Man pleads guilty in Aspen jail flood incident

Standing water in the Pitkin County Jail's common area after Benjamin Garrett destroyed a sprinkler head and flooded it.

A 32-year-old man who flooded the Pitkin County Jail this summer then fought with sheriff’s deputies pleaded guilty Monday to two felonies in connection with the incident.

Benjamin Garrett faces between two and a half and seven years in prison after pleading guilty to felony drug possession and criminal mischief. Garrett also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, which could land him in the same jail he flooded for between six months and two years.

However, the District Attorney’s Office agreed not to object to a probation-only sentence in the case, said Molly Owens, Garrett’s attorney.

Garrett has no prior felony convictions and the sheriff’s deputy he assaulted did not push for a prison sentence, said Deputy District Attorney Sarah Oszczakiewicz. Garrett might have to pay more than $225,000 in restitution, the cost of the damage to the jail.

Garrett was initially arrested in August for methamphetamine possession and taken to jail. However, in the middle of the night he pried a light housing from the roof of his cell and used it to destroy a sprinkler head, which flooded the jail and destroyed communication and other computer equipment located in the jail’s basement.

Garrett then tried to choke a sheriff’s deputy who finally entered his cell to try to deal with him and the gushing water. It took four deputies to get him under control and strapped into a holding chair.

The flood forced dispatch officials to move permanently to the North 40 Fire Station, which was already planned but not scheduled to open for another month at the time.

In other court news Monday:

• A 52-year-old Aspen transient with a history of assaulting Aspen police officers has been found sane by the Colorado state psychiatric hospital in Pueblo, lawyers said Monday.

Landin Smith had entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in September in two pending cases in which he is charged with assaulting two Aspen police officers. The state hospital’s recent finding that he is sane comes on top of two previous examinations that found him competent to stand trial.

Still, Smith’s attorney wants him examined again, this time by a private psychiatrist. Garth McCarty, the attorney, said his client refers to himself in the plural, says he hears voices and “chews the flesh off his arms,” which McCarty says is clear evidence of Smith’s mental health problems.

Oszczakiewicz said Smith’s mental health issues relate to his substance-abuse problems and insisted Monday on setting his cases for trial. The first case, based on an assault on a police officer that occurred in February 2015, was scheduled for trial in July.

The second case, based on an assault that occurred in December 2015, was not set because of scheduling conflicts.

Smith has already spent three years in prison for kicking an Aspen police officer in 2009. A month after he was released from that stint, he kicked an officer again and was later sentenced to six months in jail.

• A 31-year-old former Aspen resident pleaded guilty to felony theft Monday, the second time he has entered the plea in the case.

Jared Mastroianni withdrew the plea earlier this month after District Judge Chris Seldin sentenced him to 90 days in jail and three years of probation. That 90 day jail sentence violated terms of Mastroianni’s plea deal, so the plea withdrawl was legally allowed.

On Monday, however, Mastroianni accepted nearly the exact same plea deal, except this time the judge will be allowed to sentence him to as many as 90 days in jail, said prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz.

Mastroianni originally faced securities fraud and theft charges for allegedly stealing nearly $200,000 in Rolex watches from a local Aspen shop and bilking $60,000 from a local couple by posing as a financial adviser.