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Former Aspen councilman, Skico executive released from state prison to halfway house

Former Aspen Skiing Co. executive and Aspen city councilman Derek Johnson has been released from state prison and is currently residing at a halfway house, sources said last week.

Derek Johnson’s latest Colorado Department of Corrections photo.

Johnson, 53, was rejected from a similar program — known as “community corrections” — in Garfield County in February, said Assistant District Attorney Ben Sollars. Though Sollars serves on the Garfield County Community Corrections Board, he said he didn’t recall the exact reasons for the rejection.

“We always saw this case as something that warranted a sentence to the Department of Corrections,” he said, citing the large amount of money and merchandise stolen, the long years of deception, the breach of trust and the impact to the community. “That didn’t change … in a short amount of time (Johnson served behind bars).”

Sollars said he was told by the Department of Corrections that Johnson was in the Adams County Community Corrections program. However, a representative of that program said Thursday that Johnson was not placed there and suggested trying Arapahoe County, which can be confused with Adams County.

Brad Kemper, who runs the Arapahoe County Community Corrections program, said Thursday that Johnson was placed in the Jefferson County Community Corrections program.

Messages left for the Jefferson County program were not returned. Annie Skinner, the spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Corrections, declined to provide information as to where Johnson currently resides.

Phone messages left for Johnson’s lawyer and his wife, Kerri Johnson, also were not returned.

Johnson pleaded guilty in November 2019 to one count of felony theft between $100,000 and $1 million for methodically stealing and selling more than 13,000 pairs of Skico-owned skis valued at $6 million over more than 12 years. Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin sentenced him to six years in prison in late January 2020.

Sollars said that inmates who apply for a community corrections program indicate a primary location and a secondary location where they’d like to serve out the rest of their sentence. After the Garfield County rejection in February, he was apparently accepted into the secondary program not long after, said Aspen prosecutor Don Nottingham.

That means Johnson — who served one term on the City Council and ran for Aspen mayor in 2013 — actually served about 13 months in prison. He served most of his sentence at the Sterling Correctional Facility in Sterling.

As a participant in a state community corrections program, Johnson is now living in a halfway house and is allowed to go to work during the day, Nottingham said.

“(The program) is still administered by the Department of Corrections,” Nottingham said. “There’s lots of rules he has to follow (as part of the program). He has to get a job.”

Johnson’s estimated parole eligibility date is July 6, 2022, while his next parole hearing is scheduled for April, according to online Department of Corrections records. He will face three years of parole once released.

A well-behaved Colorado prison inmate earns what is called “good time,” which can reduce the amount of time behind bars to 37.5% of the sentence received, Nottingham said. His acceptance into the community corrections program “would indicate he was well-behaved in prison,” he said.

“Given what I know of him, I’m not surprised he behaved well in prison,” Nottingham said.

Kerri Johnson, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft in connection with the eBay-based scheme to sell the stolen skis and was sentenced in February 2020 to 90 days in jail and five years of probation.

She initially served 28 days of that sentence — from Feb. 20 to March 19, 2020 — before she was released because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kerri Johnson returned to jail June 10, 2020, and served another 23 days until July 2, when she was released, according to Pitkin County Jail records. She served a total of 51 days in jail, which means she also received “good time” for her sentence as well.

Under terms of the plea deal, the couple also must pay back $250,000 to Skico. That is amount of the company’s insurance deductible, which it had to pay for the claim filed because of the Johnsons’ actions.

The Johnsons sold more than 13,000 pairs of salvage skis owned by Skico between 2006 and November 2018 that were sold on eBay and went so far as to bill Skico for the boxes in which they shipped the skis to their customers. That equates to three pairs of stolen skis sold every day for 12 years, Nottingham has said.

In the last full year of the scheme — 2017 — the couple reaped $459,000, which was in addition to Johnson’s $116,600 Skico salary.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Post Independent editor arrested for alleged DUI

(Publisher’s note: It is the policy of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent not to report on routine DUI arrests when they don’t involve a traffic accident, injury, death or other related crime. The exception is when it involves someone of prominence in the community, such as elected officials, law enforcement personnel, schools’ administrators, government or business executives. As news journalists in the community, we hold ourselves to this same standard.)

