Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race

I'll state my bias here right up front. Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis is one of the most enlightened law enforcement officer around -- and practicing criminal defense as long as I have, I've met quite a few.

At 61 and still standing 6/6″, Braudis has been Aspen's sheriff since 1986. This year he picked up a challenger, Rick Magnuson, who is the Aspen Police Department community safety officer. Their crime-fighting philosophies, particularly with respect to the war on drugs, couldn't be more different.

But Magnuson just pulled a dirty trick. This spring, Braudis had been sick for a few months. I saw him twice in Aspen the first weekend in June and he was clearly suffering from bronchitis. That Friday he told me had been his first day out of the house. The bronchitis had lingered and wouldn't go away. His doctor had insisted on him having blood tests, and it came back with news that he had very high cholesterol and blood pressure. He also said he had packed on a few too many pounds. Here's a picture I took of him that Saturday afternoon.

So Braudis took a seven week leave of absence to get his health in order. He didn't tell outsiders where he was going. Magnuson decided to play undercover cop.

Desert Canyon is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Sedona, Ariz., and the caller was aching to know whether Aspen's only elected law enforcement official was there. Client names are confidential, the receptionist explained, but if Braudis were at the center, she would be sure to pass on a message. The caller told her the sheriff should call the editor of the Aspen Daily News and he provided her a phone number.

Although Desert Canyon bills itself as a sanctuary where addicts can go to kick booze or drugs, it emphasizes healing for the entire body. Braudis said he initially enrolled in the center after receiving a physical in May when he tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, discovered his cholesterol was irregular and his blood pressure too high. The 6-foot, 6-inch tall sheriff also was battling a difficult-to-shake bronchial infection.

When he received the message to call Rick Carroll, the editor of this newspaper, Braudis noticed the phone number he was provided was off by one digit. He called the number where he knew he could reach Carroll. The editor said he left no such message. Weeks later, upon returning to Aspen, the sheriff learned the true identity of the enigmatic Desert Canyon caller. It was none other than Rick Magnuson, the Aspen Police Department community safety officer who is gunning for his seat in the forthcoming November election. Magnuson maintains it was his duty to find out where the sheriff had been.

Magnuson's campaign platform is substance abuse. He favors using undercover cops and bringing outside agencies into Aspen to conduct raids.

"The current administration's policies are set up to ignore some issues and I think that needs to change. Sheriff Braudis has an outdated philosophy. There are a lot of drug issues here, there are a lot of substance-abuse problems, and I don't think he's addressing that," Magnuson said. "

Braudis has a far different attitude.

Braudis agrees times have changed, but he is steadfast in his belief the war on drugs is a waste of time and money. Education and rehabilitation are far more effective than incarceration, he says, asserting that drug abuse is an issue of health, not criminality. ...

[W]e cannot afford to continually incarcerate otherwise nonviolent, decent people for what I consider crimes of human weakness, not moral turpitude. Jails were invented to separate predators from the prey. Jails were invited to cage people who do very bad things to their fellow man -- not people who copped an addiction because of a lifestyle or a genetic predisposition."

...."If you take the money we spend on interdiction, incarceration investigation, probation, -- all these -ations -- if you take that amount of money and invested it in research and treatment for addiction, we would probably have an anti-addiction drug just as we have a boner pill. Leave it to America to come up with a boner bill before a cancer pill. Right now treatment and education are so poorly funded in relation to incarceration, it is almost embarrassing. So should local law enforcement train their finite resources to try to tell an adult you can't smoke that or you can't ingest that? I personally believe it's a losing battle. It's a waste of money. We try to hand off certain drug investigations to the DEA and most of their responses are: 'Oh, we know about that guy but he's too small for us. Well if he's too small for an agency that has nothing else to do than to adhere to their mission statement to enforce drug laws, it's probably too small for a very tiny department like the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office.

There are a million laws on the books. We can't enforce them all. I decide which laws we're going to emphasize and citizen input is very important to me. I have been criticized by a very small minority of Pitkin County residents for our drug enforcement policy. If I had 80 percent of the residents here say, 'We want you to crank it up,' I would have to crank it up or say this is not my job anymore."

