Meth arrest leads to jail flood, outage
A 32-year-old transient arrested Wednesday on suspicion of methamphetamine possession later destroyed law enforcement and 911 communications equipment when he ripped apart a jail cell sprinkler head and flooded the Pitkin County Jail, officials said.
The upper Roaring Fork Valley experienced no disruption in 911 service, though dispatchers in Vail handled calls for about an hour early Wednesday morning while emergency dispatchers moved from the communications center at the jail to a backup location at the Mountain Rescue Aspen facility, said Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo estimated the damage to the newly refurbished jail at tens of thousands of dollars, “if not higher.”
“This is a big deal,” DiSalvo said. “It was pretty hairy.”
The incident began at 6:54 p.m., when Benjamin Garrett called 911 and reported that “a large group of people were coming after him to steal his car,” according to a police report filed Thursday in Aspen District Court.
Dispatchers transferred Garrett’s call to Aspen police Officer Dan Davis, who was driving to Garrett’s location on Shady Lane on the north side of the Roaring Fork River off Red Mountain Road, the report states.
“I spoke briefly with Garrett, who had a wild tale about a group of around 30 people who were trying to illegally tow his vehicle,” Davis wrote in his report. “He said he had seen them before and it is a crime ring.”
When Davis and another officer arrived, they found Garrett standing next to his vehicle near the Rio Grande Trail.
“Garrett told us his incredible story,” Davis wrote, “and it was evident that there wasn’t any merit to it and that he either had a mental health issue or was on something.”
Davis soon learned that Garrett didn’t have a valid driver’s license and told him he couldn’t drive. He then offered Garrett a ride to the Hotel Jerome, where he said his girlfriend worked, according to the police report.
However, before allowing him in the police car, Davis asked Garrett if he had any weapons on him.
“Honestly, I do,” Garrett said, according to the report. “A pipe with meth in it.”
Garrett removed a “yellow M&M candy tube from his pocket,” that contained a glass pipe and a small, clear baggie with 0.8 grams of a crystalline powder that later tested positive for meth, the report states.
“I was surprised by this admission and initially placed Garrett in handcuffs for safety reasons, as I know meth users can become violent,” Davis wrote in his report.
The two officers then dropped Garrett off at the jail, according to the report.
Later that night, Garrett began acting out in one of the jail cells and deputies moved him to one of the holding cells, DiSalvo said. While in the holding cell at about 3:30 a.m., Garrett ripped an institutional-grade grate off the ceiling, which allowed him access to the sprinkler head, according to DiSalvo and Burchetta.
Garrett then tore into the sprinkler head, which flooded the jail’s common room with 2 to 3 inches of water before officials could shut it off, DiSalvo said.
Two deputies and an Aspen police officer entered Garrett’s cell to try and subdue him, but Garrett began fighting with them. Water was cascading down on the law enforcement officers, making the floor slippery and their job that much more hazardous, he said.
“These are three large men all in good shape,” DiSalvo said. “It took all they had just to get this guy under control.
“He had unusual strength and paranoia.”
They finally got Garrett under control and later took him to Aspen Valley Hospital with facial injuries, including a possible broken nose and broken ribs, DiSalvo said. One deputy also suffered a hand injury, he said.
“He was arrested for meth possession, so you have to assume he was under the influence,” DiSalvo said.
Meanwhile, the water flooded the server room in the jail’s basement, knocking out 911, law enforcement communications and the records-management system used by emergency responders throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, DiSalvo said.
At about 4:45 a.m., it became clear that emergency dispatchers were going to have to move to the backup location at Mountain Rescue Aspen on Highway 82 east of the Aspen Business Center, Burchetta said. Emergency dispatchers in Vail took over 911 calls from the Aspen area at about 5:30 a.m. while that move took place, he said.
Aspen-area dispatchers took the 911 system back over at about 6:30 a.m., he said.
“There was no disruption in service,” Burchetta said.
The emergency dispatch center will not return to its longtime location at the jail, DiSalvo said. It was scheduled to move to a new location at the North 40 fire station at the Aspen Business Center on Sept. 15 anyway, prompting officials to scramble to get that location online three weeks early, he said.
DiSalvo said he expects the North 40 location to be available within a few days.
The damage to the jail and to the computer servers is significant, he said, partially because the county just spent $300,000 refurbishing the jail earlier this summer. That work included new carpet, general cleaning and installing sprinklers in each cell.
The sprinkler that was destroyed, however, was not new and had been in the holding cell since the jail was built, DiSalvo said.
The jail was in lockdown Thursday while county maintenance workers attempted to clean up the mess, he said.
The cell Garrett destroyed was not the same one vandalized by former Snowmass Village Town Councilman Chris Jacobson in June 2015 after he was arrested for drunken driving, DiSalvo said.
Garrett, whose hometown and other personal details were not available Thursday, was charged with felony methamphetamine possession. His mug shot also was not available because the damage he caused destroyed the computer responsible for producing the photo, officials said.
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