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WATCH: Protestors gather peacefully in Vail Village to demonstrate for George Floyd

As shock and outrage over George Floyd’s killing swept the nation over the weekend, even the luxurious streets of Vail Village were not insulated from pressure boiling over in the form of demonstrations.

A peaceful protest attracted about 50 people to Bridge Street on Sunday, with people in attendance holding signs that ranged from the familiar slogans of “Black lives matter” and “No justice no peace” to more specific messages like “White people … do something” and “I trust my local law enforcement. Everyone should have this right in America.”

Demonstrators walk the streets of Vail Village on Sunday, protesting against police brutality in the United States.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Organizer Zach Varon said after he engaged in a solo protest on Saturday, he was encouraged to do something more organized on Sunday.

“It was really positive,” he said of his experience standing in front of Vail’s Covered Bridge on Saturday, holding a sign that said “stop killing and subjugating us.”

Varon said he didn’t know what to expect heading into Sunday. He said he was surprised to see such a large turnout.

“I never in my mind imagined we could have this kind of support,” he said.

Varon said the demonstration was about more than George Floyd, who died May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes while arresting Floyd for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill. 

“This isn’t about any one person, this is an ongoing thing,” Varon said on Sunday.

Zach Varon in Vail Village on Saturday. Varon said after having a positive experience demonstrating alone on Saturday, he put a call out to others to join him on Sunday, and was blown away by the turnout.
Special to the Daily

Curfew in Denver through Monday

In Denver, protests began on Thursday and continued through Sunday. Following riots on Friday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a curfew, in effect for Denver residents from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Monday.

Hancock also requested the support of the Colorado National Guard, which Governor Jared Polis authorized on Saturday.

“Friday’s demonstrations against the senseless killing of George Floyd and far too many innocent black Americans before him began as a peaceful day time protest and unfortunately shifted into disorder late into the evening,” Polis said on Saturday. “It appears the disruptors that caused damage throughout the city were not necessarily the same peaceful protesters from the day time. Unfortunately, because of a few individuals who were more focused on causing unrest and damage rather than advocating for justice, people awoke to images of smashed out windows, graffiti, and the smell of tear gas.”

State Senate President Leroy Garcia, the only member of color on leadership in the Colorado General Assembly, warned of agitators who use protests to ignite chaos between protestors and police.

“Those seeking only to destruct and destroy should not be associated with those asking for change,” Garcia said. “With the recent announcement by the governor to deploy the National Guard, I must emphasize that their first priority should be the health and safety of those who choose to demonstrate. We cannot allow the militarization of our great state.”

‘I love my local cops’

In Vail, the group considered marching to the police station, but decided on a route down Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive instead.

The Vail demonstrators said while there is symbolism in demonstrating in front of a police building, in Vail they were more likely to be seen and heard on Bridge Street.

Also, protesters said, community policing in Vail and Eagle County does not appear to be a part of the larger problem across the United States.

And for some, that was the whole point of demonstrating.

“I love my local cops,” said one protestor on Sunday. “They’re really great people, I feel like there’s a partnership there. But not everybody in the country has that privilege.”

Robberies dropped, fights between roommates spiked: How quarantine affected crime in Colorado

Nobody knew how the coronavirus, with its historic stay-at-home order from the governor, would influence and inspire crime across Colorado.

No previous period, no critical incident, offered much in the way of clues to how law breaking would evolve — how conditions would reshape the ways people interacted in close quarters; how violence might erupt under stress and economic anxiety; how the cloistering of citizens in their homes would create vacuums of illicit opportunity elsewhere.

But as municipal and county law enforcement statistics from the first phase of Colorado’s response to the pandemic emerge, a few trends have begun to take shape, according to numbers reported by a sampling of jurisdictions. Crimes “against society” — offenses like drugs, gambling and prostitution — dropped in several areas, and traffic crashes dipped, too.

In general, crimes against people were down during the stay-at-home period — unless those people lived in the same home. In other words, there were fewer robberies but law enforcement noted more assaults among roommates. Another trend: While overall burglaries remained relatively flat, the targets shifted from homes to closed-down businesses. 

Some in law enforcement saw that one coming. 

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

2 men cited for reckless endangerment after triggering avalanche near Eisenhower Tunnel

DILLON — Two individuals have been cited with reckless endangerment after triggering an avalanche that hit a roadway near the Eisenhower Tunnel in March.

