Suspect in downtown Glenwood Springs misdemeanor assault case not likely to have been jailed, regardless of COVID-19 restrictions
An assault incident in downtown Glenwood Springs Saturday involving a homeless man allegedly striking a local business owner has raised questions over arrest policies.
The situation prompted the Glenwood Springs Police Department to issue a statement clarifying details, and saying some social media comments about the incident were based on misinformation.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras said Monday that, while the Garfield County Jail is currently operating under COVID-19 restrictions as to the types of offenders who are jailed, in this instance the suspect was unlikely to have been booked even without those restrictions.
Deras said the altercation took place about 4:30 p.m. Saturday when Sean D. Hurt, 37, entered a business and was causing a disturbance. Social media posts indicated the incident took place at the Chocolate Moose and involved the owner.
“He (Hurt) was initially refused service and told to leave,” Deras said in the Sunday “media advisory” issued on the GSPD’s Facebook page.
“(Hurt) took issue with the refusal of services and was then directed to leave the property,” which he refused to do, Deras said.
Hurt then allegedly hit the 33-year-old victim in the case. Officers arrived and ultimately issued Hurt a summons for misdemeanor assault, a municipal ordinance violation, Deras said. “Mr. Hurt was deemed the primary aggressor and he was released in the field,” he said.
Deras said in a follow-up interview on Monday that it’s common procedure to issue citations in minor assault incidents, fights and other similar public disturbances, and not make a physical arrest.
“Our officers made the determination that it was a municipal code violation,” Deras said.
Had they decided to place the suspect under arrest and take him to jail, even then it’s not uncommon that a suspect is ultimately released on a personal recognizance (no cash) bond, the chief said.
“We understand the frustration that Mr. Hurt and others who engage in this type of behavior are not booked into a jail and held until they see a judge,” Deras wrote in his Sunday Facebook post.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, restrictions are in place that limit who can be booked into a jail to minimize exposures to inmates and staff.
In this particular case, however, even though an assault occurred, “the level of violence and lack of significant injury does not rise to a level considered to be a violent crime,” Deras said.
Had there been serious injury or a weapon involved, or if it were a domestic violence situation, it would have been handled as a potential felony offense, he explained.
Deras also referred to a bill that is currently being considered in the Colorado Legislature that proposes to permanently codify some of the COVID-19 booking restrictions, even after the public health concerns subside.
Deras said he worries that could further hamstring local law enforcement in dealing with certain types of cases and making judgment calls as to the severity.
That can include what he referred to as “quality of life” crimes often associated with those who are experiencing homelessness, such as illegal camping, public intoxication and other “nuisance” types of crimes.
“We literally write a citation to the same people a couple, three times a week on those sorts of things, and there’s no consequence,” Deras said.
He added in his Sunday statement, “The Glenwood Springs Police Department does not establish policy or criteria to determine who is booked into a jail,” Deras said. “Colorado Police Officers are in the position to accept the laws and policies as presented and take an oath to uphold those laws of our state and those of the United States Constitution.”
That said, Deras encouraged the public to exercise their First Amendment rights and get involved in a “healthy debate” on the issue.
“We will not attempt to influence the tenor of those feelings but strive to provide context to situations so all involved have a better understanding of some limitations we must face/respect,” he said.
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