Police misidentified alleged Aspen drug dealer in tampering case
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Police said Friday that they misidentified a man in an investigation that led to his arrest last week for evidence tampering and triggered what local law-enforcement declared one of the biggest local drug busts in recent memory.
The Aspen Police Department’s admission prompted assistant district attorney Arnold Mordkin on Friday to file court papers indicating that he won’t pursue a felony tampering count against Thomas Jade Simmons, 22, of Aspen.
Using a warrant, Aspen police arrested Simmons on Feb. 11 at the Belly Up nightclub. The warrant was for the charge of tampering, an act police say Simmons committed Dec. 24 at Belly Up following the Ecstasy-distribution arrest of 18-year-old Max Brandon Puder. Puder fled the scene before ultimately being arrested but discarded the illegal narcotic near the steps outside Belly Up, authorities allege.
Simmons had been on the police department’s radar since at least November, when the department received an anonymous letter from someone who claimed to be the father of a 17-year-old girl who had previously bought drugs from him.
Police also believed they had surveillance video from the Dec. 24 incident that implicated Simmons. The video, reviewed by Officer Jeff Fain, showed who police thought was Simmons trying to move the drug out of plain view by sliding it with his feet, moving it with his hand and holding a door frame over it, according to an application for an arrest warrant for Simmons. Police were not in the vicinity at the time.
The video prompted police to obtain an arrest warrant for Simmons, which Judge Gail Nichols subsequently signed, paving the wave for police to apprehend him on tampering charges. Upon the arrest, police allege they found Simmons in possession of cocaine and Ecstasy, according to a court filing.
The finding led police to obtain a warrant to search Simmons’ apartment and car. All told, police said they found 134.7 grams of MDMA; 1.2 grams, or 21 hits, of LSD; more than 27 grams of psilocybin mushrooms; 4.4 grams of hash; 46.5 grams of cocaine; a ledger identifying Simmons’ customers and how much they owed him; nearly $10,000 in cash, of which $7,900 was found in his sock drawer; and pills, scales and cylinders, among other items, an affidavit alleges.
On Friday, Mordkin filed four charges against Simmons for distribution of a Schedule I substance – Ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms. Each carries a mandatory minimum of four years in state prison and as much as 16 years. Mordkin also filed separate counts of possession of a Schedule II substance, cocaine, and felony charges of possession of more than 4 grams of Ecstasy, mushrooms and cocaine.
Mordkin said he does not believe the decision to not file the tampering charge – which was the impetus for the drug charges – should hamper the prosecution of Simmons. Often times defense attorneys will argue to a judge that any charges that come after an improper arrest constitute “fruit of a poisonous tree” and should thereby be dropped.
Mordkin, however, said the tampering arrest was not done illegally and instead in good faith, and the drug distribution and possession charges should still stick.
“As long as the arrest was done in good faith and the judge finds there was probable cause (for the arrest), there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
The Aspen Police Department, in a press release issued Friday, said that on Wednesday it “recognized an individual other than the person originally identified, Simmons, may have committed the offense of tampering with evidence.”
Mordkin said police have positively identified the person who is alleged to have tampered with the evidence. He declined to say whether a warrant will be issued for the person’s arrest. He said the police should be commended for realizing it made a mistake.
“If they were a crooked department they would have pushed this under the rug,” he said.
Initially police said, in an affidavit, that the video surveillance and other details led them to pursue Simmons for the tampering charge. As part of the arrest warrant affidavit for the tampering charge, police exhibited a letter from a person they said was an anonymous father concerned about Simmons’ alleged drug dealing. Simmons name and phone number was also found on Puder’s cell phone, police said.
The letter identifies the dealer as Thomas Simmons, who “frequently goes to bars and club (sic) and sells drugs to people of all shape (sic) size and age. Including my 17 year old daughter. I have found out he sells cocaine, mdma, and marijuana. Thomas has several plants growing in his house and keeps all the drugs in his bedrooms, where you would also find paraphernalia, scales, drugs bags and other misc. drug related items.”
The letter adds that Simmons hangs out at Belly Up and that “with your help these drug dealers will be off the streets and will no longer be able to sell drugs to our children.”
Last month, the City Council adopted 49 amendments to the International Building Code that will go into effect April 1 — no joke.