Aspen police chief stands behind arrest, firing of officer
September 3, 2008
ASPEN ” The firing of 18-year Aspen police officer Jim Crowley for alleged on-duty intoxication has stirred a debate about whether his superiors reacted too harshly, and whether the criminal case against him has merit.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said he has heard criticism of the department’s handling of Crowley, but stood behind last week’s decision to terminate him after he was arrested for driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and prohibited use of a weapon. Crowley was charged with prohibited use of a weapon because he was under the influence of alcohol and had a firearm in his holster, police have said.
“I know the question on some people’s minds is this was a drastic action,” Pryor said Tuesday. “But the distinction for me is this was behavior that is not acceptable. This was a safety issue and not something I could live with.
“And I’ve consulted with our attorney, and I believe we’re on solid ground and ethical ground.”
Pryor said his concerns about safety, namely the potential for an intoxicated police officer to get behind the wheel while on duty, ultimately left him with no choice but to fire Crowley.
Even so, there are some critics of the arrest and subsequent firing who argue it didn’t have to happen that way. One of them is Glenwood Springs defense attorney Lawson Wills, who has provided legal advice to Crowley since he was arrested. Crowley told him he simply came to work hung over, Wills said.
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“This is not a situation where he was drinking before work,” he said.
Also among Wills’ gripes about the arrest is that nobody saw Crowley drive to work.
“When was the last time you saw a DUI or DWAI case when nobody saw the person drive?” Wills said Tuesday.
The Aspen Police Department’s Policy and Procedure Manual addresses the consumption of alcohol on the job, stating that “any excessive use of alcohol while on or off duty which brings or tends to bring discredit or disrepute to the Department shall subject the member to disciplinary action. Members on duty found intoxicated shall be subject to immediate suspension pending an investigation.”
Pryor said the police department followed proper procedure because it initially suspended Crowley on Thursday before firing him Friday.
“I understand that this is a community that wants to be compassionate and understanding,” Pryor said, “and we want to be compassionate and understanding. But if one of us makes a mistake like this we need to be accountable.”
Crowley was arrested more than two hours after he showed up to work at 7:30 a.m. the day in question.
Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn has said he became suspicious because Crowley allegedly smelled of alcohol. Aspen police originally gave Crowley a preliminary breath test, which allegedly showed him to be intoxicated. While not admissible as evidence in court, a PBT can give officers probable cause to investigate. Crowley was then taken home by Aspen officer Dan Davis, and Linn, taking orders from Pryor, contacted Snowmass Village police to take over the case.
Later in the morning, Snowmass Sgt. Brian Olson went to Crowley’s home, placed him in handcuffs and drove him to the Pitkin County jail, which has Breathalyzer equipment. According to a city of Aspen news release, Crowley was placed under arrest at 9:45 a.m. and immediately placed on unpaid administrative leave.
As of Tuesday, Snowmass Village police did not have an incident report completed, said Snowmass Police Chief Art Smythe. Likewise, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney said he has not seen the report.
“When we review it we’ll make a decision, and we’ll make that decision like we do with any other similarly situated person,” Cheney said.
While Wills is helping Crowley for the time being, he said he won’t be representing him in his future legal proceedings.
“Part of my problem is I know Jim and I know a lot of Aspen police officers too well,” Wills said. “We need a fresh set of eyes on this.”
In addition to hiring an attorney for the criminal proceedings, Crowley might also enlist an employment lawyer, Wills said.
“He’s going to consult with some attorneys to see what his positions are,” Wills said. “He’s obviously going to potentially need a criminal attorney and an employment attorney.”
Crowley, who is divorced and has one son, stands to lose his employee housing in six months. He also has surrendered an annual salary of nearly $70,000,
“Obviously this is very embarrassing for him,” Wills said. “He’s been in the community for a long time. A lot of people have called him and expressed support for him. But this is not only having an impact on him but also his family.”