On the afternoon of March 25, two men — identified as Tyler DeWitt of Silverthorne and Evan Hannibal of Vail — were backcountry snowboarding above the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels when they triggered a large avalanche that covered more than 400 feet of active roadway above the west portal of the tunnel.

The men made their way up the slope from a parking area on the west side of the tunnels and rode down in a line above the tunnels. The boarders triggered what initially was a small avalanche, but as the slide continued it shot widespread cracks across the slope and eventually eroded into the “very weak” basal facets that removed the entire snowpack, according to a report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The avalanche danger was rated moderate at the time.

The slide damaged a remote avalanche control unit, essentially a fixed gas chamber on the slope that can remote detonate during avalanche mitigation efforts, and eventually buried the Loop Road in up to 20 feet of debris. The Loop Road is a service road primarily used by the Colorado Department of Transportation but was open to the public at the time of the avalanche.

The men called 911 to report the avalanche and met law enforcement on the Loop Road after they finished descending. DeWitt said they spoke with officials for a couple of hours and were initially allowed to leave without being cited.

No cars or individuals — including the snowboarders — were caught in the slide, though officials said the avalanche easily could have been deadly under different circumstances.

“We’re really lucky it didn’t injure or kill somebody,” said Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Of note, there was nothing legally preventing the snowboarders from accessing the area, and they were within their rights to ride the chute. But given the circumstances and subsequent danger, some officials felt the men acted in a negligent way and unnecessarily endangered everyone on the roadways below.

“They were both experienced skiers, and based upon that experience should have been able to contemplate the danger that arose from skiing an avalanche chute directly above the tunnel, where automobile traffic goes directly underneath,” Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said. “They triggered an avalanche, and luckily no one was harmed. But the charge of reckless endangerment is that you do something recklessly and that you create a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person. In this case, it was the community in general driving on the roadway below.”

Both DeWitt and Hannibal were issued citations for reckless endangerment, class 3 misdemeanors, in early April.

But DeWitt said the citation was unwarranted and that he intends to fight the charge. He said he’d been watching the wall for a couple of weeks to track avalanche conditions, noting he’d only seen small “sluff” slides traveling short distances. He also felt that the presence of other skiers on nearby chutes, and avalanche control units on the slope pointed to lower potential for a large-scale avalanche.

“Those were the things that gave me confidence in riding that terrain,” DeWitt said. “Evan and I are out in the backcountry a lot during the winter. That’s our lives. We go out there every day, we assess avalanche conditions, and we play it by the book.”

DeWitt also said he felt the avalanche easily could have happened naturally without them.

“It’s (the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and CDOT’s) job to control the slope enough to make sure nothing would reach the road. And it turned out that they didn’t have it controlled. … In my opinion, seeing these other little slides happening, that very well could have been natural,” DeWitt said. “… I was thinking that they had been blasting it all year, and that at max, there could be a 20-foot, tiny wet slab. It didn’t even cross our minds (that an avalanche could reach the road).”

Greene said officials performed gas explosion mitigation efforts on the slope March 20, five days before the avalanche, which triggered four small slides. He continued to say that mitigation efforts look considerably different in areas where the primary goal is protecting infrastructure rather than skiers, and he noted that while its certainly possible, it’s unlikely the avalanche would have occurred naturally.

“There’s a real difference between a mitigation program you’d see at a ski area and a mitigation program you’d do on some sort of infrastructure like a highway,” Greene said. “It has to do with the likelihood of events you’re trying to prevent. … From that perspective, where the primary threat we’re dealing with is natural avalanches released by weather events, that program was doing what it needed to do. …

“And I think you can look and say it’s pretty unlikely it would have happened without human involvement. We certainly didn’t see any evidence from the surrounding area or the surrounding days of avalanche activity happening naturally. … Can I say it wouldn’t have happened two minutes later if they hadn’t have been there? No. But there was nothing else like that in that area during that time period.”

DeWitt and Hannibal are scheduled to appear in Summit County Court on Aug. 5 for an arraignment.

Regardless of how things ultimately play out, officials said the incident should serve as a reminder to backcountry recreationists to make sure they consider all the variables before heading out.

“It’s a really important topic for us all to think about,” Greene said. “It’s not always as clear as black and white or good and bad. We all enjoy the public lands and the access we have to them. With that comes responsibility for our own safety and making sure we’re not putting other people at risk without consent.”

