Sheriff releases video of jail flooding, fight
Over the objections of the district attorney, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo released video Thursday of an inmate flooding the jail and fighting with deputies two weeks ago.
The Aspen Times requested the video Aug. 25, the day Benjamin Garrett, 32, tore a light housing fixture from the ceiling of a holding cell and used it to destroy a sprinkler head. The action not only caused what could end up to be more than $100,000 in damage, but also violence because he fought with deputies who entered the cell .
However, DiSalvo said he declined to release the video until detectives were finished investigating the case. That investigation ended Wednesday, he said.
“I strongly believe the citizens of Pitkin County should know how we are doing our job,” DiSalvo said. “I think the public has a right to know about 95 percent of what we do.”
District Attorney Sherry Caloia disagreed with the sheriff, saying last week that his release of the video could cause her to be sanctioned because it could be considered an “extra-judicial statement” and, thus, against prosecutorial rules of conduct. She also said releasing the video could compromise Garrett’s right to a fair trial and taint the jury pool if and when he goes to trial.
On Thursday, Caloia said she spoke with DiSalvo and understands his position.
“We just respectfully disagree,” she said.
Steven Zansberg, a First Amendment lawyer and counsel for the Colorado Press Association, said last week that the extra-judicial statement rule doesn’t apply to release of records. Also, because DiSalvo isn’t a lawyer, she cannot be sanctioned for a record he releases, Zansberg said.
The two men running against Caloia, a Democrat, for 9th Judicial District Attorney in November agreed with Zansberg.
“The DA doesn’t control the police,” said Chip McCrory, who is running as an Independent. “Joe is an elected official and he can make his own decision.”
McCrory said that if he was DA, he would ask DiSalvo to hold off releasing inflammatory material like a video, which he believes is far more powerful than merely reading about an incident. At the same time, he said he would communicate with the defense attorney for the defendant in the video and suggest the lawyer file a motion in court requesting the video be sealed.
Whatever the case, McCrory said he doesn’t believe the DA can be sanctioned for reports or video released by law enforcement.
Jeff Cheney, the Republican running against Caloia, also said he doesn’t believe a prosecutor could be sanctioned for law enforcement releasing a video of a crime. In fact, he said he views videos as “non-testimonial” evidence that is merely depicting an event and isn’t an extra-judicial statement at all.
And while he would be concerned with a defendant’s right to a fair trial and possible tainting of the jury pool, it wouldn’t be a major concern.
“I don’t think every single person out there will be watching this video,” he said. “I believe strongly that the public has a right to know.”
Garrett, the defendant in question, was arrested Aug. 24 by Aspen police for possession of methamphetamine after he called 911 to report a group of 30 people trying to tow his car. An officer who responded found no basis for the towing claim but arrested him for the meth and took him to jail, according to the officer’s report.
Early in the morning of Aug. 25, deputies saw Garrett trying to flood his cell by plugging a drain, so they moved him to another cell, according to Jail Administrator Don Bird. While in the other cell, he pried a metal piece of light housing from the roof and used it to destroy a sprinkler head in the cell’s bathroom.
Clips of the video available on The Aspen Times website show Garrett ripping the piece of metal from the ceiling, then disappearing into the bathroom before returning to the cell. Immediately after he re-enters the main part of the cell, brown water begins flowing into it.
The Times video next fast-forwards about 20 minutes to the point where deputies enter the cell and Garrett, who stands 6-feet-2-inches and weighs 155 pounds, begins fighting with them. It ends with them strapping him into a restraint chair and putting a hood over his head.
Water from the broken sprinkler ended up flooding computer servers in the jail’s basement and forcing the permanent relocation of the county’s 911 dispatch center, which was previously scheduled to move. It also knocked out servers that control law enforcement communications and records management.
DiSalvo said Thursday he doesn’t know how much the total damage will cost, but has heard it could be more than $100,000.
“I think this is going to be a real impact to the public,” he said.
Glenwood Springs District Judge Denise Lynch released Garrett last week on a $3,000 personal recognizance bond that contained no conditions as to his behavior. He is charged with assault on a police officer, possession of meth and criminal mischief – all felonies – as well as misdemeanor obstructing a police officer.
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