Pitkin County Sheriff: Deputy cleared in excessive force investigation

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has determined that a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy did not use excessive force last month when he shot a man he was trying to arrest with a Taser.

That’s according to Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, who said Thursday that a complaint about possible use of excessive force was lodged after the arrest by a fellow sheriff’s deputy and an Aspen police officer, who both arrived at the scene after the “chaotic” situation began. The man and the woman who were arrested in the June 18 incident have not complained about the Taser use, said DiSalvo and the lawyer representing the man who was Tased.

Deputy Dustin Gray, who twice deployed the Taser, was placed on administrative leave after the complaint but will be back at work Wednesday now that DiSalvo has learned the Colorado Bureau of Investigation investigator will recommend the District Attorney’s Office to not press charges against him, the sheriff said.

“I think Dustin acted appropriately,” DiSalvo said. “I think the deputy and the police officer (who complained) totally did an admirable thing by reporting it because they were not sure what they saw.”

The June 18 incident is the first time deputies have used a Taser in the six years DiSalvo has been sheriff, he said. It is only the third time Tasers have been used by a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy since deputies began carrying the weapons in 2000, he said.

“I hammer it into their heads that extreme force will not be tolerated with this sheriff, or the last one for that matter,” DiSalvo said. “Our record shows we are reluctant to use force.

“I prefer deputies use their brains and their mouths (to de-escalate situations).”

The incident in question began about 9:45 p.m. on June 18, when a man parked at the Buttermilk Mountain parking lot called police to report seeing a white Chevy Suburban with its horn blaring, which had been driving all over the road, turn off Highway 82 onto Owl Creek Road and pull over, according to police reports.

The man said he tried to help the driver — later identified as Reese Castiglioni, 29, of Aspen — but the driver “did not understand the instruction,” the reports state.

“The driver had blood dripping from his head,” the man later told deputies, according to the reports. “The driver appeared to be ‘highly intoxicated’ and unsteady on his feet.”

Castiglioni succeeded in quieting the horn, but when he tried to drive away, the Suburban wouldn’t start. Not long after, a white Land Rover picked him up, according to reports.

Deputies were able to track the vehicle to a residence in the Burlingame neighborhood using the Suburban’s license-plate number. At the home, Deputy Ryan Voss encountered Castiglioni with dried blood on the side of his head and slurred speech, and Valora Villaloz, 49, of Aspen, who admitted she punched Castiglioni in the face during a fight the couple had at the Food & Wine Classic, reports states.

Castiglioni, who was “agitated and uncooperative” nearly from the get-go, soon cursed at the deputies and tried to go inside the home. But when Gray tried to arrest Castiglioni, he pulled away and Villaloz jumped on Voss’ back, yelling at him to let Castiglioni go, according to police reports.

Gray grabbed Villaloz off Voss’ back, took her to the ground and handcuffed her. Castiglioni then lunged at Voss with a closed fist, while Voss attempted to take him down and handcuff him. The two men fell into a 3-foot-deep, rock-filled ditch and Castiglioni elbowed Voss in the head while fighting and screaming obscenities at him, reports state.

In his report, Gray says he then shot Castiglioni in the shoulder with the stun gun, though it didn’t contact him more than a second or two. The deputy then shot him again, this time in the back and Castiglioni stopped fighting for the moment and was handcuffed, according to Gray’s report.

Not long after, the deputies tried to walk Castiglioni out of the ditch, but he began fighting again and kicked Voss in the leg hard enough to knock him off balance, according to reports. Gray wrote in his report that he believed Castiglioni wouldn’t stop until he injured a deputy, so he shot him with the Taser again, which stopped him from fighting.

That last shot from the Taser was the one the late-arriving deputy and police officer thought might not have been necessary, DiSalvo said.

In addition, DiSalvo said that when Gray’s Taser was connected to a machine, it indicated it had been deployed twice, not three times, even though Gray, a 10-year Sheriff’s Department veteran, thought he shot three times.

“That gives you an idea of how chaotic the situation was,” the sheriff said. “Both people were actively resisting arrest.”

Once DiSalvo received the complaint, he said he contacted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which sent an investigator a few days later who interviewed all deputies and the police officer involved and tried unsuccessfully to interview the couple who were arrested. And while the Colorado Bureau of Investigation investigator is currently on vacation and has not yet provided his written report, DiSalvo said the investigator told him he found no indication of criminal conduct on Gray’s part.

“That was good enough for me,” DiSalvo said, adding that Voss supported Gray’s use of the Taser.

Richard Nedlin, Castiglioni’s attorney, said his client hasn’t thought about filing an excessive-force complaint against Gray because his priority is defending himself against the charges filed against him. Nedlin declined to comment on the result of the investigation or Gray coming back to work.

“The biggest thing to me is that there was something done to make the other officers feel uncomfortable enough to come forward,” he said.

Nedlin said his client did not want to talk to a reporter about the incident.

A Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman said Wednesday she would look into the investigation but did not call back Thursday.