Many shades of justice in Aspen
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” It was suspicious that the customer wanted a pair of sunglasses for skiing on a snowy day like Wednesday. But Rafaela Doherty, a Brazilian employee at the Sunglass Hut International, was kind enough to tell the customer that sunglasses wouldn’t suffice in a blizzard.
Later, when Doherty realized two pairs of $200 sunglasses were missing from the Aspen shop, she wasn’t about to take it laying down. Wearing only lightweight pants and a long-sleeve cotton shirt, she chased down the alleged thief through the snow for nearly 25 minutes.
When Aspen police finally arrested Jillian White, 52, they discovered a rap sheet pages long and, of course, two pairs of sunglasses that were returned to the shivering Doherty.
The saga began at noon Wednesday when Doherty said White walked into the store and started trying on sunglasses. Doherty said White asked about sunglasses for skiing but Doherty responded that it wasn’t a good idea.
“I was even saying to her, ‘Don’t buy it, because it’s not what you want,'” Doherty said. “[I was] so nice.”
Minutes after White allegedly left the store, Doherty went to make sure all the sunglasses were in order and realized two were missing. After reviewing security tape, Doherty called police and later, her manager.
Standing by the front window half an hour after the alleged theft, Doherty was talking on the phone when she said White walked by the store wearing a different jacket, ear muffs, the same red boots and, of course, one of the pairs of sunglasses.
“I’m standing at the front window talking to my manager and she just passes right here, in front of the store,” Doherty said.
Doherty said she followed White to the gondola plaza and asked her if some kind of mistake had been made. When White responded that she had no idea what Doherty was talking about, Doherty told her the police already had been called and the theft was on video.
Then Doherty simply followed White for 25 minutes, and the two took a little trip around town.
“I’m freezing,” Doherty said. “I can’t move my hands … 25 minutes in the snow. But I’m right behind her.”
At a few places, such as the Ajax Tavern, Doherty asked people to use their cellular phones to call police but they refused. So she just kept getting colder and kept White within sight.
Eventually, Doherty said, White came up to her, said they should go back to the shop and agreed to pay for the sunglasses.
“I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I was freezing for 25 minutes trying to bring you back,'” Doherty said. “She was begging … I was like, ‘I’m sorry, you did something wrong.'”
In the meantime, police detective Chris Womack arrived at the Sunglass Hut and found the store open, but empty.
“I went over to the Sunglass Hut to contact Rafaela, the reporting party, and there was no one there,” Womack said. “Then Rafaela returned to the store with the woman who [allegedly] took the sunglasses.”
White allegedly gave Womack a false name and false date of birth but later told Womack her real name. That’s when Womack said the numerous arrests from New York state showed up in the computer, including arrests for larceny, burglary, criminal trespass and driving under the influence.
White was charged with misdemeanor theft of less than $500 and released on a $750 bond Wednesday.
“It wasn’t fun for me at all,” Doherty said. “I couldn’t move for like 10 minutes.”
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.