Law enforcement academy graduates new class of ‘scholar-warriors’

Scholar-warriors do not wage war, they protect the peace.

The Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy graduated a dozen and a half new law enforcement officers from a program based out of Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus in Glenwood Springs. The new officers will take their places in local Western Slope agencies as “scholar-warriors,” explained Heather Dugan, assistant director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“Scholars know their subject matter very well. Warriors fight in battles, both physical and intellectual,” Dugan said, adding that law enforcement officers must be both.

“You are graduating from citizen to scholar-warrior,” Dugan said.

The new officers join the profession at an interesting time.

“As a profession, we’re facing some difficult challenges. But anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm,” Dugan said. “Once your badge is pinned over your hearts for the first time, your words and actions will be evaluated. Not only by your superiors but by the public. Your actions will change the face of law enforcement. The question is, will you change it for the better?”

Last week’s graduates will see some glorious examples of human beauty and glory, Dugan said.

“You’ll also see the darkness and evil some allow to flourish in their hearts,” she said.

Dugan reminded the graduates that completing the training academy is the first step, encouraging them to continue learning and improving.

“There is no growth in your comfort zone, and no comfort in your growth zone,” Dugan said. “The desire for safety keeps us from moving forward. Be bold in your decisions, but choose wisely.”

Cinco de Mayo goes bad for alleged motorcycle thief

Manuel Alonzo Perez spent both Cinco de Mayo and his birthday three days later in jail after stealing three pine-scented auto air fresheners and a pack of Kamel Red cigarettes, which is ironic because the custom-built Harley Davidson motorcycle he allegedly stole is also red.

Perez, 33, remains in the Eagle County jail on a $17,500 bond.

What police say happened

Perez’s Cinco de Mayo saga began in Vail during the early morning hours. Witnesses say he was wandering around Vail Village and made his way into the Solaris parking structure. There he allegedly stole a bright-red custom-built 2007 Harley Davidson Dyna, the property of a Solaris homeowner.

He rode the motorcycle west from Vail to Edwards, where he became the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office’s problem.

Perez stopped at an Edwards convenience store where he picked up three pine-tree shaped scented auto air fresheners, came to the counter and asked for a pack of Kamel Red cigarettes. When the clerk told him he could not leave without paying, Perez answered, “Call the cops. I don’t have any money,” the Sheriff’s Office report said. So she did.

The three air fresheners cost $9.45. The cigarettes cost $11.41 for a total theft of $20.86, the Sheriff’s Office report said.

Perez rode west along Highway 6 to the park and ride stop in Wolcott where he was spotted by deputies. When Perez spotted the deputies he fired up the Harley and tried to run. However, as he tried to run he also tried to run over one of the deputies, the Sheriff’s Office report says. That’s when he crashed the allegedly stolen motorcycle.

Along with the Harley Davidson Dyna crashed and lying on its side, deputies found the cigarettes and air fresheners, which they later returned to the convenience store.

Perez was booked into the Eagle County jail by 9 a.m. He’s charged with shoplifting, vehicular eluding, assault II on a peace officer, criminal attempt to commit, reckless endangerment, obstructing a peace officer, driving under restraint, no insurance and an expired license plate on the allegedly stolen motorcycle, motor vehicle theft, and second-degree burglary of a residence/no force. He’s back in court later this month.

High-speed chase through Eagle County ends with foot pursuit, arrest in Park County

A teenager driving a car stolen in Los Angeles led law enforcement on an overnight 140-mph chase across several Colorado counties before being caught and arrested Friday morning after he crashed the car and tried to flee on foot.

The chase started around 7:25 p.m. near Gypsum when Colorado State Patrol troopers tried to stop a Volkswagen Jetta headed east on Interstate 70 at around 120 mph. The vehicle fled, and the trooper stopped pursuit about six miles down the road, according to a release from Colorado State Patrol.

Eight minutes after that original call, the Jetta had traveled 27 miles east to the Avon area. By that time it was rolling at around 140 mph and weaving, according to the state patrol

Troopers tried tire deflation devices, but the Jetta driver managed to avoid them and continued east on I-70.

About four minutes later, at around 7:42 p.m., Vail Police tried to stop the Jetta, which was still rolling east on I-70 at 120 mph.

