Plea deal reached in case of fired Aspen cop
ASPEN, Colorado – A former Aspen police officer who was fired for allegedly showing up to work intoxicated pleaded guilty Monday to reckless driving, closing the chapter on a nearly 15-month-old case.
As part of the plea agreement, struck in Garfield County Court, prosecutors dropped the charges of driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and possession of a weapon while under the influence against Jim Crowley, who served on the Aspen police force for 18 years.
Judge Paul Metzger ordered Crowley, 43, to take an alcohol-education class and pay $267.50 in fines and court costs, a court official said.
Mesa County Deputy District Attorney Curtis Fleming, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, said the two misdemeanor charges were dropped because he did not believe the evidence was strong enough to convict Crowley.
“We felt like we might have some problems proving he was the driver of a [patrol vehicle],” Fleming said, adding the prosecution’s one eyewitness saw Crowley driving to work, yet no one viewed him behind the wheel of a police car.
He said the dismissal of the weapons charge went hand-in-hand with the dropped DWAI count.
“Obviously if we can’t prove DWAI we can’t prove that,” Fleming said.
The agreement comes after Crowley reported to work at 7:20 a.m. Aug. 28, 2008, allegedly under the influence of alcohol. Suspicious that Crowley had been drinking, his superiors subjected him to a preliminary breath test, which is not admissible in court, but can give officers probable cause to investigate.
The result prompted police to take Crowley home. Later that morning, a Snowmass officer went to his home, placed him in handcuffs and took him to the Pitkin County Jail. There, Crowley took a Breathalyzer test, which showed his blood alcohol-level to be 0.063, a high enough level for a DWAI, but not reaching the standard for driving under the influence, which must be at least 0.08.
The Breathalyzer result was issued at 10:54 a.m., exactly three hours after Aspen police believed Crowley stepped behind the wheel of a Volvo patrol vehicle and drove while on duty.
He was initially placed on administrative leave and was fired the next day.
Fleming, the special prosecutor, said the case took a long time to settle for a variety of reasons, including a bomb threat at the Garfield County Courthouse, presiding Judge Metzger falling ill, and the death of Fleming’s mother. Those three incidents alone fell around the time of Crowley’s scheduled arraignment hearings. Also, Fleming was not assigned the case until late February, nearly six months after Crowley was fired.
Fleming, who works in the 21st Judicial District, was assigned the case after the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said a special prosecutor was necessary largely because Crowley was a witness in a number of pending cases in the 9th district, which comprises Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
The case also was originally to be tried in Pitkin County, but the venue was changed to Garfield after Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely stepped aside.
“It did drag out a lot longer than it should have,” Fleming said.
Crowley, who is now a private investigator, and his attorney, Greg Greer, did not return calls seeking comment.
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