A Glenwood Springs man who had been accused of extorting $2,600 in cash from a Latino couple after a minor traffic accident had a felony charge dismissed Monday because he participated in an alternative judicial approach.
Aron Kendrick, 35, had been charged with extortion after the Highway 82 incident on Oct. 26. The charge was dropped because he has successfully completed a program called “restorative justice,” a prosecutor said.
On the snowy morning of Oct. 26, a Carbondale man was driving his girlfriend to work in Aspen. Near Aspen Village, he lost control of his car and hit a Jersey barrier. Kendrick had to swerve around the man’s car and then parked on the shoulder, according to his arrest warrant.
The man said that when he ran up to Kendrick after the accident to see if he was all right, Kendrick “asked me, ‘You have papers? You have everything?’” wrote Pitkin County Sheriff’s investigator Brad Gibson.
He told Kendrick no, believing that he was being asked for his driver’s license, registration and insurance. Kendrick allegedly said to the victim, “I’m gonna call the sheriff.”
The man apparently told Kendrick to go ahead and do so, and Kendrick said, “Well, you need to give me money. You were driving this way (causing the accident) and it is your fault,” Gibson wrote in the warrant.
Kendrick allegedly asked for $5,000, saying that his SUV had been damaged. Also, Kendrick allegedly told the man, whose car insurance had expired, that if he gave him money Kendrick would go away.
The man’s girlfriend told Gibson that her “understanding of the situation was they could give Aron Kendrick money or he was going to call the police and have them arrested,” the warrant says. “[The boyfriend] gave Kendrick the money so he would not have any problems. [He] was not sure this was the best solution to the problem, but at that moment he was very nervous.”
At the time of the accident, the man gave authorities an identification card showing that he is a legal resident here. The couple didn’t typically have that kind of cash on them but they did that day for rent and other purchases.
In court Monday, Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court praised the use of the restorative justice system.
During the process, Kendrick met with a mediator, the victims and other members of the Latino community so he can understand the impact of his actions, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan said in an interview.
He also has paid full restitution, she said.
Kendrick’s meeting with the victims and other members of the Hispanic community helps to “give him more sensitivity” to that segment of the valley’s population, she said.
As part of Kendrick’s restorative justice contract, he is taking a Colorado Mountain College language program called Intercambio, Bryan said. The classes help break cultural barriers by pairing students who want to learn Spanish with Spanish-speaking students who want to learn English, according to CMC’s website.
Other contractual terms, besides the restitution, include 48 hours of community service and a letter of apology. The felony charge can be refiled if he fails to meet the terms.
The restorative justice approach was used based on Kendrick’s lack of a criminal history, and discussion with the alleged victims and other prosecutors in the 9th Judicial District, Bryan said.
Kendrick’s attorney, Greg Greer of Glenwood Springs, applauded District Attorney Sherry Caloia’s office for using the alternative system.
Greer said he has lobbied for restorative justice during his two decades as a defense attorney, and always had been met with resistance from prosecutors. He thanked Bryan for being open to the suggestion.
“I’m glad you thought of the process, and I’m glad the D.A. went along with it,” Nichols said. “Mr. Kendrick, you’ve led the way. In this district we’ve never had restorative justice end in a dismissal.”