Seven minutes later, at 7:49 p.m., the Jetta was spotted at a rest stop near Vail and law enforcement tried to keep it there. Both the driver and a female passenger climbed out of the car. The female surrendered but the driver got back in the vehicle, drove off the road and onto Vail bike path where he struck a Colorado State Patrol vehicle.

The Jetta driver headed over Vail Pass and into Summit County. He exited I-70 to Highway 91, then onto Highway 24 into Lake County.

Law enforcement officers decided to abandon the chase, but that seemed to make little difference to the Jetta driver.

At 8 p.m., a driver on a county road on Trout Creek Road that runs through Chaffee and Park counties called 911 to report that a vehicle with its lights off passed him on the right shoulder at a high rate of speed.

An hour later on Highway 24 in Park County, Park County Sheriff’s Deputies spotted the Jetta going 138 mph and took up the chase.

Eight minutes later they found the Jetta at Wilkerson Pass in Park County, disabled from a single-vehicle crash. It appeared the driver fled on foot, the State Patrol said.

Several law enforcement agencies searched through the night and caught the driver at 5 a.m. Friday. Both the driver and the female passenger are 17 years old. Multiple charges are pending for the driver, the State Patrol said.

Forest Service asks users to apply better judgment on public lands

People partially freed from quarantine restraints headed into the national forest in droves, but several left a trail of trouble behind, according to White River National Forest officials.

Four people were base-jumping from the cliffs above Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon, and one landed in the hospital. The trail to Hanging Lake remains closed, and off-trail travel is never allowed in this area, the Forest Service said.

“We never want to see people breaking rules and engaging in high-risk behavior, but it’s especially worrisome given the current situation,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said. “We don’t want to pull emergency officials away from focusing on the pandemic.”

If that’s not enough, every ranger district in the White River National Forest reported finding multiple unattended campfires last weekend.

“This isn’t rocket science. Follow the area fire restrictions. If you can have a campfire, enjoy it safely and make sure it is completely out before you leave,” Fitzwilliams said. “It’s only a matter of time before one of these abandoned campfires sparks a larger fire.”

The National Weather Service issued fire restrictions last week, citing high winds and low humidity.

A muddy trail is a closed trail

Chains on several seasonal Forest Service gates were cut to gain access to closed areas. In other areas, people are driving around the gates.

Those trails are closed to keep people from disturbing wildlife and damaging roads, Fitzwilliams said. Several other roads are open but are muddy, and suffered serious damage from motorized travel.

“Please stay off muddy roads. Be patient, these spring conditions will improve,” Fitzwilliams said.

You also need to pack out your trash, Fitzwilliams said.

“Public lands are a tremendous resource available to us during these stressful times. But people need to be responsible and use common sense. We are all in this together,” Fitzwilliams said.

If you see illegal behavior, Fitzwilliams asks that you contact your local ranger district or sheriff’s office.

Echo the drug-sniffing dog is safer thanks to donated body armor

Echo, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office’s lone K-9, is both safer and resplendent thanks to a national organization and a local donor.

Echo is now wearing a bullet and stab protective vest from Vested Interest in K9s Inc. The vest was sponsored by Agnes Harakal of Eagle and embroidered with the sentiment, “In memory of Deputy Inspector Joseph Cassidy NYPD.”

The retail value of the vest is between $1744 and $2283 and it carries a five year warranty. Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. secures ballistic vests at a special price of $960 from a US manufacturer.  It weighs about 4.5-5 lbs.

Aptitude and attitude

Echo is a drug detection dog working with deputy Rebecca Anderson. Echo is the ninth K-9 to work with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and is the only active K-9 currently.

About any dog can be trained to do these things, but not every dog wants to be. Like much of modern life, drive and mindset matter more than gender, Anderson said.

Echo was hand-selected by a breeder in Germany because she showed an aptitude for law enforcement work.

Echo is not a bite dog, she’s a patrol dog. She’s trained to sniff out illegal narcotics, specifically: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and psilocybin mushrooms.

She’s mellow when she’s not working. On the other hand, she loves her work and doesn’t want to stop, Anderson said.

Drug detection dogs do not go ballistic when they find something they’re supposed to find and that you’re not supposed to have. She sits or lies down and stares at the stuff. If she can reach it, she puts her nose on it, Anderson said.

Echo can also pick up human scent, Anderson said, so she can help find children or adults who might have wandered off.

About the only time Echo might be aggressive is when someone is aggressive with Anderson.

