One suspect in Basalt assault, kidnapping case pleads not guilty
One of the two suspects in a Basalt assault and kidnapping case rejected a plea offer Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen charges he is facing.
Mufasta Muhammad elected to proceed to trial in April after rejecting an offer from the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to plead guilty to a reduced charge of one count of felony assault. His attorney, public defender Kevin Jensen, said the offer required a stipulated sentence of seven to 10 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Prosecutor Johnny Lombardi said the offer actually carried a 10-year sentence.
“Either way, we reject the offer,” Jensen said. “We’re rejecting that offer and setting for trial.”
Lombardi said a trial would likely take seven days. Muhammad and his roommate, Daniel Wettstein, are accused of holding a man against his will and beating him at the Willits townhome where Wettstein and Muhammad were living in at the time.
A night of partying allegedly turned violent Aug. 27. The alleged victim escaped through a second-story window the next morning and called for help. The Basalt Police Department and multiple other law enforcement agencies responded and surrounded the area with weapons drawn due to the violent nature of the episode. Wettstein surrendered without incident. Muhammad gave up hours later after a SWAT team responded to the scene.
Muhammad was charged in September with three counts of assault in the first degree, one count of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of assault in the second degree, robbery, menacing, violation of bail conditions, possession with the intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance, conspiracy — controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, violation of a protection order and false imprisonment. All charges are felonies except the last two.
Wettstein is facing 10 felony charges for assault, kidnapping and menacing. He has waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is seeking treatment for addictions in a Las Vegas program for U.S. military veterans. Muhammad has remained in Eagle County Jail since his arrest.
Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman ordered Muhammad to appear Jan. 6 for a formal advisement of the charges and a bond hearing. He asked Lombardi to file information before that hearing that shows how many years Muhammad would be in prison if convicted of the charges. Meanwhile, he wants the plea offer left on the table.
Assault in the first degree was enhanced as a crime of violence, so that charge alone would carry a mandatory sentence of 10 to 32 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections, according to the conversation between attorneys at Wednesday’s hearing. Dunkelman wants Lombardi to spell out the full range of sentences on all charges and if they would be served concurrently or consecutively.
Muhammad is being held on $25,000 bond. Lombardi noted that Muhammad also has a felony case pending in Garfield County for second-degree assault in an unrelated matter.
Jensen disclosed that Muhammad also had a deferred judgment in a felony burglary case at the time of the alleged crimes in Basalt.
Defendant in Basalt assault case is military veteran suffering from PTSD, motion says
A suspect in an alleged brutal assault in Basalt received permission from a judge earlier this month to travel out of state for treatment in an addiction program for U.S. military veterans.
Daniel Wettstein was accepted to the Desert Hope Addiction Treatment Center in Nevada for a 90-day inpatient program, according to a motion filed by his attorney, Michael Fox.
“Desert Hope Addiction Treatment Center has a Salute to Recovery specialized program where they offer co-occurring disorder treatment to military veterans whose lives changed to become unmanageable due to substance use and mental health challenges, such as PTSD,” the motion said.
Wettstein was arrested Aug. 28 after multiple police agencies surrounded his residence in the Willits Townhomes in Basalt. Police were called to the scene after a bloodied and allegedly beaten man jumped out of a window in the residence and called for help. He told responders there were weapons in the residence, so they responded with caution.
Wettstein surrendered without issue. His roommate, Mufasta Muhammad, didn’t come out of the townhome until after a SWAT team was on the doorstep.
Wettstein is charged with three counts of assault in the first degree, one count of second degree kidnapping, two counts of assault in the second degree, three counts of menacing and one count of false imprisonment.
He bonded out of Eagle County Jail shortly after the incident. A condition of his bond was he cannot leave the area without permission. The 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office didn’t oppose his motion to travel to the treatment center. A judge approved the request Dec. 10. Wettstein departed to Las Vegas to attend the treatment program Dec. 11. He pledged to submit a waiver of extradition to ensure he will return to Colorado for resolution of his court case.
The motion said he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after serving multiple tours abroad over four years.
