Basalt cops’, critic’s perspectives differ on bar incident
August 31, 2009
BASALT – A man who has filed a formal complaint against two Basalt police officers for their alleged rough treatment of him at a bar earlier this month said he wants a public apology from the department and a reprimand of the officers.
But one of the officers involved said it is the man who owes the cops an apology. In addition, Sgt. Stu Curry said a report has been forwarded to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to determine if a charge of disorderly conduct should be brought against Ian Gray, 43.
The incident unfolded around midnight Aug. 14 at the Basalt Bistro. Three officers – Curry, Brian Lemke and Michael Taylor – were on routine patrol while on a walk-through at bar. The visits to bars are part of the department’s philosophy of community policing – making themselves visible and accessible by mingling with the public.
Gray said some people in the bar took offense at how long the officers lingered in the Bistro. A friend whom Gray was sitting with near the front of the bar got into an animated discussion with Curry about an arrest Curry made of another man for drunken driving some time ago.
Curry said Gray’s friend was yelling at him from across the bar and firing off a few “f-bombs.” He said he walked over to man so he would stop yelling and creating a commotion. He warned him his behavior constituted disorderly conduct.
Curry said he opted to leave the bar and avoid a confrontation rather than write Gray’s friend a citation. Lemke was talking to someone else in a different part of the bar while the conversation occurred. Lemke trailed behind the other officers as they exited.
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Gray said a few people in the bar jeered the cops as they left, saying things like “get lost” and “good riddance.”
“I chimed in with a ‘don’t let the door hit you in the ass,'” he said.
Gray insisted he didn’t make a threat or use an obscenity. Curry said Lemke heard an additional remark, with an f-bomb, that he thought came from Gray.
From that point, the description of events by Gray and Curry are similar, but from different perspectives.
Gray said the officers congregated outside for five or 10 minutes, then Lemke returned to the bar and told him he needed to come outside. Gray asked what he did wrong.
“Why am I being asked to leave the bar?” Gray said he asked Lemke.
“Because I said so,” Lemke allegedly replied.
A scuffle of sorts broke out. “They snapped me into cuffs very tightly,” Gray said. He clenched onto his bar stool with both hands to they couldn’t remove him. Lemke eventually dragged him off the stool and onto the floor. Gray continued to hold onto the bar stool; Lemke punched his forearms to get him to release.
During the melee, Gray said he was “swearing blue.” He told the cops he knew his rights and felt they were being violated.
Curry confirmed that Lemke and Taylor re-entered the bar. Curry initially stayed behind to avoid a confrontation with Gray’s friend. Lemke informed Gray he would arrest him for disorderly conduct for yelling and using obscenities. When Gray wouldn’t leave, he was placed in handcuffs and put “gently” on the floor, Curry said. At some point in the struggle, Curry re-entered the bar. He said Lemke used pressure points, as officers are trained to do, to try to get Gray to release the bar stool so he can be taken outside. The pressure had no effect. Curry said Gray was “very visibly intoxicated.” Gray said he was merely “buzzed.”
Gray said he was eventually hauled to his feet by Lemke pulling his arms, which were cuffed behind him, causing him pain.
“By now the bar is in an uproar,” Gray said.
“Now he’s causing a huge scene,” Curry said.
Audio taken from a cell phone during the confrontation and made available to The Aspen Times records a wild scene at the bar. Gray can occasionally be heard yelling at the officers to “take the f—ing cuffs off.” Some other patrons are accusing the officers of overreacting.
An unlikely truce calmed the situation. Gray’s friend, the one arguing earlier with Curry, approached Curry and said “this was between us” and that it wasn’t fair that Gray was being singled out. Curry said he told the friend that if he persuaded Gray to leave the bar peacefully, no arrest would be made that night. Gray’s friend convinced him to leave. Curry said he made it clear to the two men that the police might pursue a charge at a later time.
Gray went the police department the following Monday and registered a formal complaint with Police Chief Keith Ikeda. The chief assigned Sgt. Rodderick O’Connor to investigate the incident.
Curry said the officers decided they couldn’t pursue a charge of disorderly conduct against Gray because it would look like retribution for his complaint. The officers forwarded a copy of their report of the incident to the district attorney this week for a decision on disorderly conduct and possibly a resisting arrest charge against Gray. The police will “accept their decision,” he said.
Gray said he hasn’t had any contact with the police in his 18 months in Basalt. “I’m shocked as much as anything that I’m in this situation,” he said.
When asked if, in retrospect, it was appropriate to tell an officer not to let the door hit him in the ass, Gray replied, “I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t feel it was within my rights to say it.”
In addition, he feels the officers overreacted to his comment. “Just because you mouth off to a police officer doesn’t mean they have a right to boss you around,” Gray said.
He wants the department to review its policies of walking through bars. He understands a “certain amount of presence” but “I just don’t see a need for them to come in and loiter.”
Gray also wants a reprimand for Lemke for his allegedly aggressive actions and for Curry as the supervisor on the site. “It’s wishful thinking, perhaps, but a public apology wouldn’t be amiss,” Gray said.
Curry wants a different outcome. “The apology, honestly, should come from him,” he said. “He acted like a child.”
Curry said he feels Lemke acted appropriately. Curry also defended the department’s stance on walking through bars as part of community policing. “It’s an opportunity for us to be approachable,” he said.
Curry views the situation as something Gray created. Ninety-nine percent of people whom officers come in contact with obey their direction. And force is only required in very few situations, so Gray’s reaction caught them off-guard.
“If everybody did that, our jobs would be a nightmare,” Curry said.
O’Connor is reviewing a poor-quality video of the incident taken from a cell phone and collecting witness statements. His report is expected soon.