Supporters of Derek Johnson ask for leniency, point to his dedication to community, family
While Derek Johnson was condemned by most Skico-affiliated letter-writers to the District Court, many others in the community wrote to laud him for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.
The 29 letters urging District Judge Chris Seldin to be lenient on Johnson — with many asking the judge to spare him a prison sentence — came from family members, neighbors, parents of kids he coached in football, current and former area elected officials and former business associates.
“As a partner, I put my trust in Derek, confided in him,” said Eric Bergstrom, the “E” in the “D&E Snowboard Shop” that the two founded in Aspen in the early 1990s and later sold to Aspen Skiing Co. “Never did I have any reason to doubt his trustworthiness.”
Bergstrom called Johnson a dedicated family man with a passion for Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I can’t understand why Derek made the choices he did that placed him in your court,” he wrote. “I ask for your leniency when sentencing Derek so that he may return to providing for his family and re-engage in the community.”
Johnson, 52, pleaded guilty to felony theft between $100,000 and $1 million in November for stealing nearly $6 million in company property, and is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday afternoon, when he faces between four years and 12 years in prison under terms of a plea deal.
Former Pitkin County Commissioner and Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who served with Johnson on the Aspen City Council from 2009 to 2013, praised his former colleague’s community-mindedness and parenting. He also said he read Johnson’s “statement of offense” to the court and spoke with him about his transgressions, making him confident Johnson “owns both his behavior and its consequences.”
“In my view, Derek Johnson can be punished as fits the crime by a jail term and restitution schedule rather than a lengthy prison sentence likely to leave him isolated and unemployable on his release,” Ireland wrote. “His ability to make amends, financially and spiritually, will be enhanced by viewing him as a flawed human capable of redemption rather than a bad actor to be cast out into the darkness with little connection to family and community.”
Longtime Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper also wrote that she admired Johnson’s dedication to the Aspen community, and said she, like many other letter-writers, got to know Johnson after he coached her son in football.
“I was perhaps Derek’s greatest football player’s mother challenge,” Clapper wrote. “When Derek and Kerri got married I was the one who encouraged them to have kids.”
Clapper urged Seldin to impose a local jail sentence and community service instead of prison.
“I am a firm believer in the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions,” she said. “I also believe that each and every situation is unique and should be treated as such.”
Snowmass Village Town Councilman Tom Goode, who he recruited as an assistant coach on the Aspen High School football team, said he admired Johnson’s dedication to coaching and mentoring athletes.
“The community is in a bit of shock over this, of course, and he has certainly made a big mistake,” Goode said. “I know he is aware of this and is looking forward to making this right.
“He has a wonderful family and it would be righteous to afford him the opportunity to face the community and show his remorsefulness.”
The executive director of Aspen Junior Hockey, where Johnson served on the board of directors, said Johnson’s impact on the organization and local youth in general “has been tremendous.”
“I believe wholeheartedly that Derek is extremely remorseful,” Shaun Hathaway said. “I am hopeful that you will consider his role as a father and leader of our youth in this community and allow him to continue raising his children and helping volunteer his time with our youth.”
Just one of the 29 letters urging leniency is from a person who worked for Johnson at Skico.
Aaron Kane wrote that he worked under Johnson in a variety of roles at Skico rental stores from 2006 to 2014, and effusively praised him as a boss, a manager and a human being.
“I felt that I personally and professionally grew more in my period working for Four Mountain Sports than in any other period of my life, and this would not have been possible without the help of Derek Johnson,” Kane said. “I understand what Derek did was wrong and unlike anything I had known him to do, but I also understand that good people can make bad decisions.
“From my time knowing Derek Johnson, I can honestly say that I believe that he is one of the good people, a compassionate person that truly does care about all the people that he interacts with.”
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With four officers either gone or set to leave, the Aspen Police Department is facing a staffing shortage. With the increase in mental health calls in recent years, the department is looking at officer candidates with a social services background.