Prison assured for man after plea deal to Pitkin County commissioner threat, stalking
A man whose violent threats to Pitkin County officials this spring led to a two-day lockdown of the county administration building in downtown Aspen is headed to prison in the new year.
Andrew Johnston, 27, pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor harassment in connection with the April email threats after state exams twice found him mentally competent to stand trial despite claims that he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ. He also entered a guilty plea to felony stalking for a series of incidents involving a former partner that occurred around the same time as the Pitkin County threats.
Johnston on Monday agreed his harassment of the Pitkin County officials inflicted emotional distress and that it “hinted at a violent nature.”
He faces between two-and-six years in prison when he’s sentenced Jan. 3, though that’s mainly the result of the stalking plea and a previous guilty plea to felony assault involving the same stalking victim.
Johnston, of Colorado Springs, was first arrested by Aspen Police in August 2020 and charged with felony assault by strangulation and stalking causing emotional distress and domestic violence, then again in September 2020 for violating a protection order filed in connection with that case, police have said. He later pleaded guilty to the felony assault charge in connection with the strangulation case.
For reasons not made clear Monday or in other court appearances, Johnston sent a violent-sounding threat from Colorado Springs to Commissioner Patti Clapper and another to a member of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office staff April 12. The email to the sheriff’s office came with a subject line that read “Threat. Extreme Threat,” while the content said, “Hey man, Call the chairman or someone because I’m going to come shoot up that place.”
The threat prompted Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock to lock down the Pitkin County Administration Building, located next to the Aspen Police Department on Main Street, on April 12 and 13. Clapper and Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury spent the night of April 12 at local hotels on the advice of law enforcement.
Johnston was arrested April 14 in Colorado Springs, where his parents live, and later transported to Aspen.
The felony stalking charge Johnston pleaded to Monday was in reference his online harassment of a former intimate partner between March 12 and April 5, according to prosecutor Don Nottingham and Monday’s court proceedings. Johnston was on probation after the felony assault plea, and could have faced another two-to-six-year prison sentence for violating the probation sentence he received under that plea.
Johnston has been held at the Garfield County Jail — Pitkin County’s jail is mostly closed due to unsafe conditions — since he was arrested in April.
A public defender said in April that Johnston “suffers from mental health issues,” and should have been receiving mental health treatment when he was released from jail in 2020.
A state psychiatrist found him competent to stand trial in August, but District Judge Chris Seldin balked at the findings based on statements he’d heard attributed to Johnston. At the time, Johnston tried to fire his public defender and accept a plea deal that called for him to spend up to eight years in prison.
“Do you believe you’re the Messiah?” Seldin asked Johnston in August in open court.
“I am the second coming of Jesus Christ,” Johnston replied. “I speak with God and have a close relationship with God and at one time I was Jesus Christ.”
Seldin said he simply could not accept the competency evaluation in light of those statements and ordered another one.
On Monday, Seldin said the latest evaluation also found Johnston competent to stand trial, and that he accepted the finding. Monday’s proceedings provided no mention of messianic pronouncements.
A civil deputy kept her job and was mandated to undergo counseling after Aspen police arrested her in July on suspicion of driving under the influence and reckless driving.