I’ll state my bias here right up front. Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis is one of the most enlightened law enforcement officer around — and practicing criminal defense as long as I have, I’ve met quite a few. At 61 and still standing 6/6″, Braudis has been Aspen’s sheriff since 1986. This year he picked up a challenger, Rick Magnuson, who is the Aspen Police Department community safety officer. Their crime-fighting philosophies, particularly with respect to the war on drugs, couldn’t be more different. But Magnuson just pulled a dirty trick. This spring, Braudis had been sick for a few months. I saw him twice in Aspen the first weekend in June and he was clearly suffering from bronchitis. On Friday he told me that had been his first day out of the house. The bronchitis had lingered and wouldn’t go away. His doctor had insisted on him having blood tests, and it came back with news that he had very high cholesterol and blood pressure. He also said he had packed on a few too many pounds. Here’s a picture I took of him that weekend. So Braudis took a seven week leave of absence to get his health in order. He didn’t tell outsiders where he was going. Magnuson decided to play undercover cop.
Desert Canyon is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Sedona, Ariz., and the caller was aching to know whether Aspen’s only elected law enforcement official was there. Client names are confidential, the receptionist explained, but if Braudis were at the center, she would be sure to pass on a message. The caller told her the sheriff should call the editor of the Aspen Daily News and he provided her a phone number. Although Desert Canyon bills itself as a sanctuary where addicts can go to kick booze or drugs, it emphasizes healing for the entire body. Braudis said he initially enrolled in the center after receiving a physical in May when he tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, discovered his cholesterol was irregular and his blood pressure too high. The 6-foot, 6-inch tall sheriff also was battling a difficult-to-shake bronchial infection. When he received the message to call Rick Carroll, the editor of this newspaper, Braudis noticed the phone number he was provided was off by one digit. He called the number where he knew he could reach Carroll. The editor said he left no such message. Weeks later, upon returning to Aspen, the sheriff learned the true identity of the enigmatic Desert Canyon caller. It was none other than Rick Magnuson, the Aspen Police Department community safety officer who is gunning for his seat in the forthcoming November election. Magnuson maintains it was his duty to find out where the sheriff had been.
Magnuson’s campaign platform is substance abuse. He favors using undercover cops and bringing outside agencies into Aspen to conduct raids.
“The current administration’s policies are set up to ignore some issues and I think that needs to change. Sheriff Braudis has an outdated philosophy. There are a lot of drug issues here, there are a lot of substance-abuse problems, and I don’t think he’s addressing that,” Magnuson said. “
Braudis has a far different attitude.
Braudis agrees times have changed, but he is steadfast in his belief the war on drugs is a waste of time and money. Education and rehabilitation are far more effective than incarceration, he says, asserting that drug abuse is an issue of health, not criminality. … [W] e cannot afford to continually incarcerate otherwise nonviolent, decent people for what I consider crimes of human weakness, not moral turpitude. Jails were invented to separate predators from the prey. Jails were invited to cage people who do very bad things to their fellow man — not people who copped an addiction because of a lifestyle or a genetic predisposition.” ….”If you take the money we spend on interdiction, incarceration investigation, probation, — all these -ations — if you take that amount of money and invested it in research and treatment for addiction, we would probably have an anti-addiction drug just as we have a boner pill. Leave it to America to come up with a boner bill before a cancer pill. Right now treatment and education are so poorly funded in relation to incarceration, it is almost embarrassing. So should local law enforcement train their finite resources to try to tell an adult you can’t smoke that or you can’t ingest that? I personally believe it’s a losing battle. It’s a waste of money. We try to hand off certain drug investigations to the DEA and most of their responses are: ‘Oh, we know about that guy but he’s too small for us. Well if he’s too small for an agency that has nothing else to do than to adhere to their mission statement to enforce drug laws, it’s probably too small for a very tiny department like the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. There are a million laws on the books. We can’t enforce them all. I decide which laws we’re going to emphasize and citizen input is very important to me. I have been criticized by a very small minority of Pitkin County residents for our drug enforcement policy. If I had 80 percent of the residents here say, ‘We want you to crank it up,’ I would have to crank it up or say this is not my job anymore.”
Manguson offers a weak defense for his snooping on Braudis:
Magnuson claims he never purported to be an Aspen Daily News editor; only that he asked Braudis to call the newspaper. He said it was his attempt to turn the media on to the story of the sheriff’s whereabouts. Magnuson also made up a reason why Braudis should call the paper. He said it concerned “a legal matter.” There was no legal matter.
Braudis, now back on the job, sober and feeling very healthy, explains his treatment:
“I was basically there to make an investment in my own health. I’d been neglecting the organism that will carry me through to the finish line in a big way. It had to do with blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. After showing up at Desert Canyon, I realized that alcohol is considered poison by the organism. It was a very educational month. Although my alcohol intake probably peaked in the ’80s, there is a cumulative effect. I was edified to learn my liver was in great shape but all the other numbers — blood pressure, cholesterol, etceteras — are affected by alcohol so the educational and nutritional components of Desert Canyon led me to the decision to live alcohol free.”
He also asked Manguson why he did what he did:
“I confronted Rick and asked him what this is about, why he lied to the receptionist. We had a dialogue about deception. We had a dialogue about the purpose of his investigation and as far as I am concerned, it wasn’t satisfactorily responded to.”
Yet, Braudis still intends to take the high road:
Despite recent history, Braudis says he respects Magnuson. “I’ve liked Rick since I met him. I think he is a very nice person. I’ve actually tried to recruit him as a deputy sheriff over the years and I sincerely think he would fit in with my team. … I’m taking the high road in this campaign. I’m not going to throw any mud at Rick or spear him. I’m more than anxious to debate these issues you have raised and any other issues that bubble up through the campaign process. Having run unopposed in four elections has been boring. It’s been easy. You don’t have to raise money. You don’t have to knock on doors. You don’t have to have debate. This has energized me. I’m looking forward to it and the day after they count the votes, we’ll know which philosophy appeals to the most people.”
Braudis, as is typical of him, is being far too generous. Manguson is wrong in his drug war philosophy. He’s attacking a Sheriff who has grown with the times and who has responsibly and professionally handled the demanding and varied tasks required of a resort town Sheriff who must appease the locals, the tourists and the wealthy out of towners. Crime is not rampant in Aspen. Neither is major drug trafficking. Compared to the 1970’s and 80’s, the place is the spitting image of good health and clean living. Do some people use and sell drugs? Yes, just like they do everywhere else. And when someone violates the law in Aspen, the Sheriffs, acting as themselves, not as phony undercover agents, arrest them and turn them over for prosecution. Justice is served. Maybe Manguson should apply for a job in the Bush Administration where snooping is de rigeur. It’s out of place in a small town like Aspen where trust between the community and law enforcment is a far more valuable commodity. Braudis has been a great asset to Aspen. If the cart’s not broke, don’t fix it.