Pitkin County deputy suspended in Lake Powell incident
June 22, 2012
ASPEN – A Pitkin County deputy is on administrative leave for her role in an incident last week that led to multiple citations for a group of valley residents accused of unlawfully firing weapons and misbehaving at a Lake Powell campsite in Utah.
Amanda Schmitt, 25, who has been a deputy at the Pitkin County Jail for eight months, was suspended indefinitely, with pay, last week, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo confirmed Thursday. DiSalvo, who has been out of the office for most of this week after undergoing surgery to his upper spine on Monday, said he likely will decide about Schmitt’s future with his department next week.
Park rangers at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah summonsed her on the morning of June 10 on suspicion of unlawful use of a weapon. The charge is a federal offense.
Schmitt’s administrative leave comes at a time when the Sheriff’s Office is grappling with another personnel issue involving former Deputy Ann Stephenson. DiSalvo fired Stephenson, who worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, in March after she allegedly failed to immediately report a hit-and-run accident in which she was involved on Feb. 7.
Through her Denver attorney Todd McNamara, Stephenson, who has declined repeated interview requests from The Aspen Times, has notified Pitkin County that it faces a potential lawsuit unless it settles out of court. DiSalvo confirmed that McNamara, at one time, was seeking $450,000 from the county to avoid litigation. The sheriff said the county is not pursuing a financial settlement in the matter.
McNamara is on vacation and unavailable for comment this week.
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As for Schmitt’s alleged transgressions, DiSalvo said, “People make mistakes, and I want to be tolerant of people’s mistakes. I want to be consistent here in my actions, and that type of behavior I cannot tolerate.”
Schmitt was one of six Roaring Fork Valley residents ticketed, including Lauren K. Redfern, a former Basalt High School teacher who was fired in February for having a sexual relationship with a student. She also was initially charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, pattern of abuse.
Redfern also was cited on suspicion of prohibited use of a weapon in the Lake Powell episode, which triggered a felony charge of violating her bond conditions for the sex case in Eagle County District Court, where she pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The plea bargain was made, in part, because the sex was consensual and spurred by the student, who was almost 18 when the sexual contact began, according to attorneys on both sides of the deal.
Redfern turned herself into the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office for the bail-bond violation on June 15 after Eagle County Detective Brian Hollenbaugh learned of the Lake Powell episode on June 12 from Park Service Officer Kelly Brownson, of Bullfrog, Utah.
According to an affidavit for the arrest of Redfern for violating her bond conditions, Hollenbaugh relayed that he was told by Brownson that he and other officers were called to the Knowles Canyon area of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area at 10:40 a.m. on June 10 on a report of people in a group “shooting guns, playing loud music, consuming alcohol and harassing neighboring campers.”
Brownson made contact with the suspected group and identified one member of the party as Redfern, according to the affidavit.
“Brownson stated that Redfern admitted to handling and shooting a shotgun, ingesting illegal mushrooms and consuming alcohol while at Lake Powell during (June 10),” Hollenbaugh wrote. “He said that Redfern admitted that during the course of his contact with her, she was under the influence of alcohol.”
The park service officers said they received consent to search the campsite where Redfern and her group were allegedly staying and found 28 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms, a 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition “and numerous cans of beer and alcoholic beverage bottles.”
Meanwhile, Schmitt, who played varsity sports with Redfern at Basalt High, told DiSalvo about the incident last week, on either Tuesday or Wednesday, the sheriff said. DiSalvo said he had learned about the incident from Undersheriff Ron Ryan, and about an hour before Schmitt confessed to him.
“She told me everything,” DiSalvo said.
The sheriff said her story checked out with a draft report of the incident from Brownson, the park ranger. Brownson did not respond to email and phone messages Thursday.
However, while Schmitt told park rangers that she had consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms the night before she was ticketed for the firearms offense, she told the sheriff she did not partake in drug use.
“She told me she shot a gun, and she told (the park rangers) that she used mushrooms, although she told me she did not,” DiSalvo said. “She said she was scared and that’s why she told them” that she had taken mushrooms.
One person in the group was charged with use of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance, psilocybin mushrooms.
Whatever the case, the sheriff said Schmitt – whom he called an “exemplary employee” – put herself in a position not becoming to a sheriff’s deputy.
“Whether she did (take mushrooms) or didn’t, at this point is irrelevant,” DiSalvo said, “because the whole complexion of this thing is not behavior I want to see my deputies engage in, whether they are in Colorado or outside of Colorado.”
He added: “The accusation alone is too much for me. As police officers, we need to be careful of what positions we put ourselves in. I, more than anyone, need to be aware of that.”
The firearm or firearms that were discharged were not property of the Sheriff’s Office, DiSalvo said.
Schmitt did not return a telephone message Thursday. As a full-time employee she has been earning an annual salary of $44,512, according to Ryan, the undersheriff. Her job duties with the jail have included booking inmates and serving them meals. She is not authorized to make arrests or carry a gun, DiSalvo said.