Police testify about drug case stemming from fire | AspenTimes.com

Police testify about drug case stemming from fire

A judge who will decide whether police overstepped their authority and illegally searched an Aspen man’s apartment after a fire last summer heard testimony from both sides Monday.

Police allegedly found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in Barney Oldfield’s apartment, leading to a search warrant and his arrest on drug charges. Judge Jim Boyd will rule later this week on whether evidence taken from Oldfield’s apartment should be suppressed.

Oldfield, 51, is charged with distribution of marijuana, possession of more than 8 ounces of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was arrested in July after a fire destroyed two units of the Aspen View condominiums on Midland Avenue.

Fire investigators said the fire began on Oldfield’s third-floor balcony and was caused by a person, but exactly how the blaze began was never determined. Police allegedly found drug paraphernalia in Oldfield’s apartment during their initial investigation into the cause of the fire.

After obtaining a search warrant to further investigate the contents of Oldfield’s apartment, police allegedly found just over 5 pounds of marijuana in the unit, as well as bars of silver, various bottles of prescription painkillers, antique coins and $8,000 in cash.

During Monday’s motions hearing in Pitkin County District Court, Aspen Police Detective Jim Crowley testified that when he entered the apartment, he saw a “triple-beam” scale on Oldfield’s desk and vials of marijuana cigarettes on the coffee table in the living room. He also said that a tray with three clear baggies were on the coffee table, one of which had what appeared to be marijuana residue inside it.

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Koehler also testified. He said he was checking the unit’s couch for evidence of cigarette burns when he saw what appeared to be a cigar box on a shelf just beneath the coffee table. Koehler said the box was partially open, and he could see “rolling papers” and a clear baggie inside of it.

Koehler said he did not touch the box and pointed it out to Crowley. Crowley told the court he saw a partially open box with what appeared to be drug paraphernalia inside, as well as a bong containing suspected marijuana residue.

He also saw five boxes of clear Ziploc baggies in the kitchen area.

Defense attorney John Van Ness asked Crowley why he was searching that part of the apartment when the fire was later ruled to have started on the apartment’s balcony. Crowley said all areas are looked at in a fire investigation.

Fire Marshall Ed Van Walraven of the Aspen Fire Protection District said he noticed the scale and vials in Oldfield’s apartment, but didn’t pay attention to them. He said it took roughly two and a half days before he determined where the fire started.

Van Ness contends the police “had no business searching places where the fire didn’t start,” which he claims was “obvious right off the bat.” Oldfield testified during the hearing, which lasted more than four hours, saying that his “entire life was in that condominium” and that he had many collectibles and valuables in the apartment, some of which he inherited.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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