DA says buddies boozing at Basalt Bistro bar broke law
September 4, 2009
BASALT – Two men who allegedly confronted Basalt police officers in a bar last month will each be cited for harassment and obstructing a police officer, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said Thursday.
Ian Gray and Nick Surles are being charged for an unusual brouhaha that broke out in the Basalt Bistro shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. The men were drinking in the bar when Basalt police Sgt. Stu Curry and officers Brian Lemke and Michael Taylor walked through on routine patrol.
Gray said in a previous interview that he, Surles and other patrons felt the officers lingered too long in the bar. Surles allegedly started yelling at Curry and cursing him for a drunken driving arrest he made of another man sometime ago.
Curry said he approached Surles and warned him that his conduct was unacceptable and tried to get him to calm down. The officer said he eventually decided to exit the bar to avoid further confrontation. Lemke was in a different part of the bar and trailed after the other officers.
The officers were being jeered by some patrons as they left, and Gray said he “chimed in” by saying “don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” Lemke heard the comment as he left the bar. After conferring a short time with the other officers, he re-entered and allegedly told Gray he was under arrest for disorderly conduct.
Gray said he wasn’t told he was under arrest. He said Lemke told him he had to leave the bar but wouldn’t tell him what he did wrong. Lemke placed Gray in handcuffs, but Gray grabbed his barstool and refused to let go. Lemke took him to the floor, where the confrontation continued for several minutes. Gray said Lemke “pummeled” his forearms in an effort to make him let go of the barstool. Curry said Lemke was applying pressure to certain points to force Gray to let go.
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The confrontation ended when Curry urged Surles to convince Gray to walk outside, according to both Gray and Curry. The handcuffs were removed, and the men were told they could leave.
Curry said he told the men they might be cited for disorderly conduct. Gray filed a complaint with Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda the following Monday, alleging the officers reacted unreasonably.
Curry said in a previous interview that the police department felt it was best for the DA’s office to decide on charges because of Gray’s complaint about the conduct of two officers. The officers were concerned it would look like they were out for revenge if they made a decision, he said.
Hurlbert said his office handled the case like any other: It reviewed the officers’ reports, witness statements and other evidence before reaching a conclusion. The fact that the alleged victims of the harassment were police officers didn’t influence the decision, he said. If Gray and Surles subjected civilians to the same treatment, the citations would have still been issued, according to Hurlbert.
Gray couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, but he previously told The Aspen Times he felt the incident centers on his right to free speech. He acknowledged jeering police officers, but claimed he was singled out and unfairly treated.
In a letter to the editor published Wednesday, Gray wrote, “In fact, I would welcome it if I were to be charged: Presumably in that event I would have a chance to have my case heard before a judge.”
He will get that chance. Hurlbert disagreed that Gray was merely exercising his right to free speech.
“If there was something where we thought it was freedom of speech, we wouldn’t have filed,” he said.
The Aspen Times was unable to contact Surles Thursday.
Ikeda assigned Basalt police Sgt. Roderick O’Connor to investigate Gray’s complaint. O’Connor’s report, released Tuesday, concluded the officers did nothing wrong and that their response during the incident was appropriate.
If Gray and Surles are convicted of the misdemeanors, they could face a potential penalty of 3 to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for obstructing an officer, and up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $750 for harassment.