Basalt bartender’s disdain for local vodka triggers incident that leads to arrest on suspicion of menacing, assault

Man with handgun intervenes to subdue irate bartender

Christopher D. Barker
Eagle County Jail booking photo

A Basalt bartender was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing, stalking and three misdemeanors after he allegedly went into a violent rage Tuesday when he learned a customer worked for Woody Creek Distillery.

Christopher D. Barker, 43, of Aspen Village, was arrested after a tense 20 minutes that included his alleged assault of his boss and another co-worker, pursuit of two customers outside of the restaurant and a confrontation with another man who intervened, according to Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott. Barker allegedly pulled a knife on the intervenor and the intervenor responded by pulling a handgun, according to an affidavit for a warrantless arrest filed in Eagle County District Court by Basalt police.

Knott said it was fortunate the episode didn’t end in tragedy after the intervenor pulled his handgun out of a holster during the chaotic moments when the first officer, Lt. Aaron Munch, arrived on the scene. The intervenor intended to show he posed no threat to officers but the action of pulling his gun could have easily been misconstrued, Knott said.

“Lt. Munch showed great restraint and control of the situation,” Knott said.

The arrest warrant said a woman was drinking at the Ocean restaurant’s bar in Willits Town Center with a male companion at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when Barker noticed the Woody Creek Distillery logo on the woman’s shirt.

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“Christopher commented stating something to the effect of ‘Your vodka sucks,'” the arrest affidavit said. “Christopher continue to give his negative opinion on Woody Creek Distillery, making it extremely uncomfortable for (the woman and man).”

The customers decided to leave but Barker continued to be aggressive toward them, according to police. The owner of the restaurant and other employees tried to restrain Barker as he attempted to chase the man and woman as they departed. The owner later told police he feared Barker wanted to physically harm the woman.

Barker allegedly elbowed his boss in the face and punched him in the stomach as Barker attempted to get at the customers. Barker also allegedly slammed another co-worker’s hand in the door while employees were trying to prevent him from attacking the customers.

Several employees of the restaurant restrained Barker while the customers departed. The customers initially entered a neighboring restaurant but left when they found it too full. Meanwhile, the Ocean’s owner ordered Barker out of the restaurant.

Incident spills into neighboring business

Barker and the two customers made contact by chance about 1½ blocks away from Ocean restaurant. He flipped them off while they flipped him off, the affidavit said. Barker allegedly gave chase and the couple ducked into a nearby business seeking refuge.

“(The female customer) was hiding in one of the offices as (the male customer) and staff requested (Barker) leave,” the affidavit said.

The woman later told police she feared for her life while she was in hiding. She called a friend who lives nearby in Willits. The friend’s husband heard about the woman’s predicament and decided to help, Knott said. The intervenor went to the business where the woman was hiding and got into a physical altercation with Barker, according to witnesses.

Barker allegedly pulled out a knife used by bartenders to open wine bottles and threatened the intervenor, the affidavit said. The intervenor “showed Christopher that he had a gun,” the affidavit said. “Christopher continued to threaten (the intervenor) as he moved towards him. (The intervenor) then pulled the gun out and pointed it at Christopher.”

Barker dropped his knife shortly before Lt. Munch arrived at the scene. The 911 calls to police dispatch disclosed that weapons were involved, so Munch exited his car with his handgun drawn.

Chaos greets first officer

Munch encountered a scene at the sidewalk along Robinson Street with one man screaming (Barker) and another man (the intervenor) a short distance away with a pistol visible in his holster, according to footage from Munch’s body cam. The Aspen Times reviewed that footage.

Munch ordered the man with the gun to get down on his knees and as the man started to comply, he calmly pulled his pistol out of the holster and set it on the ground. Munch was clearly concerned while the man was pulling out the handgun and screamed at the man to get face down to the ground and then crawl away from the gun. Almost simultaneously he ordered Barker to sit on the sidewalk. Another officer arrived and both men were placed in handcuffs for “investigative custody,” the affidavit said.

Knott said he interviewed the man who intervened in the dispute and learned he had intended to show he was compliant when he removed the pistol from the holster. He said he later realized his action could have been construed differently by the police officer, according to Knott.

The intervenor wasn’t arrested though Basalt police asked the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to review the incident and rule whether a charge was warranted.

Multiple witnesses, some with videos, confirmed that the intervenor pulled his handgun only after Barker made threats with a knife and allegedly yelled “I’m going to kill you,” according to the affidavit.

Officer Nino Santiago questioned Barker and said he smelled alcohol on Barker’s breath. Barker admitted he was drinking that day and that he had experienced some mental health issues, the affidavit said.

Barker was arrested on suspicion of two counts of third-degree assault for actions against two of his co-workers who tried to restrain him at Ocean. He was also arrested on suspicion of criminal mischief for other actions at the restaurant.

Barker was arrested on a charge of suspicion of stalking, a class 5 felony, for following the female and male customers out of Ocean. He was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing for pulling the knife and threatening the intervenor.

He was taken to Eagle County Detention Center on Tuesday night. Jail records show he was released Wednesday after posting $2,500 bail. His first appearance in Eagle County Court is May 6.

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