Culture and demographics make DA’s job a challenge | AspenTimes.com
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Culture and demographics make DA’s job a challenge

Naomi Havlen

The 9th Judicial District comprises Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, and outgoing District Attorney Mac Myers said recently that the diversity of the three areas is one of the big challenges of his job.”A district attorney has to be sensitive to each of these communities, because they’re very different,” he said. “Pitkin County is very pro-civil liberties – they don’t encourage undercover work. There is much more traditional police work in Garfield County, and Rio Blanco County is very rural and has its own law enforcement challenges. “The slightly different philosophies of law enforcement need to be respected and encouraged. It would be a mistake to get them to adopt the same philosophies.”Two Republicans – Lawson Wills, current assistant district attorney for the district, and Colleen Truden, a former municipal court judge from Glenwood Springs – are vying for Myers’ position in the Aug. 10 primary. Because no Democrats are on the ballot, the winner next month will become district attorney.”We were lucky last year that there wasn’t much in terms of violent crime, but it’s only a matter of time,” Myers said. “It’s increasingly complicated to prosecute [felony cases], and the same old ways of doing business are going to be changing.”Demographic changes in recent years have substantially altered demands on law enforcement, Myers said.”We’ve seen population increases, four lanes of highway being extended into Aspen, and more crime in Pitkin County,” he said. “There’s an importation of big city crime.”Homicide and violent crime used to be rare in this area, he said. But in the last five years this district has seen more violent crime, including multiple homicides. Cases like that of Stephen Michael Stagner, who shot seven people in Rifle, killing four people and wounding three in 2001, drain limited resources in both money and time from the district attorney’s office. Myers said around $80,000 was spent prosecuting the case.The biggest budget issue facing a district attorney is “having an unpredictable amount of work to do with a defined amount of money,” he said. A certain agility is needed to have to work on the budget each year, money that comes from the state and local counties.Myers said the person who ultimately fills his shoes should be ready for hands-on work with a staff of 27 employees in the three separate offices of Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Meeker. “I am of the opinion that the district attorney should be the top administrator, but not the top prosecutor,” he said. Myers worked in the 9th Judicial District as a deputy district attorney in the 1980s and with his own private practice in the early 1990s before being elected top law enforcement officer for the three-county district in 1996. One of Myer’s more publicized decisions came earlier this year when he announced that his office was pulling out of its participation with the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, known as TRIDENT.He said the task force was occasionally arresting people for serious crimes like drug distribution and then following up by trying to arrest customers.Myers claims that the agency was using confidential informants and setting up undercover operations.”In all the years TRIDENT has been in existence, I was starting to see the defense raise issues of entrapment, and that was not acceptable to me,” he said. “Unfortunately we had to pull out to make a point, but they are working on improving and doing things right.”Now Myers says over the past few months TRIDENT has worked on restructuring, including getting their priorities straight.”I think it’s very important to those counties that want a drug task force to have one,” Myers continued. “We pulled out of TRIDENT primarily because of the methodology the team was employing of the time, and they ultimately realized there were significant problems there and have addressed them.”Myers has endorsed Wills as the next candidate, saying his experience as the No. 2 prosecutor in the district gives him the knowledge he needs to contribute to prosecution in a fairly small office.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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