Judge sets bond at $25K for alleged culprit of Pitkin County lockdown
A judge set a cash-only bond of $25,000 on Monday for a man whose alleged threats to public officials prompted the lockdown of Pitkin County’s administrative offices for two days last week.
Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin said he had no option but to set bond for Andrew Johnston — rather than release him from custody — due to his failure to honor a previous court order forbidding his contact with another person.
Seldin said Johnston might benefit greater from mental health treatment instead of jail time during the duration of his cases. Yet that was not an alternative for Seldin in the case against Johnston, who has not been clinically diagnosed with any mental health issues.
“But society does not provide me with that option,” Seldin said. “Instead, it provides me with the option of either incarcerating Mr. Johnston, and these jails are tasked with the difficult job of trying not only to serve as a correctional facility, but also as a mental health treatment facility.”
Seldin’s other alternative would have been to release Johnston from custody, but the judge said he could not do that because the defendant had ignored the judge’s previous order.
In that case, Seldin ordered that Johnston have no contact with a woman the judge said “undoubtedly suffering from extreme distress over that obsession (of Johnston’s).”
“You leave me with essentially no choice,” Seldin said when setting the bond at $25,000.
Johnston, 26, is currently in Pitkin County custody while being held in Garfield County Jail. Colorado Springs authorities apprehended him Wednesday and he was transferred to Garfield County on charges Seldin advised him of Monday, including misdemeanor harassment associated with his alleged threats.
Despite his public defender Ashley Andrews’ advice that Johnston not speak to the court, he chose to nonetheless. He said he did not pose a threat to the community, while Andrews argued that Johnston be released on a personal recognizance bond.
“I would like the opportunity to meet with a probation officer, to have a one-on-one to prove that I don’t have mental health problems,” Johnston said. “However, if mental health has been raised, I would have no problem seeing some sort of treatment, whatever that means.
“I would like to prove to the community that I’m not a danger or threat in any way, shape or form.”
Andrews said Johnston should have been receiving treatment for mental health when he was released from jail last year. Aspen police arrested Johnston in August on felony domestic-violence charges, and again in September after he allegedly violated the court’s protection order stemming from the August incidents.
The public defender said she believed Johnston was mentally competent enough for his legal matters to proceed, but he still needs help.
“Mr. Johnston is in this predicament that is unfortunately not unique to Mr. Johnston: Mr. Johnston suffers from mental health issues,“ she said, adding that the legal system failed him last year.
“Nowhere in that time was Mr. Johnston given treatment for his mental health and when he (was) released from custody again, he (was) not given treatment for mental health,“ she said. ”It’s not terribly surprising (the alleged threats he made) without addressing Mr. Johnston’s issues. I’m at a bit of a loss of how to proceed. … I don’t think that the state Mr. Johnston is (in) currently rises to the level of him being incompetent.”
Pitkin County authorities on April 13 closed the administrative building on East Main Street, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, for two days because of threatening emails the officials alleged Johnston sent to Commissioner Patti Clapper and another government employee. One email, with the subject line “Threat. Extreme Threat” said, “Hey man, Call the chairman or someone because I’m going to come shoot that place up.”
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham argued Monday for a cash-only bond because of Johnston’s alleged actions.
“Since he has been out of jail, he has caused Pitkin County to lock down based on his threats, which may be random and meaningless, but also a thing we need to take seriously,” he said.