Men testified before secret body prior to being indicted, court filing says
Two former building inspectors for the city of Aspen and Pitkin County did not realize they were the targets of a grand jury investigation into the carbon monoxide deaths of a Denver family when they testified before the secret body, according to court documents filed in a lawsuit.
The grand jury in 2010 indicted Brian Pawl, who is now the county’s chief building official, and Erik Peltonen, a former local government inspector, on felony and misdemeanor charges for the 2008 deaths of Caroline Lofgren, 42; her husband, Parker, 39; and their children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8. They died over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2008 after a boiler leaked the deadly gas into the home at 10 Popcorn Lane where they were staying outside of Aspen.
Marlin Brown, the owner of a Glenwood Springs plumbing and heating company that was a subcontractor on the home’s construction, also was indicted by the local grand jury. But when he testified before the grand jury, Brown had an attorney who advised him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, wrote Denver attorney William Hansen in a Dec. 10 filing in Pitkin County District Court.
Hansen is representing relatives of the Lofgrens in their civil lawsuit against 10 entities, including the mansion’s then-owner and various contractors who worked on the home, for alleged roles in the family’s deaths.
All of the criminal charges were dismissed in 2011 because the dates used on the grand jury’s indictment of the men were outside the statute of limitations. The county, Peltonen and Pawl were subsequently dismissed from the family members’ civil lawsuit, which was filed in Denver District Court.
Hansen since May has sought testimony and evidence presented to the grand jury to use on the civil side. In October, Hansen and attorneys representing some of the defendants traveled to Aspen to take depositions from Pawl and Peltonen, as both sides wanted to know what they said to the grand jury.
Both men, on the advice of their lawyers, took the Fifth, citing the possibility of them again facing criminal prosecution or civil liability.
That has now changed, and Peltonen and Pawl will “provide deposition testimony in the civil case without further invoking any privilege against self-incrimination regarding the actions and inspections associated with 10 Popcorn Lane ...,” Hansen wrote.
The filing is a judicial notice of an agreement and joint motion to release “certain grand jury materials.”
Pawl and Peltonen’s decision to speak about their inspections of the mansion precludes the need to access their grand jury transcripts, Hansen wrote.
There are several reasons for their decision to discuss their inspections, according to the filing. Because all of the criminal charges were dropped, “they should retain their status as preemptively innocent despite being what they contend was wrongfully accused,” the motion says. Also, “there remains a legitimate concern for retribution and social stigma.”
With the men being civil servants at the time, “disclosure of such testimony would result in a future deterrent for building officials to voluntarily appear before grand juries to give testimony,” Hansen wrote.
When Pawl and Peltonen voluntarily appeared before the grand jury during its year-long investigation, they “were inadequately prepared ... and had no understanding that they were potential targets of the grand jury investigation,” the motion says.
Hansen also is seeking a court order that would allow Aspen prosecutors and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to release the Munchkin boiler that leaked the gas and vent piping for the apparatus. Both the plaintiffs and defendants want to examine the boiler and piping, and District Attorney Martin Beeson did not object to the items being released. The boiler is currently in the custody of the sheriff’s office.
While he is no longer seeking the testimony of Pawl and Peltonen, Hansen does want the grand jury transcripts of various individuals involved in the home’s ownership and construction.
Judge Daniel Petre of the 9th Judicial District has not ruled yet on what, if anything, of the grand jury proceedings can be released. In November, he set up a pleadings schedule that allows the plaintiffs, defendants and others involved in the lawsuit to either support or oppose the release of certain evidence.