DA’s office withdraws from drug task force | AspenTimes.com

DA’s office withdraws from drug task force

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office has decided to leave a regional drug-enforcement task force, citing a need to stay objective with future cases.

The Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, or TRIDENT, is comprised of police officers and deputies from several agencies, including Garfield County, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Rio Blanco County.

District Attorney Mac Myers chose to end his office’s participation in the task force as of Feb. 1.

Myers wasn’t available for comment on Friday afternoon. Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills said the office had been supplying an attorney and a legal assistant to the task force for some investigations.

“It was an amicable split, and it was done to preserve the independent function that the DA’s office employs,” Wills said. “If we participate, it could be a conflict for us because we felt we had a hand in [the investigations]. We want to preserve our system of checks and balances, and independent review of each case.”

The 9th Judicial District has 14 law enforcement agencies who bring cases to prosecutors, including TRIDENT. Wills said the district attorney’s office won convictions in approximately 65 cases last year that came from TRIDENT investigations and had four jury trials.

The 9th Judicial District will still accept TRIDENT cases on a case-by-case basis.

“We still support undercover work by anyone ” we view it as a necessary tool in law enforcement,” Wills said. “This should not change their day-to-day operations in anyway.”

Neither the Aspen Police Department nor the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department have officers dedicated to TRIDENT or any other undercover drug investigations. Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis have said they don’t condone undercover work.

But TRIDENT has made arrests in Aspen and Pitkin County in the past year, arresting a cook at a local restaurant on cocaine charges after an undercover probe. The task force also arrested two workers at the Redstone Inn for allegedly distributing cocaine.

TRIDENT is funded primarily through grants from the U.S. Justice Department and by its participating agencies.

Wills said withdrawing from the task force will free up the attorney and assistant assigned to TRIDENT so they can be used elsewhere in the office.

“This puts us back in our traditional role, and personally I think it’s important for us to have the checks and balances back,” Wills said.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]