Glenwood Springs Post Independent Editor Peter Baumann was arrested over the Memorial Day Weekend for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol, the Glenwood Springs Police Department reported.

Baumann, 37, was contacted by police officers driving in the 1200 block of Grand Avenue at 12:53 a.m. Saturday, according to police incident reports. He was booked at the Glenwood Springs Police Department on a DUI charge and released.

“I’m deeply sorry to the entire Glenwood Springs community for my harmful actions and am focused on taking steps to get the help I need,” said Baumann, who is also editor of the Citizen Telegram in Rifle and the Craig Press.

The case remains under investigation and Baumann has not yet been formally charged by the 9th District Attorney’s Office, Police Chief Joseph Deras said.

Editor Peter Baumann removed himself from the editing process for this story, which was edited by The Aspen Times.

In Garfield County, history can present barriers to trust between Latino community and law enforcement

Weathered relationships between police officers and the Latino community in Glenwood Springs didn’t just happen overnight or for no reason, said Alex Sanchez, executive director of Voces Unidas.

“We’ve had stories about over-aggressive police departments using tactical gear and military gear, and four or five officers to do one very simple traffic stop. So, those types of experiences are what cause the mistrust between the community and our police department,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez wrote in an email that over the past 12 months Voces Unidas heard from 22 different people about instances of what they described as unjust treatment by law officials. Over the summer during the Black Lives Matter rallies in Rifle, Sanchez wrote the Voces staff saw biases in treatment from law enforcement for different communities.

“A gang of motorcycles harassed and launched projectiles using their exhaust pipes towards women, children and other BLM march participants (and) armed militia intimidated peaceful protestors by stalking us as we marched. (This was) all in plain sight and in front of law enforcement. Staff at Voces Unidas even received threats and racist comments on our social media after the BLM events in Rifle,” Sanchez wrote.

A recent case of extortion and intimidation prompted Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras to release a statement telling people that their immigration status is not something to be concerned about when reporting a crime to law enforcement. Deras became Police Chief shortly before the start of the pandemic and has not had many opportunities to meet people in-person like he had hoped, but said he feels equipped to connect with the Latino community in part because of his identity and prior work experience.

“Coming through that election process I made it no secret that I had the skill set to communicate with folks, at some level I’m not a native speaker. My wife and I are raising our children in a bicultural family,” Deras said. “My experience in California working primarily in Latino communities or migrant-based communities positions me well to understand how those relationships might be strained or how people might be afraid of law enforcement. So, I’m in a position where I can really work to allay those fears that people might have.”

Junior Ortega, co-founder and community organizer of AJUA (Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion: Association of Youth United in Action) a youth-led, immigrant rights and social justice advocacy organization, said while there will be instances of Spanish-translated information from police departments, it isn’t something done in Garfield County on a regular basis.

“It seems that we always have to be poking to make sure that information gets out. And we saw that with the Grizzly Creek Fire,” Ortega said.

At the beginning of the fire information was only being released to the community in English. It was thanks to the leaders in the Latino community that the city began translating their Facebook Live information sessions and other life-saving information in Spanish as well. In response to the press release from Chief Deras regarding the case with extortion using an individual’s immigration status as leverage, Ortega said it is a positive sign of change within law enforcement, but members of the Latino community are accustomed to proceeding with caution and can be skeptical of information from local institutions.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition’s (CIRC) docuteam recorded 216 cases of mistreatment from law officials since 2016. AJUA is one of the organizations in partnership with them and will also share cases they record to be added to the overall state database. This is not representational of how many calls they received on their hotline in general, since sometimes individuals opt for anonymity.

“Having those statements out in the community definitely helps the community,” Ortega said. “I think something that we’ve learned to do or how we learn to adapt is that we’ve always been fairly conscious of what we hear and what we believe.”

Deras said he saw the case of extortion as an opportunity to reach out to the Latino community directly, but both Sanchez and Ortega agreed that translations are something that should be done on a regular basis. Doing this would continue to grow trust — but that doesn’t rule out setbacks where Latinos weren’t treated fairly that can just as easily undo the already fragile relationship.