“Over the course of his military career, he received medals and accolades, namely the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with a Campaign Star, and the Army Service Ribbon,” the motion states.
After leaving the service and “returning home” in 2011, Wettstein was diagnosed with and treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the motion said. After this arrest this year, he restarted drug and mental health treatment at the Grand Junction Veterans Administration Medical Center and tried to get into an inpatient treatment program.
“The efforts to get into a Veteran-sponsored inpatient program were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and for Mr. Wettstein’s unrelated health issues,” the motion said.
Wettstein was scheduled to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing. Fox entered a waiver of the hearing on Friday. That waiver is an admission by Wettstein that sufficient evidence exists to establish probable cause that he committed the crimes charged, the waiver said.
In another development in the case, a judge signed an order requiring the District Attorney to preserve all physical evidence collected from the alleged victim in the case. The evidence includes blood samples taken from the scene and metabolic panel testing at Valley View Hospital.
The blood samples “are critical to Mr. Wettstein and his defense,” said a motion by Fox.
Fox contended that laboratory results showed that the victim had alcohol and cocaine in his system. It also indicated he had allegedly used methamphetamine, which he denied when interviewed by a prosecutor in the Wettstein case. Wettstein’s attorney wants the alleged victim’s blood preserved to determine how much meth was alleged in the victim’s system.
“(The victim’s) consumption of methamphetamine and the extent of his consumption weigh heavily upon the reliability of his account of the events which took place on Aug. 27, and upon his overall credibility,” the motion said.
It continued that they plan to have an independent evaluation and testing performed on the blood samples. A judge signed the order in October.
One man’s quest to battle Aspen-area opioid crisis
Longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident Jeff Teaford believes he’s got the right stuff to help people addicted to opioids — he himself was addicted to painkillers for 12 years while battling chronic pain.
Teaford, 58, said he conquered his addiction to Vicodin four years ago. With the help of recovery professionals, he now is sharing his story and messages of hope with those facing similar struggles.
Helping others, he said, is a way of healing himself.
“I believe I can do this based on my story,” Teaford said. “I believe in this so much that I need to make it happen. Whatever I do, it needs to matter.”
Teaford had scoliosis as a child and went through corrective surgery on his spine in the 1960s that he labeled barbaric compared to modern procedures. It left his back shaped like a canoe, he said.
He’s been active as an adult. As a ski instructor he got used to a cycle: aggravate his back, get a 10-day prescription for painkillers, return to the slopes too soon, repeat.
He said he averaged two or three Vicodins per day, sometimes more when the injury was fresh. He didn’t have any trouble keeping a prescription filled. Doctors took a look at his back and could see he needed help.
“People who start out with legitimate uses, as opposed to recreational, they cover up so much stuff for so long,” Teaford said. “Now they’ve got pain in their neck, their shoulders and this Vicodin seems like it covers it up. I think that’s why people just seem to stay on it. It seems harmless enough.”
He also learned that Vicodin took the edge off reality, the highs as well as the lows. Of course, it dulled the pain.
“When I would take Vicodin, I would realize I still had the pain, I just didn’t care anymore if it hurt or whatever. That’s what Vicodin did for me. Everything was just the same.”
After 12 years he realized he needed to make changes, for the sake of his family and himself. He stressed that he is not a professional so he doesn’t want to offer medical advice. He quit cold turkey, which isn’t necessarily safe for everyone. While it was not easy, he was determined. Once he was off painkillers, he was enlightened.
“It’s exactly like coming out of a fog,” Teaford said. “I think part of the reason that people get stuck on it is this fog is like a state of mind where you’re lost. It’s the ultimate lost to me. That ‘lost’ is the fog.
“Once you come out of it, the first realization is you can’t believe you were like that for that long,” he continued. “How did you keep a job? How did you stay married? How do your kids even want to talk to you anymore?”
At about the same time he was battling his addiction, he learned he had diabetes. He adopted a lifestyle overhaul that featured a better diet, hydration and intense exercise that provided a natural painkiller. He also learned that aspirin was enough to help him deal with the pain “99.99 percent” of the time. He avoided narcotics when aspirin didn’t work.
