Aspen: Sheriff's Candidates All Admit Prior Drug Use

I've been following the Aspen Sheriff's race and rooting for Deputy Sheriff Joe Di Salvo, who has promised to continue the policies of long-time and much beloved Sheriff Bob Braudis, who is retiring. Last week I wrote about the candidates' debate on undercover activity in the county (DiSalvo, like Braudis, opposes it, saying it fosters mistrust in the community.)

Last night, the three candidates faced the local media for what is called "Squirm Night." It's just what it sounds like: the candidates are asked questions that might make them squirm.

What came out: Two of the three had been arrested, and all three had used illegal drugs, although one couldn't remember the last time and a second only admitted to smoking pot in Amsterdam six years ago. I think DiSalvo gave the most honest answer. He gave no excuses (like "it was legal where I did it" or "I can't remember") and said simply, "1984." [More...]

The three candidates are Joe DiSalvo, a Pitkin County deputy sheriff since 1987, who has the strong endorsement of retiring sheriff Bob Braudis; Rick Magnuson, an Aspen policeman who unsuccessfully challenged Braudis four years ago and who I wrote about in detail here and noted some oddities about here; and Rick Leonard, a former police officer in NY and FL who moved to Colorado four years ago.

On arrests, Leonard said he had a DUI in the early 80's. DiSalvo said:

DiSalvo said he was arrested the night in 2004 when he punched a man in Jimmy’s bar in Aspen. He also pointed out that since the third-degree assault charge was dropped after a settlement agreement, the arrest had technically been erased. So technically no, Ive never been arrested, but honestly, yes I was, DiSalvo said.

Regarding the arrest, here's what he said a few weeks ago about it:

He discovered from the incident what it was like to be arrested....“So I pretty quickly learned how I didn’t want anyone to be treated — and not that I was mistreated by the Aspen Police Department — it’s just that you can imagine that happening to you and some cop adds insult to injury by slapping you around or demeaning you in front of your friends and family, and so … it was a good experience for me,” DiSalvo said. “I took a positive from a negative, that’s all I could do.”

Magnuson says he has never been arrested. (He didn't note he wasn't charged with indecent exposure for this quirky episode.)

The 12-minute movie shows Magnuson digging a hole in the Mojave Desert on his 40th birthday. When he strikes water, the shot switches to about 20 yards away, with Magnuson's back to the viewer as he faces the hole and masturbates into it.

Magnuson claimed he was just being a performance artist (like when after 9/11, the feds investigated his sending out phony anthrax letters.)

It's not a a huge surprise that in 2006, the election results were: Bob Braudis, 5,445 votes, Magnuson 941.

Magnuson and Leonard were asked what they'd do if they spotted a hiker smoking a joint. Magnuson:

Magnuson said he had a “very liberal policy” when it came to soft drugs, especially marijuana, which he said he was “easily available and legal in many cases.” But he said when it came to cocaine or heroin, “that’s different.” “I would follow that to the full end of the investigation,” he said.

Leonard's answer on the hiker and the joint:

“If it was a young person, I would make a point of getting in touch with their parent or guardian and let them know about it,” Leonard said. “If they were truant, I deal with the truancy. If it was someone camping out, and they were older, it’s a non-issue for me.”

DiSalvo asked why he didn't get that question. Aspen Daily News Editor Caroline Sackariason responded, "“I think we know the answer.”

Leonard was wishy-washy on whether he supports undercover work. Magnuson supports it:

“The reality is that there is undercover work going on in the county — it is farmed out to the DEA and TRIDENT,” Magnuson said, referring to the Drug Enforcement Agency and a regional drug task force. “I’m not going to farm it out to them, I want to be involved in these decisions and know what is going on.” He concluded that “I think we should do some” undercover work.

Memo to Magnuson: This isn't about you "farming out" undercover work, it's about your response when the feds come into your jurisdiction to conduct their own. When they don't tell you they're coming, it's because they neither need nor want your help.) Magnuson is a drug warrior, despite his attempts to minimize it. From the Aspen Times:

Magnuson also maintains that the sheriff's office has a relaxed approach toward enforcing the drug laws. While Magnuson believes drugs of all types should be legalized, he also said the existing drug laws must be enforced.

“In our democracy the courts have said that it is criminal, and until that changes we need to enforce [the drug laws],” he said. “It's being respectful toward the democracy we live in. You cannot be arrogant and ignore them.”

Magnuson said he supports undercover work, something Braudis has long opposed, but with certain conditions. If sheriff, Magnuson said he would advocate “undercover drug buys, not drug sales.” “I don't want anyone to feel entrapped,” he said, adding that the “drug dealers in Pitkin County have operated with impunity for 34 years.”

But wait: He says he wants all drugs to be legalized, and he'd let the pot-smoking hiker go on his way but not the one doing coke or heroin? Another head-scratcher of an answer. Why doesn't respect for the law (which he claims is the issue) require him to stop all three?


“I do not support undercover work in Pitkin County,” DiSalvo said after Leonard’s comments. “I do think it violates public trust in a small community.” DiSalvo added that “we are not at a last-resort level on the war on drugs in Aspen yet.” DiSalvo later said that he felt strongly that anyone under the age of 18 or 19 should not do any drugs.

Leonard's downfall may be that he seems apathetic to Aspen and Colorado. It sounds like he moved here to retire, got bored and thought he'd run for Sheriff. When asked if his four years in the community were enough to be an effective Sheriff, he said:

“I don’t really find this place to be so unique, to tell you the truth,” Leonard said. “Policing is policing and I have more experience than either of the other two candidates. I don’t think you really need to live here for 10 years in order to be the sheriff.”

Even if he's right, that's a tone-deaf answer and an opinion probably better kept to himself. Every community likes to feel it's special, and Aspen's residents are hardly an exception. They pride themselves on the uniqueness of the town. Bad answer. I think he shot himself in the foot on that one.

Joe DiSalvo should be a shoo-in. I hope so.

< Koua Fong Lee Freed in MN, Toyota Nightmare Over | The Audacity Of Dopes >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Pitkin Sheriff (none / 0) (#1)
    by kgoudy on Fri Aug 06, 2010 at 08:35:10 AM EST
    Good thread. I would so rather have cops with some actual life experience, and hopefully a bit of understanding, than those that judgmentally mock the crimes. The UC cops who are making fun of the pathetic addicts they set against each other for felony quotas and grant money are mean, and not good law enforcement. they are having too much fun playacting.

    Mr. Hand over at Ridgemont High... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Fri Aug 06, 2010 at 10:57:48 AM EST
    would say..."Is everyone here on dope?"

    All the frontrunners for NY State AG have also admitted to breaking the law as well...makes you wonder why we have these dumb laws that even top lawmen and presidents can't abide by them.

    Yeah (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Fri Aug 06, 2010 at 12:25:49 PM EST
    And I thought MJ was just a civil offense with a fine in NYC.... Turns out that any ignited MJ in public is a crime, not just a fine.

    It is absurd that you can possess 25grams and get a fine, but possessing paraphernalia is a crime.