Law agents face possible jail sentence
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Cops usually read suspects their rights. But it was two cops in the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Narcotics Team who were being advised of their rights in court Friday morning.
District Judge Denise Lynch signed a May 9 citation and order for the TRIDENT agents to show cause why they shouldn’t be held in contempt of court. Defense attorney Chip McCrory filed a motion asking her to hold the two agents in contempt because, he argued, TRIDENT failed to obey a March 19 subpoena and disclose records about a confidential informant in Nichole Brownell’s 2005 drug distribution case.
McCrory wrote in a motion that it’s clear TRIDENT didn’t honor the subpoena, and it’s clear “that they have attempted to perpetrate a fraud on the court, committed the crimes of abuse of public records,” tampering with evidence, official misconduct, issuing a false certificate and attempting to influence a public servant.
Lynch’s citation says the TRIDENT agents must “show cause why you should not be held in contempt of court and further why you have failed to produce all of the items subpoenaed. … And further, why a fine and/or jail sentence should not be imposed upon you to vindicate the dignity of this court and ensure further compliance with the orders of this court.”
McCrory wrote in a motion that evidence released by TRIDENT was edited to hide the informant’s identity, including a change that said the person had no arrests. But another document shows the informant did in fact have an arrest for domestic violence, McCrory wrote.
TRIDENT receives federal and local funding and primarily does undercover drug operations in Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Rio Blanco counties. A message left at TRIDENT’s office wasn’t immediately returned Friday afternoon.
Responding to a request for information about the informant, Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch wrote in a court document that the prosecution doesn’t have access to TRIDENT’s files regarding confidential informants. She added that TRIDENT wouldn’t tell her whether or not the person McCrory asked about was a TRIDENT informant.
“It has always been our position that we long ago provided all the relevant discovery,” Fitch said in court. “This is a fishing expedition.”
A May 1 TRIDENT letter says a TRIDENT task force commander was trying to back up a computer intelligence system and lost “100s” of TRIDENT records in February 2005.
The letter says TRIDENT recovered basic information from those records, such as names and social security numbers, but lost all the general information such as narratives. McCrory argued that TRIDENT should still have records on the informant from after the records were lost.
Lynch has appointed Kenneth Jaynes as a special prosecutor for the contempt charges. The TRIDENT agents, who stood shoulder to shoulder and both wore black suits and earrings Friday, retained Sarah McCutcheon of Denver’s Bruno, Colin, Jewell and Lowe, P.C. law firm. The agents are not being identified here because of their undercover work.
McCutcheon appeared by telephone Friday and asked for additional time to contact witnesses, as she’d just recently been hired.
Lynch advised the TRIDENT agents of their rights, as judges do for any accused criminal. She said it was necessary because McCrory had asked for punishment of jail and/or a fine, which gives the men the same rights everyone has in a criminal case.
Jaynes said the TRIDENT agents could face a maximum of six months in jail.
Lynch said she would recuse herself and the case would go to Chief District Judge James Boyd to assign as he sees fit. Another court date wasn’t immediately scheduled.
The citation stemmed from Brownell’s August 2005 drug distribution arrest. TRIDENT obtained a warrant to search her Rifle home in August 2005 and allegedly found over 180 grams of marijuana and much smaller amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine. TRIDENT also said it found marijuana in her son’s room, scales, small Ziploc bags and surveillance cameras used to monitor the doors of the home.
Brownell, 41, pleaded guilty to one count but later withdrew her plea and pleaded not guilty. She was scheduled to go to trial on several drug charges June 16, but the date has been changed to a scheduling conference due to complications arising from the contempt citation.
Brownell was convicted May 21 of two counts of being an accessory to the 2006 nonfatal shooting of former Colorado State Patrol Trooper Brian Koch. Brownell fell asleep sitting up in her chair during the trial.