Man says he was kept in jail too long
A British citizen arrested for possession of cocaine was held in the Pitkin County Jail for two weeks after tests by police on the substance came out negative for illegal drugs.
“It’s all a farce,” said Brian David Palmer, 30, who was released on a personal recognizance bond Monday after a 19-day stay in jail.
Palmer was arrested July 14 after a test performed by Aspen Police Officer Bill Linn came back with “positive presumptive indication of the presence of cocaine,” according to the arrest warrant issued by Judge J.E. DeVilbiss.
Palmer was placed in the Pitkin County Jail on a $10,000 bond. At Palmer’s first court appearance on July 16, he told the court that the substance found in his possession was baking soda. He told the judge he did not wish to have an attorney represent him until a fair test was performed on the substance.
Because of that testimony, Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills not only asked that the substance be sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations for further testing, he ordered that the Aspen Police Department run some more tests as well.
“It’s not common practice to do subsequent tests,” Wills said. “But when Mr. Palmer said it was baking soda, I had them send it to CBI. But before they sent it, I had [the Sheriff’s Office] do another test.”
Tests on the 25 grams confiscated by police – two for cocaine and one for methamphetamine – came back negative. But two weeks passed before that evidence was brought to the court’s – and Palmer’s – attention.
Palmer remained in jail until this past Monday, the date of his scheduled court appearance. That was when Wills advised the court of the negative tests, and Judge DeVilbiss released him from jail.
“The Aspen police may as well arrest everybody who walks out of a supermarket with a bag of flour, because that too could be presumed to be cocaine,” said Palmer, a resident of Sheffield, England, in an interview Tuesday.
“The police knew about it,” he said. “They could have told me. As soon as it came back negative, I should have been out of there. But instead, I just spent 19 days worrying.”
Palmer, a mechanic who is in the United States for a vacation, is presently charged with two felonies in Pitkin County’s Ninth Judicial District Court: unlawful possession of a schedule-two controlled substance (cocaine) and unlawful possession of a schedule-two controlled substance (cocaine) with the intent to distribute. Could have been released earlier Wills acknowledged that a special hearing could have been scheduled in order to spare Palmer another 14 days in jail.
“There could have been [a hearing]. But the judge had been in Meeker the week before, and I sit in other courts too, and it was difficult. There were some predicatabilities that caused some delay there, but as soon as we knew, we acted … [Monday, Aug. 2] was the first available court date.
“We’ve never had any problems with the presumptive [NIK field] test before,” Wills said, at least not during the eight years he has served as assistant district attorney in Pitkin County. “Nevertheless, we don’t rely on them in court.”
Wills said that all substances that test positive in NIK field tests are sent to the CBI for definitive corroboration.
“We still don’t know what it is,” Wills said, adding that the CBI test results should be returned prior to Palmer’s next court appearance on Aug. 16.
“There’s conflicting information right now,” Wills said, “and we have given the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Palmer. Until CBI tells us what it is, I’m not going to do anything differently. … But if it comes back negative, the charges will need to be dropped.” Actions defended The experience, however, has left Palmer with a less-than-complimentary opinion of the Aspen Police Department, he said Tuesday during an interview.
“How come this police officer doesn’t know the difference between baking soda and cocaine? This is Aspen, right?” he asked, referring to Officer Linn. “If that officer keeps his job, well, I can’t believe it. What else is he but incompetent? An officer of that capability would not be on the British force.”
Linn would not comment on the case Wednesday.
However, District Attorney Wills defended Linn and cited a series of criminal justice procedures that were followed in Palmer’s case.
“This wasn’t one officer who made the decision to arrest Mr. Palmer,” Wills said. “This was an officer who brought the information he had to a judge, who issued a warrant, and there were multiple stages of review. This wasn’t one officer acting on his own and jumping to conclusions.”
The manufacturer of the NIK field tests used by local law enforcement agencies to test controlled substances did not return repeated phone calls Wednesday. As a result, figures rating the test’s margin for error were not available. The night it began Palmer’s run-in with Aspen’s law enforcement community began on July 10. Officer Chris Womack found him in an “unresponsive state” near the corner of Original Street and Durant Avenue. When Palmer wouldn’t respond to Womack’s efforts to communicate, the officer radioed for an ambulance to transport him to Aspen Valley Hospital.
Later that evening, Officer Linn was dispatched to AVH to follow up on a report that a nurse had found a plastic bag containing a white powdery substance in Palmer’s belongings. Linn did a field test on the substance and the results came back positive for the presence of cocaine, according to Linn.
According to Palmer, the reason for his condition on July 10 was that he had taken one too many prescription pain killers, which he had received following a back operation about a month ago.
He said he reacted to the medication and basically passed out. The overdose-like reaction was not brought on by any illicit drugs, he said, but rather a miscalculation on his part about how he would react to the medication at 8,000 feet of elevation.
And as for why he was carrying a bag of baking soda, Palmer said he planned to use it for cleaning pots and pans during an upcoming camping trip.
“Everybody was concerned about bears, because we had some bacon with us, and we wanted it to wash out our cooking pans,” he said.
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