Jury acquittal not tied to man’s Aspen history
January 30, 2019
Stefan Schutter's notorious past most definitely preceded him when eight local law enforcement officers responded to his traffic stop 13 months ago in Aspen.
"As soon as my name came out across the radio, the situation changed dramatically," Schutter said Tuesday in a phone interview. "(Dispatchers said), 'Watch out, he carries weapons.' It kinda makes a civil situation go out the window at that point."
However, that past — which includes a leading role in a 1999 violent Aspen crime spree when he was a teen — was not disclosed to jurors last week during his trial on misdemeanor charges of DUI, careless driving and resisting arrest based on that traffic stop.
Schutter, who represented himself at trial, was acquitted Friday of all charges after the jury deliberated about two hours.
"Regardless of what someone has done in the past, it doesn't necessarily elicit a physical response from officers," Schutter, 37, said Tuesday. "Just because someone did something years ago … (the police) have no right to put their hands on someone."
Pitkin County Court prosecutor Luisa Berne said that jurors in DUI trials who acquit defendants generally don't feel they received enough evidence indicating the person was impaired while driving.
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"We can assume that played into it," she said.
Berne admitted that the strong response by both Aspen police officers and Pitkin County sheriff's deputies was based on Schutter's past, though she also pointed out that he got out of his car just after dispatchers issued the weapons warning, which concerned law enforcement.
Still, despite the numerous officers on scene at the time, Berne praised their behavior toward Schutter.
"That night was a tense situation for everybody," she said. "I'm proud of how our law enforcement dealt with it.
"In other jurisdictions, the outcome for Mr. Schutter would not have been what it was. Officers were very kind to him."
Schutter was stopped by a Pitkin County sheriff's deputy who saw him nearly hit two pedestrians walking across Main Street at the Mill Street intersection just before midnight on Dec. 24, 2017. Schutter allegedly smelled of alcohol and admitted drinking two beers before the stop, according to a deputy's report.
Schutter declined to take roadside sobriety tests, and officers spent a minute and a half wrestling him into handcuffs, the report states. He remained uncooperative at the Pitkin County Jail, according to the report.
On Tuesday, Schutter said the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that the jury understood that sometimes people pop out in front of you when you're driving around the streets of Aspen.
"I'm just happy that we could find six people to believe that common people are abused by the police," Schutter said.
He said he decided to represent himself — he was advised during the trial by attorney Kathy Gowdy — because he wanted to make sure he was heard. Schutter initially tried to use a "sovereign citizen" defense that argues that the government has no jurisdiction over him, though Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely ruled that he could not.
"I just felt it was my case," Schutter said. "I'm the only one who can speak on my behalf. I have to face the consequences if they find in the prosecutor's favor."
He said it was gratifying to get through to the jury.
"I was trying to get people to see things from a different point of view," Schutter said.
He also said he hopes police will exercise "better discretion" in the future.
"They don't always have to make an assumption about someone's past," Schutter said.
Berne said she felt confident in the case before trial, but pointed out that the jury system worked as it's designed.
"That's how the system works, and I guess that's the beauty of the system," she said. "It's not up to us (as prosecutors) to make that choice."
Schutter was part of a group of 12 Aspen teenagers who embarked on a violent crime spree in 1999 that included the armed robberies of Clark's Market in Aspen and a grocery store in Snowmass Village. The crimes also included two armed robberies of a movie theater, another of a condominium office and robberies at other Aspen businesses.
Schutter was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison and served about six years before he was released in 2005. However, he was arrested several months later in Jefferson County after he was found in possession of an assault rifle, a revolver, more than 270 grams of cocaine, 220 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms, 360-plus grams of marijuana and smaller amounts of crack and heroin.
He was sentenced to another 10 years in prison for that incident.
"I was a 17-year-old kid," Schutter said of his past Tuesday. "Ignorance is no excuse for someone's past actions. I made some bad, bad decisions."
He said he's been back in the area — he lives in the Crystal River Valley — for about six years and hopes his past felony convictions don't continue to follow him around like a "scarlet letter."
For the most part, though, Schutter said he's been accepted back into the community.
"As a whole, I feel our community is awesome," he said. "I'm happy our small community has been able to see past my history."