Manguson offers a weak defense for his snooping on Braudis:

Magnuson claims he never purported to be an Aspen Daily News editor; only that he asked Braudis to call the newspaper. He said it was his attempt to turn the media on to the story of the sheriff's whereabouts. Magnuson also made up a reason why Braudis should call the paper. He said it concerned "a legal matter." There was no legal matter.

Braudis, now back on the job, sober and feeling very healthy, explains his treatment:

"I was basically there to make an investment in my own health. I'd been neglecting the organism that will carry me through to the finish line in a big way. It had to do with blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. After showing up at Desert Canyon, I realized that alcohol is considered poison by the organism. It was a very educational month. Although my alcohol intake probably peaked in the '80s, there is a cumulative effect. I was edified to learn my liver was in great shape but all the other numbers -- blood pressure, cholesterol, etceteras -- are affected by alcohol so the educational and nutritional components of Desert Canyon led me to the decision to live alcohol free."

He also asked Manguson why he did what he did:

"I confronted Rick and asked him what this is about, why he lied to the receptionist. We had a dialogue about deception. We had a dialogue about the purpose of his investigation and as far as I am concerned, it wasn't satisfactorily responded to."

Yet, Braudis still intends to take the high road:

Despite recent history, Braudis says he respects Magnuson. "I've liked Rick since I met him. I think he is a very nice person. I've actually tried to recruit him as a deputy sheriff over the years and I sincerely think he would fit in with my team. ... I'm taking the high road in this campaign. I'm not going to throw any mud at Rick or spear him. I'm more than anxious to debate these issues you have raised and any other issues that bubble up through the campaign process. Having run unopposed in four elections has been boring. It's been easy. You don't have to raise money. You don't have to knock on doors. You don't have to have debate. This has energized me. I'm looking forward to it and the day after they count the votes, we'll know which philosophy appeals to the most people."

Braudis, as is typical of him, is being far too generous. Manguson is wrong in his drug war philosophy. He's attacking a Sheriff who has grown with the times and who has responsibly and professionally handled the demanding and varied tasks required of a resort town Sheriff who must appease the locals, the tourists and the wealthy out of towners. Crime is not rampant in Aspen. Neither is major drug trafficking. Compared to the 1970's and 80's, the place is the spitting image of good health and clean living. Do some people use and sell drugs? Yes, just like they do everywhere else. And when someone violates the law in Aspen, the Sheriffs, acting as themselves, not as phony undercover agents, arrest them and turn them over for prosecution. Justice is served.

Maybe Manguson should apply for a job in the Bush Administration where snooping is de rigeur. It's out of place in a small town like Aspen where trust between the community and law enforcment is a far more valuable commodity. Braudis has been a great asset to Aspen. If the cart's not broke, don't fix it.

[Cross posted at 5280.com]

Update: One more quote, Braudis on why he won't use undercover cops in Aspen.

"First of all, undercover work is deceiving the people of your jurisdiction. A person purports to be a ski tuner or a bartender when in fact he's a spy in the war against drugs. I believe a peace officer should be a peace officer inside and outside. Secondly, the erosion of trust caused by undercover work has been demonstrated all over the country. Thirdly, undercover operations are very dangerous and they are extremely expensive."

He added that Baltimore's mayor canceled undercover operations after drug dealers sent a tape depicting the torturing and killing of an undercover police officer. (The Baltimore mayor) said this man's death cannot be justified by the war on drugs.

I have publicly stated, as did my predecessor, now for over 30 years that we will not conduct undercover work in the war on drugs."

I highly recommend reading the entire article I'm quoting from. While I've posted long quotes, there's so much more there and anyone peeved by the war on drugs will feel good knowing there's a sane, rational law man opposing its philosophy.

Here's a little more on how Braudis' position doesn't sit too well with the DEA.

Update: Here's a current photo of Braudis and Magnuson by Zack Ornitz of the Aspen Daily news.

