Cooper Street Pier manager blasts police drug raid | AspenTimes.com

Cooper Street Pier manager blasts police drug raid

John Colson

The manager of Cooper Street Pier on Wednesday criticized the tactics in a raid Friday at his bar, saying officers had little regard for customers’ safety.Charles Wolf also denied a published report that the Aspen Police Department gave him an ultimatum to either help eradicate drug dealing and use in his restaurant or the police would “stomp it out” for him.Wolf said he was particularly upset guns were drawn in the presence of locals and tourists.Aspen police, working with other area, state and federal law enforcement agencies, raided Cooper Street and its neighbor across an alley Little Annie’s Eating House on Friday. More than 50 officers swarmed into the two restaurants shortly after 4 p.m., ultimately arresting nine people on drug charges, one man on unrelated charges, and 11 on alleged violations of immigration law.The tactics used in the raids have raised some eyebrows around town, starting with those of Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, who was not informed of the operation in advance. Braudis has criticized Police Chief Loren Ryerson for not keeping the sheriff’s office informed and for conducting the raids in the middle of the afternoon in a highly public location.A story in the Dec. 7 edition of the Aspen Daily News cited Ryerson as saying Wolf “was given the ultimatum, but Wolf declined to cooperate and left police with no other choice” but to raid the restaurant.”I was never issued an ultimatum, and if one was ever issued to any staff member of mine, then this was never communicated to me,” Wolf said in a written statement to The Aspen Times and the Daily News on Wednesday (his letter appears in Letters to the Editor).”Between me and the police,” he added Wednesday in an interview, “there have not been any recent discussions” of such matters.Ryerson said the newspaper account was essentially accurate, although he said the words “ultimatum,” and “stomp it out” were a reporter’s words.”An officer did speak with Charles Wolf some time ago,” Ryerson said, “and asked him to take care of the drug dealing, that we were concerned about it. First he decided that he would help, and then he decided that he wouldn’t.” Ryerson said he was not sure when that conversation took place. He said police ask bartenders “on a regular basis … to report criminal activities in their bars.”Noting that his restaurant has a policy against drug dealing or use on the premises, Wolf wrote, “Actually, I am more than happy to cooperate with law enforcement and would welcome their help in combating the distribution of drugs. However, I cannot do the job for the Aspen Police Department.”Speaking with the Times, Wolf added that he had been told there were children present at Little Annie’s Eating House when police raided.”It could have been my kids, it could have been anybody’s kids,” he said. “It’s unacceptable to me.”Wolf said he was surprised by the raid and that he did not feel there was a level of drug use in his establishment that would warrant such heavy-handed tactics.”I’m fine with the walk-throughs,” Wolf said, referring to the police practice of sending officers strolling through local bars and restaurants periodically. “If they see somebody doing something illegal, I’m glad for their assistance in getting rid of that element.”But tactics such as the dramatic daytime raid, he said, are troubling to him.”We have a lot of out-of-town visitors,” he said. “I’m sure some of them were present for this.”If there are other ways to conduct law enforcement operations, he said, “they should be taken,” instead of resorting to raids.Wolf said he has been hearing from his customers about the raid. “Most are saying that there’s a silent majority that’s upset about how this happened.”Heroin or cremated remains?Authorities conducting a drug raid Friday at Cooper Street Pier tested salt in the shakers, dust on the shuffleboard table and even the cremated remains of a former bartender, according to bar employees.In one incident, a bartender said a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent questioned him about a plastic baggie found in his backpack containing a gray, powdery substance and asked him whether it was heroin.”Yes, I can explain it,” said the bartender, whom his friends know as “Toast.” “It’s the cremated remains of my friend Doug Belden, who died about a month ago.”The agent “looked at me like I was crazy,” said Toast, whose real name is Michael Puariea.According to another Cooper Street bartender, who spoke on condition of anonymity, one agent reportedly dipped his finger into the baggie to “taste test” the substance.Shaking his head about the incident, Cooper Street’s manager, Charles Wolf, said, “Poor old Dougie.”Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson said Wednesday he was not aware of the encounter with Belden’s remains.”I had not heard that,” he said with a somewhat rueful note in his voice, adding, “What a set of circumstances.”Staffers at Cooper Street said they believe the sweep yielded no drugs or money from Cooper Street itself, although authorities carted off four of the establishment’s personnel.Police have said the investigation and dramatic raids, which also involved Little Annie’s Eating House nearby, produced a couple of ounces of cocaine and perhaps $3,000 in suspected drug-related cash.The sweep was the culmination of a seven-month investigation, which the Aspen police led, using DEA agents for undercover work and involving several other agencies.Toast said the baggie containing Belden’s remains was one of several that had been delivered to friends of the former Cooper Street bartender after his cremation, to be spread over his favorite spots around the globe.Toast had brought the baggie into work that day, he said, because another friend had asked him to, so that some of the ashes could be spread on Aspen Mountain.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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