With regards to the graduation get together at Horse Mountain ranch a couple of weeks ago, I must first say that I am in no way condoning underage drinking and teenager’s decisions need have consequences. That being said, what the Eagle County Sheriff ’s Office did is reprehensible. There is no denying that the party was out of control and needed to be broken up before anything serious happened and it is the sheriff ’s job to do just that.
My understanding is that upon the arrival of the police, many party goers scattered into the woods. After some time, the officers talked many of the scattered crowd into returning to the camp by promising them that nothing would happen to them. Upon returning to the camp they were immediately asked to blow into a roadside alcohol testing device, and anyone not blowing triple zeros was booked for minor in possession. This is not just my version. During a parent and Sheriff’s Office meeting last Friday at Battle Mountain High School, Sheriff Joe Hoy admitted to the lie saying, “so what if we lied, it saved lives.”
Not only does this completely diminish any credibility the department has with teenagers and almost everybody in this community, it is illegal. Once the officers promised that nothing would happen to party-goers if they came back, that is an offer of immunity, and the return of anyone from the woods at that time is an acceptance of that immunity. They cannot prosecute after that offer. The District Attorney’s Office will have no choice but to drop these cases.
Is underage drinking a serious thing and something we as parents should be worried about? Absolutely, but so is being arrested and found guilty of MIP. The arrest and disposition of such a charge never goes off their record. It is there for all how wish to find it — high school administrators, college entry personnel, future employers and is on the record for future offenses no matter how minor.
Sheriff Hoy at the beginning of the meeting rattled off a few statistics, and he was very proud of them, but if you look at them closely they are telling of the sheriff ’s true agenda. The Eagle County Sheriff ’s Office writes 500 percent more MIPs than any other police department in the county each year. They write more MIPs than the four other departments in Eagle County combined. This includes town of Avon, which holds the biggest Fourth of July celebration in the state, as well as the Snowball and numerous other concert-type events that draw an underage crowd. This includes the town of Vail, which has the lacrosse tournament, the GoPro Mountain Games, untold free street and Ford Park concerts, just to name a few events attracting young people.
Any one of these events could produce dozens of MIPs if those police departments decided to round up all underage people and test them for alcohol. But they don’t. My guess, and from what I have seen, during these events those departments absolutely take away anything found on underage attendees, but unless they are unruly or attract multiple contacts with the police, they for the most part are allowed to continue to enjoy the event.
We all know teenagers make dumb decisions sometimes. It is part of the learning process. Should there be consequences for dumb decisions? Yes, but does it have to be so damaging? Ever hear of giving out warnings, Sheriff Hoy? That’s not hard to do. Even the high schools give a couple of warnings before serious punishment. It wouldn’t be hard to do in a small community such as ours. When a deputy comes into contact with a minor in possession, take their info, put it into the system as a contact and so long as they can get safely home (i.e., with parents), let them go with a warning. After a couple of contacts, book ‘em Dano, they deserve it. It seems the Sheriff ’s Office has an anti-teen agenda, which is no way to get them to trust police. At one point during the meeting at Battle Mountain High School, Sheriff Hoy asked what kind of parent would teach or tell his or her child to run. Based on what I have seen, I might tell my child, “If it is Eagle County sheriff, run. Any other department, cooperate fully.”