Basalt police chief honors staff for peaceful resolution to incident, follow-up investigation
The midvalley received a jolt Aug. 27 when law enforcement officers from around the area converged on Willits and ultimately brought in a SWAT team in response to an alleged brutal beating in a usually placid neighborhood.
Two men were taken into custody without incident, one after a long, tense wait spanning three hours. The result built on a Roaring Fork Valley tradition of law enforcement relying more on brains than brawn to resolve a potentially violent situation.
Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott presented members of his department with letters of commendation Friday and Monday. He told The Aspen Times he felt they deserved the special recognition for helping end the incident peacefully and for all the time they put into the investigation.
The key to the event was using time to reach the desired outcome.
“We really hold the principle closely,” Knott said Monday.
When there isn’t an immediate threat to life and safety, it is best to remain calm and not force action, Knott said.
“We try to set up the perimeter, utilizing time to resolve it peacefully,” he said.
Sometimes, the flow of an incident depends on the other parties. In this case, the suspects’ actions didn’t prompt a different police reaction.
“There was no need to utilize any other tactic,” Knott said.
The actions Aug. 27 created an inconvenience for residents in the immediate area, but the public, the victim and suspects were unharmed, Knott said.
Basalt police were dispatched to Evans Court in mid-morning on a Thursday on a report of a bloodied man escaping a unit at the Willits Townhouses and contending people were trying to kill him. Basalt Police Officers Thomas Wright and Jason Hegberg were among the first on the scene. They set up a perimeter outside the residence and were soon joined by officers from multiple agencies.
Lieutenant Aaron Munch, along with Knott, were among the first responders. Munch took command of the scene and coordinated the law enforcement response and evacuation of neighbors. The victim reported the presence of weapons in the house, prompting the cautious approach by law enforcement officers.
Wright made the initial contact with one of the suspects inside the townhouse and urged him to come outside, where he surrendered. Hegberg covered those actions.
The other suspect didn’t respond to calls to come out. Again, officers didn’t barrel in with guns blazing. Instead, the Basalt Police Department called in the Eagle County Special Operations Unit, which responded with an armored vehicle and heavily armed personnel. The second suspect surrendered without incident once the heavy equipment moved into position.
The job just got started for Basalt police once the arrests were made. Corporal Nino Santiago drafted the application for a search warrant and led the operation, which yielded vital evidence.
Officer Bo Biggs helped with the collection of evidence at the crime scene investigation.
Department administrative assistant Dina Prieto helped compile all the information collected in the investigation for presentation to the District Attorney’s Office within the tight timeframe needed before the formal filing of charges.
Knott presented the department employees with letters of commendation that will be added to their personnel files. Four employees were recognized in a low-key ceremony Friday; the other two received their letters Monday.
“I am very proud of the police officers and our administrative assistant for the performance and dedication they exhibited on that day and the days and weeks following the incident,” Knott said.
The chief also got his due. Munch said Knott was in the thick of the operation Aug. 27 from the time police responded. One of his top considerations was keeping evacuated residents informed and comfortable, Munch said.
Santiago credited Knott with being an effective leader on a regular basis.
“I’ve said it many times before but this is such a prime example of what ‘It starts at the top’ looks like,” Santiago posted on Facebook. “Our Chief Greg Knott never allows a moment to pass without recognizing us for what we do.”