So what kind of cops does Pitco want?
August 16, 2006
Three years ago the Aspen Police Department got a call; a man was supposedly holding his sister and stepdaughter hostage. It’s my understanding that this sort of domestic situation is the most dangerous type of call a law-enforcement officer has to deal with. More cops are killed and injured in these calls than any other. Serious business.The cops rushed to the home of Tom Frampton and passed the sister and stepdaughter, who were standing on the lawn. They pounded on the front door. Mr. Frampton, who had been napping, answered the door in an inebriated state, asked the cops what they wanted, told them he hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t bothering anyone, and to go away. He shut the door. Apparently still oblivious to the fact that the supposed victims were standing right behind them, the cops continued to pound on the door. When Frampton opened the door again an officer jammed his foot in it and tasered Mr. Frampton. They continued to taser Mr. Frampton repeatedly. He had no idea what was going on and thought they were killing him. As he was going to the floor he slugged one of the cops. I guess those things must be fun to use.Mr. Frampton was arrested for his interactions with the officer and nothing else. No crime was being committed until the cops got there. The guy was in his own home having a nap after a couple. He went to trial and was convicted of assaulting the officer. The jury also found that he was provoked, greatly reducing his sentence.If anyone thinks the events of the past year – the storm-trooper raids on Cooper Street and Little Annie’s, and the tasering of the homeless woman – were something new, you’d better think again. This stuff has been going on for a long time.There’s a concept in police circles called “continuum of force.” The “continuum of force” thing isn’t open-ended like the Richter scale; it has a low end and a high end. On the low end are techniques like talking to you, reasoning with you. The high end is putting a lead projectile into your brainpan. Between the high and low are infinite shades of gray. A peace officer is entitled to use one level of force higher than the one that he’s being confronted with.You figure out where a homeless woman sitting down and a guy having a beer in his living room fit into that gray area. When the Aspen city cops use excessive force and exhibit a storm-trooper mentality, it’s a failure of recruiting, training or policy. As far as I know this issue has rarely, if ever, come up with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department.Ever since the raids on Cooper Street and Little Annie’s, and the city cops’ deceitful failure to alert the Sheriffs Department about the operation, there’s been a wide schism between the two entities. There’d long been a rift between the Aspen Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department, but that event made it the kind of front-page news that no one could ignore. The question became, is it healthy for the two departments, literally working side by side, to have two such very different approaches to law enforcement? No. it isn’t. While most people agree that both philosophies are perfectly legitimate and have their place, almost no one thinks that the current situation is a good one and should continue. Something needs to change.Now the voters of Pitkin County actually have a chance to do just that. Rick Magnuson is running for sheriff against Bob Braudis. From his statements it’s clear that Magnuson agrees with, and can be an articulate spokesman for, Police Chief Loren Ryerson’s style of law enforcement. It’s also clear that he shares Ryerson’s penchant for sleazy tactics and duplicity. Witness his recent “investigation” into Sheriff Braudis’ absence from town for a few weeks this summer, in which Magnuson led an operator at Desert Canyon Treatment Center in Arizona (where Braudis was staying at the time) to believe that he was a member of the press.To quote from the Human Resources Position Summary on the duties of a community safety officer (Magnuson’s current job), an officer’s tasks include “domestic animal calls, wildlife calls, code violations, traffic accidents, hazards, alarms, medical and fire response.” So when Magnuson snuck around looking into Braudis’ recent spa experience, it was essentially the dogcatcher taking it upon himself to check up on the highest-ranking peace officer in the county. Magnuson said he thought it was his civic duty.If checking up on the sheriff is his civic duty as dogcatcher, then I wonder, if he’s elected sheriff, how he will feel about our privacy. What will his civic duty be there? He’s already said that he supports the idea of undercover police work. In an interview with the Aspen Daily News, Magnuson suggested that “the end justifies the means” so many times that I began to think that he should be applying for a job torturing the truth out of rag heads at Gitmo, rather than running for sheriff in one of the most liberal counties in the country. The people of Aspen and Pitkin County have every right to demand that both law-enforcement departments be operating from the same philosophical posture, for reasons of efficiency and public safety. If Rick Magnuson is elected sheriff then there’ll be no problem; he and Chief Ryerson clearly think alike. If the voters retain Braudis as sheriff, then the message should be clear. The people prefer his style of law enforcement, and the city police should be brought into line to reflect that style. We should insist that Ryerson (who hires his officers), City Manager Steve Barwick (who hires the chief of police) and the City Council (which hires the city manager) be compelled to make some fundamental personnel changes within the city police department.If that means starting at the top, so be it.