Man who lunged at police gets 2 years of therapy
An Alabama man who lunged at Aspen police officers last winter with four razorblades he removed from his mouth was sentenced Monday to two years in a program that provides an alternative to prison.
Matthew Atwood, 32, pleaded guilty to felony menacing and faced as many as three years in prison.
However, District Judge Chris Seldin said Atwood “deserved a crack” at Garfield County Community Corrections, a rules-intensive program in Rifle that offers offenders a chance to confront their individual issues through therapy, work and life-skills instruction.
Seldin said Atwood’s background as a foster child who was never adopted and “aged out” of the system partially affected his decision.
“You were taken from home at a very young age and bounced from foster home to foster home,” Seldin said. “It’s a tragic history and I’m very sorry for you.”
Still, Seldin noted that Atwood’s past did not absolve him of responsibility for attacking Aspen police officers. Atwood removed four razor blades from his mouth at Rubey Park during an extended confrontation with officers in February and lunged at them with a slashing motion.
“When you pull razor blades out of your mouth, you’re a terrifying guy,” Seldin said. “There’s gotta be some accountability for that.”
Molly Owens, Atwood’s public defender, noted that while her client is a large and intimidating-looking man, he is actually a sensitive person who has been “smart, funny and focused” in his dealings with her.
“He is a man of contradictions,” she said. “He can appear so tough, but he is so tender.”
Deputy District Attorney Tony Hershey acknowledged that local police officers and jail deputies have indicated they like Atwood, but said his behavior that night in February deserved punishment.
“Mr. Atwood should be thankful he’s not dead,” Hershey said, noting that officers could have used deadly force and likely would have in most other cities.
Hershey urged Seldin to sentence Atwood to three years in prison.
Atwood told the judge he came to Aspen for vacation that night in February and was “going through a lot of things.” He apologized to the officers involved in the February incident, to the community in general and to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and jail staff. Most of all, he said wanted to apologize to his girlfriend and their five children back in Alabama.
“Ultimately, they’re the ones most affected,” Atwood said.
In other court news:
• A 52-year-old local woman will spend the next 60 days in jail and three years on probation after pleading guilty to stealing prescription drugs from her neighbor’s home in March.
“I was wrong to go into her residence and I accept responsibility for my actions,” Leslee Francis said Monday in Pitkin County District Court. “I hope to someday make some kind of amends to her.”
Francis was caught on camera entering the home in the 600 block of South Monarch Street and later admitted to taking seven Clonodine pills, a drug used to treat high blood pressure.
She pleaded guilty to felony trespassing in August and faced between one and three years in prison, though the District Attorney’s Office agreed not to object to a sentence of only supervised probation as part of a plea deal.
Francis apologized to her 12-year-old son for witnessing her being placed in handcuffs and taken to jail.
“I know I have an addiction problem and I know I want to get better,” she said.
Seldin noted that Francis has been voluntarily attending meetings of the Pitkin County Recovery Court — a program he oversees for defendants with alcohol and drug problems — for the past seven months. However, he said she’d tested positive for cocaine three times in September.
“You’ve been coming to Recovery Court for seven months and you’re still doing drugs,” Seldin said. “What this tells me is you’re in the grips of severe addiction. We’ve got to put a stop to this drug use.”
Francis must serve the first 30 days of her sentence, then she can be eligible for work release for the next 30 days, meaning she would spend nights in jail and work during the day, Seldin said. During her three years of probation, Francis will be monitored for sobriety and have to perform 60 hours of community service.
• A 62-year-old local man was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation for breaking into his deceased mother and stepfather’s home in June.
Barry Lancett pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and criminal trespass — both misdemeanors — and tearfully told District Judge Chris Seldin the situation involved emotional family matters.
Prosecutor Tony Hershey noted that Lancett had no prior criminal record and did not object to the unsupervised probation sentence.