On his journey to get clean, Teaford started sharing his story with medical professionals. One, in particular, urged him to reach out to people leading opioid treatment efforts in the Roaring Fork Valley. Teaford was introduced to Jarid Rollins, project director of the Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project, a nonprofit started by Midvalley Family Practice in Basalt. The nonprofit’s goal is to plan opioid prevention, treatment and recovery from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. It didn’t create new bureaucracy. It’s finding ways to get more resources for existing groups to help with the mission.
IF YOU NEED HELP
Mind Springs Health
Patient hotline: 970.201.4299
Midvalley Family Practice
Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project
Patient line: 970-927-4666
A Way Out
Aspen Hope Center
Patient hotline: 970-925-5858
Aspen Strong Foundation
Colorado Crisis Services
Patient hotline: 844-493-8255
Rollins invited Teaford to attend a group session for addicts. “Before I knew it, I was a little part of the program,” Teaford said.
He listened to other patients, eventually shared his story and believes his words resonated with at least two of the six other attendees.
“I’ve been told by a couple of people that I really helped them,” he said.
Rollins said it is important to get people who have gained the upper hand in their addiction to speak to those in the thick of the battle. He said Teaford’s story is particularly valuable for people who became addicted to opioids while getting treated for chronic pain. An extremely high percentage of valley residents are taking painkillers as a result of injuries from their active lifestyles, he said.
Teaford also attended a meeting of professionals discussing strategy for prevention and treatment. He shared his story and that led to an introduction to Maggie Seldeen, a peer recovery coach for Mind Springs Health in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Like Rollins, she said Teaford can play a valuable role in helping others struggling with addiction. There is a stigma about addiction to drugs and alcohol as well as treatment for addictions. It’s important for people to hear success stories from peers. She likes how he mixes humor and seriousness to convey his message.
“We really believe in the power of storytelling,” she said.
Teaford will be exposed to a broader audience Monday on Carbondale public radio station KDNK’s public affairs program “Chemical World.” Seldeen and her friend Kenna Crampton will interview Teaford for the show and an accompanying podcast. The radio show will air Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Seldeen said she has read excerpts of a book Teaford is writing about his life and found herself alternating between laughing and crying.
“I think it’s very relatable,” she said of his story.
Rollins, Seldeen and Teaford all believe opioid addiction is a growing concern in the Roaring Fork Valley, as it is in most of the country.
“The COVID epidemic has certainly overshadowed the opioid epidemic,” Rollins said.
But out of sight, opioid issues are raging. There were 17 overdose deaths in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties in 2019, pre-pandemic, according to Rollins.
Teaford believes the magnitude of the addiction problem will become clear after the pandemic subsides.
“I think people are probably self-medicating pretty hard right now,” he said. I think this message is going to matter more than ever very soon.”
A key to Teaford’s recovery was avoiding a blame game and focusing on getting better.
“The first thing that needs to be done in order for someone to even start down the road is forget about the manufacturer being at fault,” he said. “They are making drugs to make money and help people. Forget about and let off the hook the doctors. These guys are just doing their jobs, for the most part. Third, you have to let yourself off the hook.
“There is a common thread, I believe, where you blame yourself — if you were just a little stronger, if you weren’t so weak, you could do this,” he continued. “That was what worked for me. I just decided it was nobody’s fault. It just was.”
He also believes intense exercise can be therapeutic. He hopes to start a “recovery gym” in the valley. It is a concept that has caught on elsewhere.
“You get through an addiction, you’ve got someplace you can literally go work out to the point of discomfort so you’re producing your own painkillers within your own body,” he said.
Teaford has resided in the Roaring Fork Valley for 25 years. He lives in Rifle and works in building maintenance for Aspen Skiing Co. in Snowmass Village after retiring as a ski pro. He credited Skico officials and his family with being incredibly supportive of him in his struggles. Now he sees it as his time to shine in helping others.
“It would be great if I could be a Tony Robbins because there are hundreds of thousands of people if not more that need to hear it,” he said, referring to the self-improvement guru and motivational speaker. “If I could just get people excited about understanding, about a guy that figured it out.”