He was shot trying to stop an armed classmate during the STEM School shooting. Now, Josh Jones is focused on helping others.

Josh Jones sometimes reaches down to feel the scars on his legs, the skin still slightly numb to his touch.

It’s the physical reminder of when Jones, then a high school senior, was shot twice in his English class on May 7, 2019, after leaping from his desk to disarm a classmate threatening to open fire.

Jones says he doesn’t think about the shooting inside the STEM School Highlands Ranch all that often. But when he runs his fingers over those scars, he’s reminded of how blessed he is that he’s still here, that he can run and jump and walk through northern Colombia, preaching the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I’ve really come to the conclusion that, as terrible as it was, it’s helped my life,” Jones said. “It has helped me realize what I wanted to do and how much I want to help people.”

It’s been one year since two teenage students attempted to shoot up Jones’s English class. One year since 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo was killed as he tackled a shooter, saving his classmates. One year since Jones and his friend Brendan Bialy joined Castillo to take down the shooter. One year since Jones called his mother as he held down a gunman, telling her that he was bleeding, but otherwise okay.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Court of Appeals affirms convictions in Swan Mountain attempted murder

The Colorado Court of Appeals has affirmed in part the conviction of Tyrus Walter Vanmatre, who is serving a life sentence after luring a man up to Swan Mountain and attempting to murder him with a machete in 2014.

In June of that year, Vanmatre drove victim Jadon Jellis from the Denver area to Summit County along with another juvenile, purportedly to attend a party on Swan Mountain.

As they were hiking up the mountain, Vanmatre and the juvenile stunned Jellis with a Taser. Vanmatre then attacked Jellis with an 18-inch serrated sword, striking him in the face, head and hand. Jellis was able to fend the men off with a knife he brought on the hike, stabbing Vanmatre in the chest. He escaped and was able to flag down a Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was driving by.

Jellis was taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco before being flown via Flight For Life to a Front Range hospital. Vanmatre, who maintained in trial that he acted in self-defense, was later admitted to the same hospital where he was taken into custody.

In September 2015, Vanmatre was convicted of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit assault, menacing with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment.

In January 2016, Chief Judge Mark Thompson sentenced Vanmatre to life in prison without parole. Vanmatre appealed the conviction, claiming there was insufficient evidence to support kidnapping charges, that statements he made during his police interrogation should have been suppressed, prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office and more.

On April 30, the Colorado Court of Appeals largely affirmed Vanmatre’s convictions, according to an opinion penned by Judge Diana Terry.

In his appeal, Vanmatre contended there was not sufficient evidence to support a conviction of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, charges that require an individual to demand something from the victim to secure their release. The court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support the claim.

Vanmatre also contended the court should have suppressed statements he made during his police interrogation at his trial. Police conducted their initial interview with Vanmatre while he was still at the hospital, where he chose to waive his Miranda rights — essentially a law that “prohibits the admission of incriminating statements” made during police interviews unless the defendant has been advised of the rights and waived them.

Vanmatre argued that his waiver of rights wasn’t valid, noting that he was under the influence of pain medication and was suffering discomfort from his injuries. He also said that he was confused and “not aware of what’s going on right now” at the beginning of the interrogation.

The court found that Vanmatre’s waiver of rights was valid, saying that police properly advised him of his rights in person and in writing and that Vanmatre verbally acknowledged his decision and initialed a Miranda advisement form saying he wanted to waive his rights. The court also found that “no evidence supports his contention that medications or his physical condition caused his waiver to be involuntary” and called his confusion “feigned.”

Additionally, Vanmatre said he asked to speak to an attorney while the recorder was off, a statement contradicted by police. He also said that police threatened to charge his mother with a crime if he didn’t say what police wanted.

The court wasn’t persuaded, noting that “the trial court did not find that testimony credible, and we see nothing in the record that causes us to question that finding.”

In the appeal, Vanmatre also argued that he should be granted a new trial because of misconduct on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, saying during closing arguments that prosecutors referenced facts not entered into evidence, misstated the law and voiced opinions on his credibility.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals found no prosecutorial misconduct.

Finally, Vanmatre argued that the two conspiracy convictions should have been merged, a point conceded by prosecutors. Vanmatre’s convictions on the two conspiracy charges were vacated and remanded back to trial court to be merged. The court affirmed all of Vanmatre’s other convictions.