Former Aspen man gets community corrections sentence after violating probation

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A former Aspen man who violated his probation following a drug-related guilty plea last year was sentenced Monday to four years in Garfield County Community Corrections, a facility in Rifle that provides courts with alternative sentencing options for nonviolent offenders.

Thomas J. Simmons, 24, now of Glenwood Springs, admitted in June that he failed drug and alcohol tests last fall that were a condition of his probation. He also was accused by the local Probation Office of failing to participate in mandatory counseling sessions.

On Monday, he told Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols that he “relapsed” into drug use last fall after being handed a four-year supervised-probation sentence on a felony drug-possession charge in April 2013.

But Simmons said he has turned his life around and that he was confident he could complete whatever sentence Nichols decided.

Nichols told Simmons that if he fails the Community Corrections sentence — which will allow him to work, obtain therapy for his addiction and maintain a relatively normal life — the next step will be state prison.

“I wish you the best of luck,” the judge said.

When Simmons was taken into custody in February 2012, the Aspen Police Department heralded the arrest as one of its biggest drug busts in recent memory.

The case, however, was bogged down because of a mistake by police during the course of the investigation, prompting the District Attorney’s Office to drop felony drug-distribution charges. Simmons’ defense attorney, Garth McCarty, had successfully filed a motion arguing that a warrant to search his house and car was invalid because it was based on false premises.

That search turned up large amounts of cash, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), hash, mushrooms and LSD. The drug evidence police seized, McCarty said, constituted “fruit of an illegal arrest.”

In court Monday, prosecutor Andrea Bryan argued that Simmons should be given jail time.

Simmons is “good at sounding sincere,” she said, but his track record suggested that “we will be fooled again.”

Simmons was “given a gift in the first case” by getting a four-year probation sentence, Bryan said. He has been getting “break after break,” she added.

However, public defender Sara Steele said Simmons was taking the probation violation seriously. Addiction is not easy to overcome, she told Nichols, and he recently has taken “concrete steps to remain sober,” becoming active in therapy and even completing a drug-treatment program.

The probation violation was “all about relapse” and no new crimes were committed, Steele said. Also, Simmons is employed, and he has his own apartment and a girlfriend, she said.

Nichols said there appeared to be two identities surrounding Simmons. One is “this big drug dealer” and the other is an articulate, polite young man who ran track in high school and seems sincere whenever he addresses the court, she told him.

Nichols urged Simmons to adhere to the Community Corrections program to avoid prison, “a waste of your life.”