“We got to walk with one eye open. As much trust that is potentially being built, there’s always someone that causes that trust to go down. So, you know it’s great that we sometimes take a step forward, but (then) we take three steps back,” Ortega said.

Deras said he is planning to host a community police academy program in Spanish, geared toward the Latino community so they can gain a better understanding of how the department operates. Deras said he had conducted similar 12-week programs in past roles and that it forms relationships and people who participated can share their experience with others.

“At the end of those 12 weeks they leave here with friendships with our staff and they’ve really become advocates of the police,” Deras said.

Sanchez said regardless of immigration status, making those connections with law enforcement can be difficult due to lack of knowledge on how to navigate the system, language barriers or stories shared that reinforce distrust. However, he said he looks forward to the direction Deras is taking the Glenwood Police Department in and hopes to see more efforts of outreach in the future.

“We as an organization are very optimistic about some of the new leaders who have come into place in various institutions. And we look forward to continuing to work with them as they look deep within their department to ensure that they are people friendly, that they make sure they build outreach and create trust with our community, because that improves public safety,” Sanchez said.

 

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.

Parent arrested after allegedly hitting student in Carbondale high school parking lot

Carbondale Police on Tuesday arrested a Roaring Fork High School parent for allegedly assaulting a male student in the high school parking lot following a confrontation involving the parent’s daughter.

Police officers were called to the school at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday shortly after school was let out on a report of an “accident,” according to a Carbondale Police Department press release issued late Tuesday.

“When officers arrived they met with a juvenile who told officers he was hit in the face by another student’s parent while in the car,” the release said. “The juvenile said the parent opened the driver’s side door and punched him in the face. The parent reached for his daughter who was in the passenger seat, pulling her out from the driver’s side.”

The parent then searched the car and left, according to the release.

Officers identified and contacted the male suspect a short time later at the Catherine Store east of town. After being interviewed, Jose Castillon-Mejia, 45, was arrested and booked into Garfield County Jail on charges including first-degree criminal trespass, a class 5 felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

“Due to the age of the juvenile, child abuse charges do not meet the criteria under Colorado Law,” the release stated. “At this time, the parent is innocent until proven guilty.”

Bail set at $500k for man accused of attempted murder in Glenwood Springs

Bail has been set at $500,000 cash surety for a Silt man charged with attempted first degree murder.

In addition to the first degree murder charge, Padrikea Nichols, 35, has been charged with first degree assault and menacing related to domestic violence. Bond has not yet been set.


Nichols is accused of shooting a man in the 800 block of Pitkin Avenue around 8:19 p.m. Sunday night.

The victim suffered significant injuries and was flown to a Colorado trauma center for treatment.

Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras said the incident appeared to have been related to a domestic dispute of some sort. The adult male victim in the case was taken to an area hospital with possibly life-threatening injuries, and was later transported to a trauma center.

The shooting reportedly took place outside the residence, but other occupants were inside at the time. They were unharmed, Deras said. He said a handgun was used in the shooting.

During the bond hearing, the victim’s mother asked that no bond be set for Nichols as her son.

“I’m not going to go into the situation medically, but he is fighting for his life and this man should not be released on a bond at all,” the victim’s mother said.

Nichols’ defense attorney Elise Myer, asked Judge Denise Lynch to set Nichols’ bond at $10,000, arguing that Nichols has no prior felonies on his record and a very limited criminal history.

“He just has some traffic infractions, he has always made his court dates, no failures to appear and has lived in this community for a number of years,” Myer said. “I think it’s also important that despite the very serious nature of these charges Mr. Nichols is presumed innocent.”

Myer noted the significant news attention Nichols’ case has garnered over the last 24 hours, which includes a news release from the Glenwood Springs Police Department that Myer criticized.

Myer said the news release politicized the incident and wrongly asserted that this case is a domestic violence case.

“Mr. Nichols has asserted some self defense but I don’t believe this is about control over (a female resident). I’m going to ask the court to set the bond at an amount, a bit low but I think it’s warranted under the (Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool),” Myer said.

