the years. Along with his SRO role, he also taught a street law course, though it was not offered at the high school during the current semester.

Then-Sheriff Bob Braudis hired Hufnagle from the Snowmass Village Police Department 12 years ago, DiSalvo said. DiSalvo said Hufnagle had no personnel issues with the Sheriff’s Office prior to the investigation.

DiSalvo and Heald declined to provide any details of what the investigation entails.

The role of the SRO is “first and foremost to protect students from outside threats,” DiSalvo said, “and any internal threat that might come from students. Safety and security of the school, the teachers, the students and employees it the No. 1 priority.”

Effective SROs also cultivate trusting relationships with students, parents and teachers, DiSalvo said, and regularly attend school functions such as sporting events, proms and graduation parties.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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