Enabled by the sheriff | AspenTimes.com

Enabled by the sheriff

Dear Editor:

I read of Bob Braudis’ recent decision to retire, and was relieved, but not because of any ill will felt toward Braudis.

As everyone in Aspen knows, and the sheriff readily admits, he has always “looked the other way” regarding substance abuse and drug offenses in Pitkin County. Braudis says openly that he decided “not to conduct undercover drug investigations” and that he offered “limited assistance” to federal drug officers (which appears to be quite an understatement, given that I’ve been told the feds got in the habit of not notifying him when they conducted an undercover operation for fear he would tip off the subjects).

I was hoping that Pitkin County might finally have a chance to combat its biggest social nightmare, substance abuse, and the problems that come with it, with law enforcement that might actually take it seriously. Braudis told Scott Condon that he “honed a … philosophy that [he] … learned under Dick Kienast,” who “wanted as … officers citizens who loved the community and wanted to help.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Braudis believes he acted out of love for the community, but I’m not sure that enabling and protecting addiction, dealing, and substance abuse, and standing by while your “family” self-destructs, is the best way to show your love for the community. As in many real families, I think tougher love is called for.

Bob mentioned how much he was affected by Hunter Thompson’s death in 2005, but he won’t make the connection between substance abuse and Thompson’s suicide. Thompson himself said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” Seventeen people committed suicide in Pitkin County the year before Thompson did, and Pitkin County’s suicide rate “regularly spikes to about twice as high as the rest of Colorado and three times the national rate.” (Denver Post, April 26, 2009) David Crutchfield of the Colorado West Mental Health Center said last year that the “number one problem [in Aspen] is drugs and alcohol,” and that “isolation is a factor as well” because “there are a lot of superficial relationships here.”(id) Will anyone who didn’t know that please raise your hand?

What I don’t understand about Aspen’s unspoken nightmare is that Aspen is one of the most beautiful places in the world, has more “natural highs” than just about anywhere, and yet there must be an influential segment of the community that thinks the full “Aspen Experience” includes killing at least 80 percent of your brain cells. Or maybe they believe that Aspen would drive away resort business if we didn’t let ’em “get high” while they’re here. So we let ’em get high, or drunk, and then let ’em go barreling down Highway 82 to an “unfortunate rendezvous” with a power pole, a deer, or some innocent family who stumbled into Aspen unaware that it’s a protected haven for drunken and irresponsible behavior. Some of them won’t come back because they can’t. Without the bus system, the highway death toll here would be higher than the suicide rate.

I’m not from Aspen. Since I’m not a “local,” what business is it of mine?

Maybe this isn’t my business, but I’ve seen it, and lived with it, since I was a child. My dad was one of seven high school friends who thought it would be cool to get into underage drinking. Dad was funny when he was drunk, so his friends bought him alcohol for the good time they’d have once he’d had a few. Dad thrived on the acceptance it brought him, and he developed an addiction he could never shake.

He had five children, including me, and he left us and mom when the youngest was 3, because his life was out of control. He always came to take us for weekend visitation with a beer in his hand, but his driving was so erratic that I quit going. I know of five cars he totaled while he was drunk, including a ’57 Chevy that he drove off a bridge outside Boulder, almost killing him. His drinking eventually caused a brain tumor, and shortly before he died, he spent time in the Colorado State Hospital, trying to dry out. In his last letter to us, six months before he died, he said he regretted his decisions. He couldn’t stop. When they found him, two days after he died, there was a half-empty bottle of whiskey next to his bed. He was 41.

I’ve seen what substance abuse can do, and I know what it takes away. I never learned to be any good at baseball, because Dad never taught me to throw or hit. I never learned to hunt or fish until later in life. I was angry at Dad for a long time, but I finally forgave him when I learned how it happened.

Watching what’s going on in Aspen makes me angry all over again, because of the heartache, waste, and pain, but no one seems to want to stop it. How can such a beautiful place willingly harbor such an ugly “secret?”

When Sheriff Braudis announced his retirement, I thought there might still be a chance for Aspen’s kids. Then I read about who Braudis wants to replace him.

Whatever hope Aspen has of reversing a decades-long legacy of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, and murder by DUI will have to wait, if Braudis’ pick wins. Deputy DiSalvo intends to “maintain Braudis’ philosophy and approach to the department.” (Aspen Daily News, April 13, 2010).

Aspen, you can inspire so much in young athletes, musicians and artists who come here to compete and contemplate in this most beautiful of mountain towns. Don’t you think it’s time to inspire the best, but protect against the worst, in this extraordinary place?

It really is none of my business, but don’t you want to point your kids toward a brighter future than death on the wrong end of a gun or a whiskey bottle? Harmless fun isn’t. And no matter how much more money you can make by looking the other way, it isn’t worth it.

Kevin Stephenson

Glenwood Springs


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