Per the defense’s request, the affidavit in the case has also been sealed to limit further public dissemination of information due to the investigation being ongoing.

The Glenwood Springs Police Department investigation has been turned over to the Ninth District Attorney’s Office.

Nichols will have a chance to request that his bond amount be readjusted at his next court appearance, which is slated for 10:30 a.m. May 20.

Reporter Shannon Marvel can be reached at 605-350-8355 or smarvel@postindependent.com.

Sunday shooting suspect held on attempted murder, two other felony charges

Police have identified the suspect in a Sunday night shooting incident in Glenwood Springs that resulted in serious injuries to the victim as Padrikea Nichols, 35, of Silt.

Padrikea Nichols
Garfield County Detention Center photo

Nichols remains in the Garfield County Jail and is due in Garfield District Court at 1:30 p.m. Monday to be advised of charges including felony attempted murder, first degree assault and menacing related to domestic violence. Bond has not yet been set.

The male victim of the shooting suffered significant injuries and was flown to a Colorado trauma center for treatment.

Glenwood Springs Police Officers responded to the reported shooting in the 800 block of Pitkin Avenue at about 8:19 p.m. Sunday.

“Officers arrived within 2 minutes of receiving the first 911 call … and found the adult male victim, a Glenwood Springs resident, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds in the driveway of a residence,” Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras said in a follow-up press release late Monday morning.

Police have not yet identified the victim.

First responders provided emergency medical care to stabilize the victim prior to him being taken to the hospital. A handgun was used in the shooting, police said.

Police were able to immediately identify Nichols as the suspect and checked various known addresses. He was located at a residence in the 300 block of Cottonwood Drive in Silt.

“A Glenwood Springs Police sergeant, who also serves on the regional All Hazards Response Team (AHRT/SWAT) contacted Mr. Nichols via telephone,” Deras said in the release. “After a brief period of negotiations, Mr. Nichols surrendered to the officers and he was taken into custody without incident.”

The case has now been turned over to the Ninth District Attorney’s Office for further investigation.

Deras also offered the following observation: “The nature of this specific event is loosely centered around domestic violence and these types of crimes are often perpetrated or begin within the confines of a private home. This case follows an ongoing cycle of violence and/or threats which is in no way indicative of any ongoing crimes, or repetitive behaviors related to any businesses, patrons or visitors in the immediate area.

He added, “Glenwood Springs residents, businesses and visitors are fortunate to enjoy a community which is largely free of violent and/or serious crime. Our department’s official vision statement is to: Create a safe and enjoyable community in which to live and visit.

“It is through the significant efforts of our department members, collaboration with our community members, support and investment from our elected officials which allow us to realize that vision.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Police apprehend suspect in Silt following shooting incident near downtown Glenwood Sunday night

A male suspect in a shooting that occurred in downtown Glenwood Springs Sunday night was taken into custody without incident in Silt about an hour afterwards.

Glenwood Police Chief Joseph Deras said at 9:50 p.m. that there is no longer a public safety threat.

The name of the suspect was not being released immediately, as he had not yet been charged with a specific crime upon his arrest.

Deras said the incident appeared to have been related to a domestic dispute of some sort. The adult male victim in the case was taken to an area hospital with possibly life-threatening injuries, and was later transported to a trauma center.

“The victim is alive, but does have significant injuries,” Deras said.

The name and age of the victim was also not immediately available.

The incident was reported at about 8:19 p.m. Sunday in the 800 block of Pitkin Avenue, within a block of the Glenwood Springs Police Department.

The shooting reportedly took place outside the residence, but other occupants were inside at the time. They were unharmed, Deras said. He said a handgun was used in the shooting.

“Officers were on scene within two minutes, and the suspect was in custody at 9:21 p.m.,” Deras said.

Shortly after the call, officers were in pursuit of the suspect’s vehicle, which at the time was believed to be headed west on Interstate 70.

The suspect was located at a residence in the 300 block of Cottonwood Drive in Silt, and phone contact was made before he surrendered, Deras said.

Police remained on the scene in both Glenwood Springs and at the suspect’s residence in Silt Sunday night to process evidence.

