DA: Aspen building inspector not shielded from liability
October 1, 2011
ASPEN – A former government building inspector is “not above the law” and should be held criminally accountable for the carbon-monoxide poisoning deaths of a Denver family of four near Aspen.
That’s what the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office asserted in an eight-page court filing made Friday in Pitkin County District Court. The filing was in response to an Aug. 26 motion to dismiss the case against former city of Aspen building inspector Erik Peltonen by defense attorney Abraham Hutt. On Monday, a “friend of the court brief” was attached to the motion to dismiss by the attorney’s offices for Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, as well as the International Code Council and the Colorado Municipal League.
Friday’s brief, written by Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan, contends the defense’s bid to throw out the case lacks merit, including the argument that Peltonen is shielded from criminal liability because he worked for the government.
“[Peltonen’s] occupation and job was as a building inspector for the City of Aspen,” Bryan writes. “It was [Peltonen’s] duty and responsibility to ensure that building inspections were completed in compliance with the relevant city or county codes and in accordance with Colorado law. There simply is no statute or case law that says he may not be held criminally responsible for exercising that duty in a criminally negligent manner.”
Bryan’s response also says that Hutt and the friend-of-the-court’s contention that Peltonen is immune from criminal liability is an argument that’s “disingenuous and inconsistent with the law.”
“[Peltonen] cannot rely on the [Colorado Governmental Immunity Act] or Pitkin County Code to claim that, simply because he was a building inspector employed by a municipality, he therefore had cart blanche to engage in conduct that violates the criminal law resulting in an entire family’s death,” the response says.
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The Peltonen defense has also argued that his indictment was unconstitutional, partly because the statute that he was charged with violating – criminally negligent homicide – contains vague language and did not give him fair warning that he could be prosecuted “for any alleged omission or failure” to carry out his job as a building inspector.
Peltonen, 69, of Basalt is scheduled to stand jury trial in December on four counts of criminally negligent homicide.
In the summer of 2005, Peltonen inspected the home where the family died and signed off on the home’s snowmelt system, including a Munchkin boiler that leaked the noxious gas. Prosecutors say the deaths occurred Nov. 29, 2008 at a home at 10 Popcorn Lane, about four miles east of Aspen.
The charges are in connection to the fatalities of Caroline Lofgren, 42; her husband, Parker, 39; and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8.
Glenwood Springs subcontractor Marlin Brown, a second defendant charged with the same offenses as Peltonen, is scheduled to stand trial in November.