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    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 09:44:38 AM EST
    I met Sheriff Bob and I liked him the first time that he said that he worked in public safety not criminal justice. It would be travesty to Aapen and Colorado to lose this true public servant. Sheriff Braudis is a great guy and it would ruin Aspen if he were to lose this race. Arty

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 11:12:26 AM EST
    Wish our BIG city had a Sheriff like that. I hope he's feeling/doing better.

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 12:39:02 PM EST
    I don't think Aspen voters will stand for this. Either way it's despicable. I've never met Braudis but I've heard nothing but good things from colleagues...and even one man he arrested. By all accounts an even handed, fair minded member of the law enforcement community. A man committed to law and order (the right kind).

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#4)
    by Che's Lounge on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 01:24:44 PM EST
    Braudis's name should be mentioned anytime Hunter Thompson's contribution to literature is brought up. Braudis was a de facto caretaker and protector of a national treasure. His open minded and rationally patient approach to having someone like Thompson living in his jurisdiction cannot be appreciated enough by the lovers of Thompson's writings. Thanks sheriff!

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#5)
    by jaf on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 02:00:47 PM EST
    I have some problems with this post. I will state that I am not a fan of Bob Braudis. I have perhaps less use for Rick Magnuson, especially if he is running a smear campaign based on lies and/or innuendo. Let me speak my piece on the topic our local Sheriff. (Yes I am a resident of Pitkin County fro 35 years, had many a laugh observing local politics)? I am no fan of the 'war on drugs'. I find it a shameful waste of money, manpower, emphasis, and mostly, lives. I have always agreed with Braudis' and his predecessor, Dick Kienast's stance against the waste of my tax money on drug undercovers. But that seems to be the only position Bob takes lately. There was a time, years ago, when Braudis took the position that the primary function of the Pitikin Sheriff was the safety of our county roads. I applauded this wholeheartedly. Most of the crime in Pitkin County takes place in the City of Aspen and they do an adequate job. Then we voters made a colossal blunder. We removed term limits from the Sheriff's post. The situation has come to be the classic scenario from which the momentum for term limits emerged. The Sheriff's Office has one mission now: REELECTION. A few speeding tickets are written for effect on the main artery of our valley, CO 82, but not much else gets done. Stop signs are now a suggestion in Pitkin County, as are most other traffic laws once you are on most of the back roads. Cronyism is rampant: Braudis has a senior deputy who has committed hit-and-run in his patrol car, had his service weapon stolen from his vehicle while attending a conference, and garnered dozens of complaints for his surly demeanor and lack of civility. Yet his job is in no jeopardy. Once of his top assistants initiated a barroom brawl and was suspended with pay pending the DA's inquiry. Get the picture? As for Magnuson, if he has acted as scurrilously as your post indicates he has no place in law enforcement. However, I had personal experience of the question of Braudis' lifestyle coming up. Although it was being talked about on a below the radar level, the attack dogs came out in force and smeared someone who had no ill will toward the Sheriff. I have to be circumspect here, there have been pledges made and this is as far as I feel comfortable with proceeding. I want to make the point that Braudis is no angel, nor champion of individual liberties except as it meets his political agenda. I understand his plight though: well into middle age with probably no skills for any job save the one he has. I have voted in every election, for which I was eligible since 1972, and I berate my friends who don't vote but I think that I will have to leave one line on this year's ballot blank

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 02:00:50 PM EST
    I think you're right but I worry that people draw the wrong conclusion from the Braudis-Thompson friendship. Thompson did a very good job advancing the owl farm non-stop-debauchery myth. Unfortunately that means that some think Braudis tolerated and even frequented some kind of Gonzo drug factory. Of course, anyone who can tell the difference between literature and reality, or who has bothered to read anything about the subject knows that Braudis is simply a good man. A man who would rather protect his community than terrorize it. I've met--these were some of the colleagues I referred to--VERY conservative lawyers who have nothing but praise for Braudis and the way he has served his Aspen.