Police cars at the scene of a reported shooting in the 800 block of Pitkin Avenue in Glenwood Springs Sunday night.
Shannon Marvel/Post Independent

Additional information about the suspect and formal charges was expected Monday.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Hombre de Silt y ex-candidato al Senado de los E.U., arrestado por presunta extorsión e intimidación étnica

El departamento de policía de Glenwood reitera que las víctimas de crímenes pueden llamar independientemente del estatus migratorio

La policía de Glenwood Springs ha arrestado al ex-candidato al Senado, Mark H. Aspiri, de Silt, por cargos de extorsión criminal, acoso de intimidación étnica y robo con amenazas cometidos contra un hombre hispano local.

En un comunicado de prensa del martes el jefe de policía de Glenwood, Joseph Deras, manifestó que Aspiri, 52, presuntamente se aprovechó del estatus migratorio de la víctima como razón para que le pagaran $1,200.

La víctima, según consta, sintió mucho miedo cuando las presuntas amenazas de Aspiri continuaron, aún después de haber bloqueado el número telefónico original. Aspiri llamó de otros números haciendo alarde de su influencia en la comunidad, de acuerdo con el comunicado.

Según Ballotpedia.org, en el 2014 Aspiri fue un candidato republicano para el Senado de los E.U. por Colorado durante un breve período, antes de ser derrotado en la Asamblea del GOP por Cory Gardner, eventual ganador del escaño.

De acuerdo con la policía de Glenwood Springs, las llamadas de Aspiri comenzaron en diciembre del 2020. En una de dichas llamadas, Aspiri presuntamente alegó que él tenía el poder de terminar la carrera de los oficiales de policía locales si ellos llegaban a involucrarse.

“Él le dijo a la víctima que si la policía se convertía en un problema, él tenía el poder de hacer llamadas telefónicas para hacer que los oficiales fueran despedidos,” Deras dijo en el comunicado. “La víctima estaba tan asustada que accedió y le pagó al señor Aspiri $500.”

Cuando la víctima pidió consejo a su amigos, ellos también lo animaron a pagarle a Aspiri, reconociendo la influencia que éste tiene en la comunidad y la posibilidad de que la víctima fuera deportada, dijo Deras.

En una conversación con el abogado contratado eventualmente por la familia de la víctima, Aspiri dijo que él había “hecho eso con frecuencia y recibido miles de dólares de las personas,” según el comunicado.

Aspiri fue arrestado pero desde entonces está en libertad bajo fianza. Él tiene una comparecencia de fianza en la corte del distrito del condado de Garfield el miércoles a la 1:30 p.m.

“Este caso es particularmente preocupante, pues parece se aprovecharon de la víctima debido a su estatus migratorio,” dijo Deras en el comunicado. “Hubo indicios de que el sospechoso tiene conexiones políticas e historia, y dio a entender que tenía influencia sobre las carreras de los oficiales de policía.”

Deras añadió que a las víctimas de crímenes en la comunidad que no hablan inglés así como de la fuerza laboral local se les anima a contactar a la policía cuando ocurren crímenes. El comunicado afirma que las autoridades de inmigración no serán contactadas ni se les pedirá investigar el estatus de una persona si ésta se presenta como víctima o testigo.

“Estamos comprometidos a investigar todos los crímenes independientemente del estatus residencial o laboral de una persona,” Deras dijo.

Deras solicitó que quienes conozcan a otras víctimas de acciones criminales similares, amenazas o tácticas de intimidación contacten a la policía al número (970)-384-6500. Al hacer la llamada, cada parte tiene la opción de mantener el anonimato.

 

Silt man, a former U.S. Senate candidate, arrested for alleged extortion, ethnic intimidation

Glenwood Springs Police have arrested former U.S. Senate candidate Mark H. Aspiri of Silt on charges of criminal extortion, ethnic intimidation harassment and theft crimes involving threats made against a local Hispanic man.

A Tuesday press release from Glenwood Police Chief Joseph Deras states Aspiri, 52, was allegedly attempting to leverage the victim’s immigration status as a reason to pay him $1,200.

