Snowmass man charged in Owl Creek incident
September 12, 2012
ASPEN – A Snowmass Village man faces three misdemeanor charges in the wake of an 18-hour standoff that prompted Monday’s closure of Owl Creek Road.
Edward Russ Armstrong, 36, was charged with prohibited use of weapons, harassment and reckless endangerment, according to an arrest warrant filed late Monday by Brad Gibson, an investigator with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Armstrong spent Monday night in Pitkin County Jail on a bond of $1,250. As of Tuesday afternoon, he was awaiting transport to a mental-health facility in Grand Junction, officials said.
Gibson’s warrant spells out the incident, in which it appeared that Armstrong once drove away from his rental cabin in the middle of the morning and fired a shot near Owl Creek Road before returning home.
Armstrong also is alleged to have made threats toward Michael Buglione, director of operations for the Sheriff’s Office. Among Armstrong’s threats were that he had a bullet with Buglione’s name on it and he would have Mexican Mafia members in El Jebel take care of one of his relatives. He also told Buglione that he had another bullet reserved for Aspen Police Officer Adam Loudon, the warrant alleges.
The episode began shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday when a suicide-prevention program reported to authorities that Armstrong was suicidal and had fired three shots. The call came after Armstrong’s mother had phoned an Aspen-based suicide hot line earlier Sunday evening, the warrant says.
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Soon after, four deputies set up at the Airport Operations Center off Owl Creek Road before establishing an observation post near Armstrong’s rental cabin just up the road.
At 12:10 a.m. Monday, Buglione called Armstrong and learned that he was in possession of a rifle, shotgun and handgun, the warrant says. Armstrong fired three more shots at 12:44 a.m., and the gunfire appeared to be from his home at 1370 Owl Creek Road.
“Through the evening (two deputies) reported the rounds fired appeared to be from both a rifle and a handgun,” the warrant says.
More shots were fired that morning from Armstrong’s front-porch area and his driveway, the warrant says. But Buglione took note when Armstrong told him, during one of their numerous cellphone conversations, that he could see an officer doing a car stop. This was around 2 a.m.
“According to Deputy Buglione, Armstrong stated he had an officer in his “cross hairs,'” the warrant says.
Buglione checked with a dispatch worker to confirm that a car stop was actually taking place. And there was, as Loudon had done a stop at the time of Armstrong’s alleged comment, the warrant says.
“Based on my knowledge of the area, I know that from Armstrong’s house there is no possible way for him to see the intersection of Owl Creek Road and Highway 82,” Gibson wrote. “The only way for Armstrong to be able to see that intersection was for him to be in a car.”
Realizing that Armstrong was no longer in his house, Buglione instructed authorities not to make any traffic stops until they knew his location.
Armstrong returned home later in the morning. And at 7:35 a.m., the Sheriff’s Office closed Owl Creek Road. Armstrong and another friend, who joined him at an unspecified time Monday, exited the Owl Creek cabin and surrendered to sheriff’s deputie, without confrontation about 5:38 p.m. Monday, law enforcement said. Owl Creek Road re-opened at 6:23 p.m.
On Tuesday, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo reflected on an episode he said could have turned tragic. DiSalvo said the best course to take was to wait it out rather than have officers confront Armstrong in the cabin.
“This is probably one of the tensest situations I’ve had as a sheriff,” DiSalvo said, noting that when a second person became involved, the incident morphed into a potentially more dangerous situation.
“It was relatively easy for him to get into the house without being seen,” DiSalvo said. “(Armstrong) probably felt proud that he could get his pal in past us.”
At one point the friend, who apparently hiked into Armstrong’s residence, was considered both a threat to deputies and a potential victim of Armstrong’s, DiSalvo said.
“Primarily, I feared for his safety,” he said.
But shortly before 5 p.m., the Sheriff’s Office had Verizon, the cellphone carrier Armstrong and his friend used, to divert all calls they made to the Sheriff’s Office. That marked the turning point in the standoff, DiSalvo said.
“After we diverted their calls, they knew we could do things they never thought of,” he said.
The friend then realized the magnitude of the situation and convinced Armstrong to surrender, DiSalvo said.
DiSalvo said the friend, whose name has not been released, faces “the potential for charges.”
As for Armstrong, Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin said he did not know if he will face more severe counts, such as a felony.
“I haven’t seen a report on this, so I don’t know what charges might or not be pursued, in addition to those charges in the warrant,” he said.
DiSalvo said Monday’s incident marked the third or fourth time deputies had to visit his Owl Creek Road home because of disturbances, but it had been at least a year or two.
And while Armstrong stands accused of threatening Buglione and Loudon, he has a history of holding law enforcement officers in low regard, police allege in department records.
• April 26, 2010 – At 12:19 a.m., Aspen Police Officer Casey Ward reported that he pulled Armstrong over on North Mill Street on suspicion of careless driving. After running a background check, Ward learned that Armstrong’s license had been revoked for a prior alcohol-related offense. Initially Armstrong was cooperative when Ward placed him in handcuffs for the violation. But when he was booked into the Pitkin County Jail, Armstrong allegedly yelled at a deputy, “Why did you bring the guy that accused me of murder? I’m not a murderer, but I will become one. I am going to kill your family. I’m going to kill your wife and kids.”
Later, Armstrong allegedly put toilet paper in a holding cell’s video camera and threatened to kill Ward and another jailer’s family, Ward wrote. He also called Ward a “fag” and another jailer a “c—,” according to Ward’s report. That November, prosecutors dismissed the case.
• Dec. 3, 2009 – Aspen police pulled over Armstrong shortly after 11 p.m. on suspicion of drinking and driving. Police then took him to Aspen Valley Hospital to have his blood drawn. There, he “became agitated and referred to me as an ‘asshole’ and also began kicking my heels while walking,” Officer Gregg Cole wrote. In January 2010, Armstrong pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired, court records show.
• Aug. 4, 2008 -Police arrested Armstrong at the former site of the Aspen Brewing Co. after he allegedly had a scuffle with two off-duty cops. According to police reports, Armstrong noted his disdain for police, saying that he “hates f—ing cops.” He also told police that he had been roughed up by officers in New Mexico and that the incident at the brewpub was his “golden parachute,” suggesting that he would sue the Aspen Police Department and wouldn’t have to make snow anymore at Aspen Highlands, where he worked for Aspen Skiing Co., according to police reports.
Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely gave Armstrong a six-month deferred judgment on charges related to harassment, disorderly conduct and attempted assault stemming from the brewpub transgression. He also was ordered to undergo counseling.