Dateline: Aspen or Ferguson?

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

While serious, violent crimes do happen in Aspen, fortunately they’re rare. That’s why a quick glance at an amateur video of an Aspen High School student being thrown to the ground Friday by Aspen Police Department officers could be mistaken for footage from a number of similar incidents in, say, the Bronx, Compton or pretty much anywhere in Florida.

As of Jan. 1, 2014, marijuana is legal in Colorado, unless you’re consuming it in public or younger than 21. Unfortunately for the student shown in the video, he’s quite possibly guilty on both counts. Since he’s just a kid, though, and he was allegedly just rolling a joint — together they constitute a petty offense — the punishment easily could have been a slap on the wrist and a call to the school principal and his parents. What ended up happening instead, however, rivals a Quentin Tarantino film in its benevolence.

The video shows the terrified and distressed 16-year-old boy sobbing, “Please leave me alone!” “I haven’t done anything!” and “Please stop!” as he’s overpowered by three grown men — two of whom are police officers — who pulled his ears while ramming his head and neck into the ground as they handcuffed him.

But to be fair, the video, which was shot by another student, doesn’t show how the incident began. Perhaps the first officer on the scene, Adam Loudon, thought the student gave the impression he was doing something that had more threatening potential than the munchies, thereby meriting the stunning reaction. To that point, “in the modern world, if you sit back and let social media exclusively tell the story, it isn’t necessarily the complete story,” Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said in Saturday’s Aspen Times.

Police Chief Richard Pryor filled in some of the gaps in Monday’s Times, saying the unarmed student, who did “not exhibit violent behavior,” tried to hide the joint up his sleeve when approached by Loudon and then pulled his second hand away after his first one was restrained (“Eight policemen for one child who didn’t want to get handcuffed,” one of the witnesses is heard saying at the end of the video after Loudon’s requested backup arrived). It wasn’t the wisest move on the part of the student, whom one Aspen High School teacher describes as “sweet” and “not the best student, but he’s good.” Then again, teenage boys aren’t necessarily known for being in possession of all the right tools to make judicious decisions while under duress.

If the student had been holding a knife, punched Loudon in the head or groin or tried to grab his weapon, the police reaction seen on the video would get a pass by most as entirely appropriate. Still, giving Loudon the benefit of the doubt, maybe what he imagined was happening was even more troubling:


If it appeared as if the student was surreptitiously rolling a Cuban cigar, then Loudon was merely upholding the economic embargo still in effect against Cuba. Had his hunch been correct yet he failed to stop the student, who knows what kind of illicit traffic ring might have been established between Havana and the Aspen Recreation Center?


Maybe the student looked like he covertly was preparing to roll a hand grenade into the path of an oncoming RFTA bus.


Had the student been covertly preparing a sushi hand roll, given the unseasonably high temperatures Friday, he was in imminent danger of coming down with a case of food poisoning.

“When it comes to children and youth in our community, we absolutely have their safety as a priority and will continue to investigate any suspicious situations or complaints related to any alcohol or drug use that are brought forward to us,” Pryor said in a statement.

And yet, while marijuana has been proven to have serious and negative effects on still-developing brains over time, a head pounded on concrete is likelier to have a more immediate and adverse consequence.

What’s the worst that would have happened if Loudon spotted the student rolling a joint but kept driving instead of stopping? What was the imminent threat posed by the joint — other than the student becoming mellower? The student was waiting for a bus, not getting behind the wheel of a car; was Loudon attempting to protect him from a nap?

Every crime and criminal is not created equal. The same alleged wrongdoing perpetrated by an elderly person, someone who is developmentally disabled, a career felon and a student right next to school in Aspen at noon on a Friday all merit a different response. What separates police officers from bouncers and mall cops, among many other things, is being trained to know how to react aptly given the nuances of each suspect.

It’s reassuring to know that the Police Department is appropriately prepared to handle violent offenders. It would seem a prudent next step would be for them to learn to recognize what one actually looks like.

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