Evidence against Johnsons to be heard in August
Former Aspen City Councilman Derek Johnson and his wife will have their first significant day in court in August.
At that time, a Pitkin County District Court judge will determine after a preliminary hearing whether probable cause exists to charge the Johnsons with stealing and selling nearly $2.5 million worth of merchandise from Aspen Skiing Co., where Derek Johnson worked as an executive for 17 years.
Derek Johnson, 51, and Kerri Johnson, 48, are each facing two counts of theft of a $1 million or more, one count of theft of $100,000 or more, one count of theft of $20,000 or more and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft. All are felonies. The couple each face between 8 and 54 years in prison.
Derek Johnson declined to comment on his situation Monday after he and his wife appeared in Pitkin County District Court.
The Aug. 7 preliminary hearing was set nearly three months down the road because lawyers in the case are expecting “voluminous” discovery materials that will need to be digested before the hearing, said Dru Nielsen, Kerri Johnson’s attorney.
The Johnsons also received permission Monday to leave the state twice this summer — once for eight days in June and another 10-day trip in August.
Police and prosecutors allege that Johnson stole mainly rental skis from Skico and sold them through an eBay account for years. They also allege the couple charged Skico thousands for boxes to ship the stolen skis to their eBay customers.
In other court news Monday:
• A local homeless man who’s been a thorn in the side of Aspen police officers for years was sentenced to four years in prison Monday and vowed not to return to Aspen.
Landin Smith, 54, told District Judge Chris Seldin that after 25 years of being confronted by Aspen police while drunk, he plans on moving back to his home of Atlanta, Georgia, after serving his time behind bars.
“(I) cannot reside in Aspen and drink,” Smith said Monday.
Smith was serving three years of probation after pleading guilty to assault on a police officer. He’s been charged numerous times over the years with assaulting police officers — he generally kicked them — and even served a previous prison stint for the offense. However, he recently kicked an Aspen police sergeant in the shins while drunk, which led to Monday’s prison sentence.
“I really wanted to believe you were in a position to turn this around,” Seldin said Monday.
“But I have to reach the conclusion that has not worked.”
Prosecutor Don Nottingham said Smith was lucky that Aspen police officers exercised admirable restraint compared to other police departments, and that elsewhere he might have experienced an outcome that makes prison look good.
Smith’s public defender Scott Troxell, however, said that in other places Smith would likely have been allowed to live on the streets without police constantly harassing. In Aspen, though, affluent people see him drunk on the streets and call police, which promotes confrontation with officers, he said. Troxell said police have essentially run Smith out of town, though he’d like to continue to stay and live in the area.
“The authorities have won,” he said.
Smith will receive more than two-and-a-half years of confinement credit for the time he has spent incarcerated in the Pitkin County Jail during the case.
• A local man caught masturbating twice in inappropriate circumstances will spend the next two years on probation. Benjamin Morton, 30, previously pleaded guilty to felony burglary and misdemeanor indecent exposure after a woman reported seeing him enter her apartment and masturbate in her roommate’s room in May 2018. He tried to withdraw the plea last month, saying he didn’t understand what he’d done without a lawyer, but Seldin declined to allow it.
On Monday, Seldin held him to the terms of the plea deal, which call for the felony burglary conviction to be wiped from his record if he successfully completes probation. The indecent exposure charge, however, will require Morton to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years.
The month before he was arrested for the May 2018 offense, Morton pleaded guilty to public indecency for masturbating in a Snowmass Village condominium complex hot tub, and was serving a year on unsupervised probation.
Seldin noted that fact Monday, saying Morton was “already on notice that this stuff is not OK” when he entered the bedroom of the woman who’d previously rejected his advances.
“That was a seriously creepy thing that you did,” the judge said. “If I were that young woman, it would have freaked me out.”
Seldin also sentenced Morton to 10 days in jail and 40 hours of community service. While on probation, Morton will receive “a significant amount of treatment” the judge said. Morton’s lawyer said he plans to move closer to his family on the East Coast.
• A 19-year-old Carbondale man who was seriously assaulted in a July 2017 drug deal gone bad pleaded guilty Monday to possession of between 6 and 12 ounces of marijuana.
William Morris was sentenced to two years of supervised probation for the misdemeanor plea, though the charge will be eliminated from his record if he successfully completes probation.
Nottingham and Seldin noted that Morris already received a punishment of sorts after he was assaulted with brass knuckles and a lead pipe and stabbed with a screwdriver by people he allegedly stole marijuana from.
Dan Shipp, Morris’ lawyer, characterized the incident as “a drug deal gone bad” in which Morris “had a serious disagreement” with the people who were going to provide him marijuana. He received 13 staples in his head and multiple bruises and lacerations as a result of the attack, which occurred at his Carbondale home, Shipp said.
Two of the three people arrested in connection with the attack have pleaded guilty to assault charges.
Since the incident, Morris has gone to treatment, begun taking college classes and become closer to his parents, who had been going through a divorce, Shipp said.
• A man who drove at high speed the wrong way down Highway 82 in March, then exhibited extremely odd behavior afterward in court, had no drugs in his system during the incidents, his lawyer said Monday.
John Reno, 45, of Thornton “was not in his right mind” when he crossed the Highway 82 median near the Aspen Business Center, nearly hit a pedestrian while driving the wrong way in the bus lane near Buttermilk and hit an estimated speed of 80 mph while going the wrong way, said Troxell, his lawyer. Tests of his blood taken after the incident came back negative for any drugs or alcohol, he said.
Troxell said Reno suffers from bipolar disorder and would likely plead not guilty by reason of insanity if his case goes to trial.
Reno asked an officer if he’d been driving faster than the Millennium Falcon after the incident in March. When he appeared in court the next day, Reno refused to open his eyes and sat in a chair backwards.
“It’s miraculous no one was seriously hurt that morning,” Nottingham said.
Finalists announced for Aspen’s next police chief
Five high-ranking, law-enforcement officers, all in Colorado and two in Aspen, have made the final cut in the city’s search for a new police chief.