Employees detail restaurant raids | AspenTimes.com

Employees detail restaurant raids

John Colson

Eyewitnesses say police pouring into two Aspen restaurants Dec. 2 handcuffed kitchen employees, held at them gunpoint and threw at least one into a puddle of dirty water on the floor.Two employees of Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House, which authorities raided last week, said Thursday that it was a “horrible experience” to go through and questioned whether the raids were effective or necessary.The two spoke on condition of anonymity, as the management of Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House have instructed their employees to not discuss the Dec. 2 raids.The Aspen Police Department conducted the dramatic, locally unprecedented raids, working with six officers from the Snowmass Police Department and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Colorado Department of Revenue. Authorities arrested nine on drug-related charges, one on an unrelated charge, and 11 more on alleged violations of immigration law.The raids have raised questions among local observers about the wisdom of conducting such operations in local businesses during hours of operation. And they have caused a rift between the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the police department over Police Chief Loren Ryerson’s failure to inform the sheriff of the operation.At Cooper Street this week, employees were recovering from the effects of the raid with the liberal use of gallows humor, as when one employee referred to a “gag order” on the workers.”No, it’s a gagger order,” chimed in another employee, referring to a common term describing a particularly large dose of cocaine.The Little Annie’s storyA Little Annie’s employee who was present when the police rushed in at 4:15 p.m. that day called the operation “way over the top and heavy-handed.”The employee noted that the operation netted perhaps “a couple of ounces” of cocaine and up to $3,000 in suspected drug profits, as reported in police statements.”Are we really thinking that this was good?” the employee said. “To me, that was a huge waste of taxpayer money.”The employee said guns were in plain sight but not drawn as the officers came in, and that some of the weapons were drawn by the time the officers who came in the front door had reached the doors to the kitchen at the back of the restaurant.According to stories the kitchen employees told, “everybody who was in the kitchen had guns pointed at them,” the Little Annie’s worker reported. It was noted in particular that one night-shift employee had come in early to help with prep work in the kitchen and reported “being handcuffed and pushed on the ground in a puddle of water” by one of the officers involved.In the front of the restaurant, a few diners were seated at tables, and a half-dozen or so patrons were at the bar when the officers burst in and told everyone to stay put, stay away from cell phones and be quiet.The patrons included two young children, a boy and a girl, at the table closest to the kitchen door and only a short distance from the drawn guns, the employee said. When the children’s presence was pointed out to the officers, they had the children taken to the Pitkin County Courthouse, the employee said.The employee also said a DEA agent announced that “everybody who was sitting at the bar might be checked” to determine if they possessed any drugs or were involved in drug-dealing activities authorities suspected were going on in the two restaurants. That included customers as well as employees, the employee said.”We were in a lockdown, basically,” the employee said, noting that officials immediately grabbed two Latino men who came in the front door after the sweep had begun and checked them for identification. Ultimately, the employee said, they were handcuffed and taken out of the restaurant. The employee had no idea if they were charged with any crime.”I think the Aspen police were trying to be reassuring to those of us they’d known for a long time,” informing employees of some of the details about the raids and other matters, the employee said.The employee confirmed that some cocaine and some cash were reported found at the restaurant but was unable to say how much or where.The sweep, search and arrests took from about 4:15 p.m. to about 7 p.m., after which the remaining staff was allowed to begin cleaning up the restaurant and shut it down for the night.The sweep at Cooper StreetAcross the alleyway at Cooper Street Pier, an employee said, it was basically the same story. One difference was that at least one supposed patron, who had been sitting at a table in the main dining area, stood up as soon as officers came in the door and shouted for everyone to remain where they were and not touch their cell phones.The bartender for the day shift reportedly was at the cash register, talking to another employee and keying in a sale with one hand. An agent crept up behind him, told him to take his fingers off the keys and his other hand out of his pocket and turn around.The employee, who also requested anonymity, heard “people yelling” in various parts of the establishment and saw an agent dash to the stairs leading up to the second floor section.The distinctive sound of the kitchen’s back door opening, the employee said, announced the simultaneous entry of agents and police from the alley.After the few employees on duty at the time had been contacted and ordered to sit at tables, the bartender reportedly was asked to open the cash register and turn over the keys to the liquor storerooms.Agents set about searching the place, checking any suspicious substances for possible drug content.Guns were not drawn in the front of the house, the employee said, and the staff was largely ignored while the search was conducted. Voices were heard in the kitchen exclaiming about the large number of knives lying around, and it was believed that the kitchen staff was uniformly handcuffed during the operation.Both employees noted that drug dealing is known to go on in some, if not most of the restaurant kitchens in town, and they questioned the validity of the raids.”If we’re trying to address a drug issue as it affects individuals, this isn’t going to change anybody’s habits,” one of the employees said, “and arresting a few Latinos won’t solve the immigration crisis.” Such issues need to be addressed, the employee conceded, “but not like this. There’s not gangs in this town, people being shot in drive-bys. This is making me wonder what kind of trust we should have in these authorities.”One of the workers maintained the entire operation showed disturbing racist overtones, noting that the operation targeted primarily Latino workers, many of whom speak poor English and have little understanding of U.S. drug laws.”I’m concerned for their rights,” the employee said.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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