Inmate charged in flood released

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Two inches of water covers the newly-installed carpet at the Pitkin County Jail's common room Thursday after an inmate arrested for meth possession broke a sprinkler head and caused a massive flood.

Fixing flood damage allegedly caused by an inmate at the Pitkin County Jail last week is now estimated to cost $50,000, though that number is guaranteed to increase, officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, a District Court judge allowed the inmate who allegedly caused the damage by breaking off a sprinkler head out of jail Monday on a $3,000 personal recognizance bond.

That means Benjamin Garrett, 32, had to put up no money to get out of jail despite the fact that he reportedly fought violently with law enforcement personnel, has been charged with three felonies and allegedly caused a flood that knocked out law enforcement communications, forced the permanent relocation of the county’s 911 call center and will cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix.

District Judge Denise Lynch said she was releasing Garrett on the PR bond because he has no prior criminal history and plans to remain in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Garrett said in court Monday that he’s “recently unemployed” but has worked previously as a chef at two Carbondale restaurants. He also said he has no place to live, has been staying with friends lately and has no family in the area.

“I’m not a danger to the community,” said Garrett, who was initially arrested Wednesday for possession of methamphetamine. He now also faces charges of felony assault and criminal mischief.

Garrett was arrested Wednesday night after he called emergency dispatchers and reported that a group of 30 people representing a “crime ring” were trying to illegally tow his car, according to a police report. An Aspen police officer who responded wrote in the report that Garrett’s story had no merit “and that he either had a mental health issue or was on something,” the report states.

Garrett also volunteered that he had methamphetamine and a meth pipe in his pocket, which earned him a trip to the Pitkin County Jail on the drug charge, according to the report.

Then about 3:30 a.m., a jail deputy got on the police radio and requested help moving an inmate who was flooding his cell, according to second police report filed in District Court on Friday. Garrett had clogged the sink drain in his cell with an article of clothing and turned the water on full, said Jail Administrator Don Bird.

An Aspen police officer and a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy responded and were told Garrett “was acting extremely strange” and needed to be moved because of the flood he caused, the report states. Garrett eventually agreed to move to another cell and the two law enforcement officers left the jail, according to the report.

Five minutes later, however, the jail deputy radioed for help again, and the two officers returned to find a “massive amount of water spraying inside of the cell from the area of the bathroom,” the report states.

The sheriff’s office allowed a reporter to view a video of the incident Monday, though Sheriff Joe DiSalvo declined to immediately release the video publicly.

The video shows Aspen police Officer Walter Chi pushing Garrett inside the holding cell and shutting the door. About 4 1/2 minutes later, Garrett can be seen prying a metal vent grate off the ceiling. He takes the vent cover into the bathroom and returns to the cell area. There are no cameras inside the bathroom, but presumably Garrett destroyed the sprinkler head with the vent cover because as soon as he returns to the cell, brown water begins flowing across the cell floor, according to the video.

At that point, Garrett became “increasingly aggressive towards officers” and began “screaming unintelligible things at the officers and refused to cooperate with their verbal commands,” according to the police report. The video doesn’t contain audio, but Garrett can be seen smashing the vent cover against the cell’s windows and door as officers on the other side point at him and yell.

Garrett covers his nose with his shirt at one point, probably because the water flowing into the cell has been sitting in the pipes for years, perhaps decades, and doesn’t smell good, according to the video and DiSalvo.

For the next 20 minutes or so, water continues to gush into the cell, while Garrett intermittently uses the vent cover to try and pry unknown objects off the cell ceiling and cut holes in the mattress, and officers on the other side bark orders at him. Officers also called in other deputies to help with the situation during that time, the report states.

Finally, Deputy Marcin Debski can be seen standing outside the cell door, clearly telling Garrett, who doesn’t have the vent cover in hand at the time, to get away from the door and lay down on the bed. Garrett ignores those orders and Debski turns and tells a jail deputy behind him to open the cell door, according to the video.

Garrett is standing in front of the door as it opens and hesitates for a split second when he sees Debski. Then he raises both hands to Debski’s neck and tries to choke him, according to the video and the police report. Immediately, Debski and Deputy Ryan Turner bum rush Garrett and force him into the bathroom, out of sight of the cell camera.

The deputies were able to take him to the ground, then drag him out of the bathroom with the help of Chi and another two deputies, and into the cell area again. They all pile on top of him trying to get him under control.

Everyone is completely drenched by that point because the water from the sprinkler continues to spray into the cell, according to the video. The water, which is now flowing clear instead of brown, turns red with Garrett’s blood at one point while the officers attempt to control him. Eventually they drag him out of the cell, where he continues to kick and fight them, before they are able to strap him into a chair with a hood over his head, according to the video.

“I think they did the right thing under the circumstances,” DiSalvo said.

Garrett was later taken to Aspen Valley Hospital with facial injuries and broken ribs.

Meanwhile, the water from the sprinkler knocked out servers in the jail basement that control 911 communications, law enforcement communications and law enforcement records management systems. Vail 911 dispatchers handled calls for about an hour early Thursday morning until Aspen dispatchers were able to move to a temporary location at the Mountain Rescue Aspen building near the Aspen Business Center.

Pitkin County experienced no interruption in 911 service, officials have said.

The dispatch center was scheduled to move permanently to the North 40 Fire Station at the Aspen Business Center in about a month. Much of that new digital radio equipment already had been installed at the North 40, so county officials were able to speed up the transfer and start up the new dispatch center Friday night, said Jodi Smith, the county’s facilities manager.

Also on Friday, officials were able to procure a $50,000 server from Philadelphia for the records management system, which allowed that system to come back online, DiSalvo said. No damage was done to renovations done at the jail last month, he said.

Smith said Monday that the jail basement was still wet and that crews pulled 14 gallons of water out of just one of the ducts over the weekend. Crews are taking their time cleaning up all the water because they don’t want to have to mitigate for mold, she said.

To avoid similar situations in the future, officials plan to convert the jail’s fire sprinklers into a system that won’t begin spraying water until two sprinkler heads are contacted by fire, Smith said. Also, a majority of the servers in the jail’s basement will be moved to the North 40, a plan that was already in place, she said.

None of the county officials interviewed Monday were able to release an estimate of the total cost of the jail flood. However, Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice said she expects the total, including overtime costs, computer replacements and clean-up, to rise much higher than $50,000.

“That would be my guess,” she said.

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