Plea deal struck for Aspen student in February marijuana arrest
An Aspen High School student pleaded guilty Monday to underage possession of marijuana and resisting arrest as part of an agreement with prosecutors that will give him a clean record if he stays out of trouble for the next year.
The teen’s arrest spawned community debate pitting teen behavior and drug use against the police tactics used to take him into custody. Nearby students caught footage of the takedown arrest on their cellphones, posting the videos to social-media websites.
At Monday’s hearing, held in the chambers of Pitkin County District Court Judge Gail Nichols, the student’s attorney said he wants to put the incident behind him. He’ll begin by writing letters of apology to arresting officer Adam Loudon and the Aspen Police Department. He also will undergo drug counseling and community service, said attorney Ryan Kalamaya.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police officer and one petty charge of underage possession of drug paraphernalia.
Sentencing is set for April 13. Nichols said she was ready to sign off on the deal, which includes a one-year deferred judgment. The student faced a maximum sentence of two years in juvenile jail and six months of parole.
“If you successfully complete one year of probation, then what happens to your guilty plea with the two charges?” Nichols asked the boy.
“It will be wiped off my record,” he said.
After the hearing, Kalamaya said he still questions the police methods to make the arrest, which happened Feb. 6 at the public-bus shelter off Maroon Creek Road by the Aspen School District campus.
While it was indisputable that the student resisted arrest, Kalamaya discredited Loudon’s claim that he saw the student rolling a joint, the reason the officer provided for approaching the teen. Loudon’s police report shows that the officer didn’t find any marijuana on the student until after the arrest, when authorities seized contents from his backpack, Kalamaya said.
“I do not believe the arrest was supported by probable cause,” he said.
The Police Department has stood behind the arrest, saying that use of force was necessary to prevent the incident from escalating out of control. In a letter to the Aspen newspapers, Police Chief Richard Pryor said, “Only on rare occasions do we use force, and then at a low level.”
Taking the case to trial on the contention that police lacked probable cause to make the arrest wasn’t in the student’s best interest, Kalamaya said.
“If this was an adult case, it would have been different,” he said, noting he had “major issues” with the arrest. But it was important for the boy to own up to what he did, and one year without any arrests will mean the incident is expunged from his record. For a student who plans to attend college, the clean criminal record was a key element of the plea deal, Kalamaya said.
“It was more important for him to take responsibility than anything else,” he said.
At the hearing, the teen said “I’ve kind of been through a lot, to be honest,” but he didn’t elaborate.
He was joined by his mother and sister. A Spanish interpreter also was present.
“You need to get this behind you in order to get into the best school you can,” Nichols said.
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