Raid was a fiasco
December 12, 2005
I was a police officer for 10 years, the last three with the Organized Crime Strike Force in Denver. I am currently a private investigator in the field of criminal defense. I have taught at law enforcement academies and I have testified often in state and federal courts as an expert in, among other things, investigative procedure.
I’ve been a visitor to Aspen since 1975 and a resident of the valley for the last eight years. Aspen is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the variety of demands placed on law enforcement here. Though we enjoy the relative absence of serious crime that large and mid-sized cities experience, those demands are daunting in other ways. Police and sheriff’s deputies face the difficult task of balancing the protection of the public with the responsibility to enforce the law, while reflecting the fluid expectations of the permanent and the transient population. Although some agencies outside Aspen occasionally take issue with the philosophy of law enforcement here, I have always been impressed with the seeming ease with which that task is accomplished.
I had occasion to work with Dick Keinast when I was a cop and I have worked often with Bob Braudis since he became sheriff. I had, in Dick’s case, and have the utmost respect for them both, for their ability, intelligence and for their courage in articulating and implementing a practical philosophy of law enforcement in a unique community. Though I do not know Loren Ryerson personally, I have worked with many of his officers, including Glenn Schaffer, and I also have the highest respect for them.
From this background I have to observe that the fiasco that occurred last Friday afternoon at Cooper Street and Little Annie’s is one of the most inexcusable acts of incompetence and public endangerment I have ever heard of, and the various explanations the most specious.
My first concern is the truthfulness of our public officials. The initial explanation for the lack of coordination between the police and sheriff’s departments was that in the confusion of the moment Chief Ryerson, and apparently everyone else in his department, simply forgot to tell Sheriff Braudis, or anyone else in his department, about the impending arrests, notwithstanding that there was apparently sufficient time to coordinate the adventure with several other federal and local agencies. Anyone who has ever been on the ground floor of the courthouse knows that that explanation is disingenuous at best and preposterous at worst. The police and sheriff’s investigators work in a single small office where they are not only within eyesight and hugging distance of each other but probably cannot easily have a telephone conversation without sharing their thoughts with everyone in the room. If Chief Ryerson wants to communicate with Sheriff Braudis he need only speak loudly from his office.
The second, contradictory, explanation, made public by Snowmass Village Police Chief Art Smythe, is that the police department made a conscious and deliberate decision to exclude the sheriff’s department because of Braudis’ alleged indifference to drug-law enforcement. While that issue isn’t the point of this letter, if such a deep-seated distrust actually exists, a serious effort needs to be undertaken to repair that relationship. It is a point, however, that Chief Ryerson owes the public a truthful explanation for his actions, whatever it may be.
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But that dysfunctional situation pales in importance to the recklessness of Friday’s decisions and actions. I know firsthand that the safety of officers and bystanders is the primary concern of effectuating any arrest, whether of one or many individuals. For that reason alone, unless there is simply no alternative, an arrest, especially one in which the potential for violence is evident, should never ever be effectuated in a crowded public location. Safety is provided for by controlling the conditions and the environment of an arrest, not by flooding the area with as many armed officers, many of whom presumably did not know each other, as possible. Sheriff Braudis’ concern about how quickly and easily Friday’s operation could have become a tragedy cannot be overstated.
Regardless of one’s feelings about drug laws, we should all recognize that the danger to the public posed by the sale of a gram of cocaine from the back of a local restaurant is secondary to the danger posed by the kind of judgment that resulted in last week’s operation. Whether the result of inter-departmental jealousy, inexperience or plain ineptitude, the mayor, every councilman, every county commissioner, every resident and every visitor ought to be concerned that whoever made Friday’s call not remain in a position to make it a second time.
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