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 02:08:30 PM EST
    Sorry, should have said "I agree Che." Jaf clearly has much more first hand experience and, I'm sure, more knowledge concerning Braudis tenure as Sheriff. It sounds like he has a very legitimate concern. I should say (full disclosure) the praise I've heard for Braudis has mostly had to do with his WOD stance, and his resistance to the increasingly invasive and unconstitutional methods used by law enforcement in the execution of that war.

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#8)
    by Che's Lounge on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 04:42:50 PM EST
    Jaf, Point taken.

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#9)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 04:59:58 PM EST
    It sounds like JAF has a personal beef with the Sheriff. The arrest records for Pitkin County show he's enforcing the criminal laws. As for cronyism, the example given is not a good one. Is there an example of him blocking an investigation into the conduct of one of his officers because they were personal friends? I don't know of any. Braudis' position against using undercover officers is not something new. He's held it for at least 17 years.
    It's not Sheriff Bob Braudis' acquaintance with Hunter S. Thompson that has shaped his policy toward drug law enforcement, it's his constituents. For the past 17 years of his five terms as sheriff, Braudis has spoken out against undercover drug enforcement work and task forces, and his citizens have supported him. Braudis believes the drug war was lost 30 years ago, that drug addiction is a medical issue not a legal issue and that, for his officers, it's an expensive, dangerous and not-so-beneficial proposition. They do enforce drug-related laws in Pitkin County. If a citizen calls in a complaint, deputies investigate. People pulled over for traffic stops with a stash in the glovebox still pout when it gets confiscated. And if other agencies need to come in to Pitkin County to conduct a sting, Braudis gives them deputies to secure a perimeter or enhance the safety of an operation. But that's where Braudis draws the line.
    It sounds like JF would rather the Sheriffs were handing out stop sign tickets on outlying roads than patrolling and responding to reports of crime. I don't get that. Perhaps he had a tragedy in his family where someone was killed in a car accident in which the driver ran a stop sign, I have no idea. I'll stand by my endorsement of Braudis.

    Re: Dirty Tricks in the Aspen Sheriff's Race (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Aug 07, 2006 at 05:03:34 AM EST
    The Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, otherwise known as the Sheriff of Aspen is the recipient of dirty tricks, which, up until now, were unknown in Aspen politics. Reminders of Watergate and that Watergate dirty trickster wanna-be, George W. Bush, himself, a "former" drug user, are now part of the race for Aspen Sherriff. Having spent my growing up years living in Aspen, smoking joints on the streets of Aspen in the 1970's and being asked to "put it out" by an Aspen cop, (that's right, an APD cop, otherwise know as the Aspen Police Department, not the "liberal" Sheriff's Department) I am familiar with Aspen's drug policies. I watched Bob's predecessor, Sheriff Dick Kienast win election with a no-prohibition drug policy. I was living in Aspen when the bomb blew up Stephen Grabow at the Aspen Club. The 7 AM blast woke me from my bed in Smuggler Trailer Park. I know the FBI story surrounding the $1,000,000,000 cash found in Grabow's home and the subsequent plane crash of FBI agents. With shades of Miami vice in a sleepy ski town such as Aspen, we all know that illegal drugs will bring violence, even to a place with enlightened supervision such as Bob Braudis when the policy of our national "leaders" is suicidal. Having recently seen Sheriff Braudis at the NORML legal seminar in Aspen June 1-3, 2006, I knew the Sheriff was in ill health. When he finally appeared at the Geri Goldstein dinner on Friday night, he looked tired and sick; he could only stand the public for a brief time. I did get to "party" with Bob on Owl Farm the next day at Hunter Thompson's. The Sheriff was collecting signatures for his election campaign at the party and he was ill. Collecting signatures is something I did last year with Chris Maj while we both ran for office in Rochester, NY on a "legalize drugs" platform. I ran for City Council and Chris Maj (www.Harry-Davis.com) made a big splash as candidate for Mayor of Rochester, New York. More people need to get into the political ring and see how many votes they can get by stating the obvious: drugs use must be treated and prison is not the place where treatment occurs. We did get votes. I can only hope that more people will toss their hat into the ring, as Bob has now done, and see just how many people agree with us. (www.AmericanDrugStorm.com) Vote 4 Bob!