glenwood springs

Downtown Glenwood Springs. Law enforcement officials, including 9th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney, discussed police presence in the city Tuesday, especially in the aftermath of a misdemeanor case that brought to focus the homelessness population.

Glenwood Springs Chief of Police Joseph Deras answered questions Tuesday night concerning his department’s presence, or perceived lack thereof, particularly in the city’s downtown.

“My preference would be to have two sworn officers downtown at the peak points of everyday or every weekend — that’s just not feasible,” Deras said. “We don’t have all of the officers that we currently are authorized to have in Glenwood Springs.”

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario and 9th Judicial District Attorney Jefferson Cheney also joined Deras during Tuesday’s “Law Enforcement and Prosecution Virtual Information Session,” which was hosted by the city of Glenwood Springs.

Deras said when he took over as chief of police last year, the Glenwood Springs Police Department only had “20 cops.”

“Trying to cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you run out of staff very, very rapidly,” Deras said. “We just don’t have the amount of officers available to go and spend … committed patrol time downtown or to any particular neighborhood.”  

Tuesday’s dialogue was held in response to two recent altercations that occurred in the city’s downtown involving the same individual.

According to an affidavit filed with the 9th Judicial District Court, Sean Hurt, 37, was arrested by Glenwood Springs Police officers on Feb. 25 after he violated a protection order that barred him from getting within 100 yards of a local business downtown.

“Hurt was very agitated and was screaming to us that he didn’t violate anything and that he was only at the ice cream shop and not the tattoo shop,” the arresting officer stated in the affidavit. “Hurt was verbally aggressive with officers and yelling that he was going to sue all of us.”  

Hurt was later booked into the Garfield County Jail on one charge of violating a protection order, a class 2 misdemeanor. However, some community members felt as though Hurt should have been arrested sooner, namely, when he allegedly struck a 33-year-old Glenwood Springs resident after being refused service at a local business just a few days earlier. Instead of being arrested then, Hurt was only issued a summons for a municipal ordinance violation because the incident was not considered a “violent crime.” 

Cheney said he believed law enforcement officers, and those who defended them, had been increasingly “attacked” themselves, which made it even more difficult to recruit quality officers.

“Just three or four months ago the whole narrative was that you couldn’t even say that ‘Blue Lives Matter,’” Cheney said. “You were immediately attacked for defending police officers and the integrity of those that do the job overwhelmingly right.” 

Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered around homelessness in Glenwood Springs and how local law enforcement agencies were simply not equipped to deal with the issues’ numerous complexities.

 “We just can’t go around arresting everybody that’s homeless, even though the way they conduct themselves or their lifestyle might be offensive to some or unsightly,” Deras said. “It’s not the police’s job to go and take away their freedom and their liberties guaranteed to them by the constitution because somebody doesn’t like that situation.”

The city has contracted with Citadel Security, which provides additional security guards downtown, particularly during peak hours. Citadel’s presence was applauded during Tuesday’s discussion and several community members hoped it would continue particularly with the busy summer season rapidly approaching.

“You can just do a glimpse into the constitutional law throughout the United States and find that the courts have repeatedly said that homelessness is not in and of itself, per say, a criminal act,” Cheney said. “You cannot criminalize homelessness.”

Matthew Bennett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at: matthew@aspendailynews.com