The victim reportedly became very scared as the alleged threats from Aspiri continued, even after he had blocked the original number he called from other numbers touting his influence in the community, according to the release.

According to Ballotpedia.org, Aspiri was a 2014 Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado for a brief time before being defeated at the GOP Assembly by Cory Gardner, the eventual winner of the seat.

According to Glenwood Springs police, the calls from Aspiri began in December 2020. On one of the calls, Aspiri allegedly expressed that he had the ability to end the career of local police officers if they became involved.

“He told the victim that if the police became a problem, he had the ability to make phone calls and have the officer(s) fired,” Deras said in the release “The victim was so frightened, he relented and paid Mr. Aspiri $500.”

When the victim sought guidance from friends, they also encouraged him to just pay Aspiri, acknowledging the influence he has in the community and how it could possibly result in the man getting deported, Deras said.

In a conversation with the attorney eventually retained by the victim’s family, Aspiri said he had “done this often and gotten thousands of dollars from people,” according to the release.

Aspiri was arrested but has since been released on bond. He has a bond appearance in Garfield County District Court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“This case is particularly concerning, as it appears the victim was preyed upon due to his immigration status,” Deras said in the release. “There were some indications that the suspect has political connections/history, and intimated his ability to have influence over police officers’ careers.”

Deras added that victims of crimes within the non-English speaking community and the local labor force are encouraged to reach out to police when crimes occur. The release affirms immigration authorities will not be contacted or asked to look into a person’s status if they come forward as a victim or witness.

“We are committed to investigating all crimes irrespective of a person’s resident/labor status,” Deras said.

Deras asked that individuals familiar with other victims of similar criminal actions, threats or intimidation tactics contact the police at (970)-384-6500. When calling, all parties have the option to stay anonymous.

Man accused of murdering Rifle woman requests access to forensic testing

Jorge Solis

With forensics underway, the defense representing Jorge Solis — the man accused of murdering 22-year-old Rifle woman Ana Victoria Rascon in Gunnison County — is asking that “confidential experts to be present at testing or to in certain circumstances perform their own testing.”

“We will be asking that the experts be present for testing or run their own testing based on the right to effective assistance of counsel,” public defender Kori Zapletal said.

Solis, 24, was arrested March 17 in Mesa County after he was suspected of murdering and leaving Rascon’s body in a home in southwest Gunnison County on March 6. According to court documents, Solis had “knowingly attempted to set fire to, burn, or caused to burn a building or occupied structure.

The motion was one of three requests presented to Gunnison County District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick during a Wednesday court appearance over a video communications system.

In response to the defense’s first motion, Deputy District Attorney Joshua Dougherty said the request to test all scientific evidence prior to law enforcement has “no basis in law or case law.”

The second motion requested by the defense is that law enforcement monitors any conversations with informants or non-state actors.

“We’re not suggesting, your honor, that law enforcement should be required to monitor conversations or regulate conversations between non-state actors,” Zapletal said. “However, people, particularly inmates, and non-state informants, have become agents of law enforcement if they are acting at law enforcement’s direction.”

In addition, the motion also requests restrictions be made on media. This will help prevent misinformation or contamination of the jury, said Zapletal.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Waggoner argued, however, that informants are so for not a concern.

“As far as informants, no one’s in the cells anyways,” she said. “And further, the people do agree if they do become an agent of the people, they would be in violation of three other motions filed by the defendant.”

The third motion made by Zapletal on behalf of Solis is that the defense be provided prior notice of any procedures related to testing. This motion is aimed to help protect Solis’ Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights, which include the freedom to not speak on behalf of a crime and the right to certain information in a case.

“These procedures involve some sort of conversation,” she said. “Whether it’s intended or not, there’s often an explanation of what’s taking place — a request to the person to do certain things.”

According to Waggoner, however, these rights have already been granted in the case, therefore the motion is “a moot point.”

Zapletal said so far the defense has received “discovery” — information possessed by a prosecutor — in the case and waives the right to challenge future searches.

Based on that, the prosecution said they’ll go through another forensic testing procedure.

Patrick did not grant or deny any motions, but set Solis’ next court date at 3 p.m. April 29.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com