The Aspen teenager who faces 14 felony counts of sexual assault involving multiple victims has been accused of another crime: introducing “contraband” into the Pitkin County Jail.
On the morning of May 9, sheriff’s deputy Monique Merritt was dispatched to the jail on a report that a jailer had found a bottle of “hooch” — the slang term for alcoholic liquor of inferior quality that’s made or obtained illicitly — in the teenager’s cell, according to Merritt’s affidavit in support of an arrest warrant.
The teen, who is now 18, was 17 or younger at the time he allegedly committed the sexual assaults. The Aspen Daily News has chosen not to name him pending the outcome of an Aug. 1 “reverse transfer” hearing in which he is seeking to be charged as a juvenile.
In the affidavit, Merritt writes that when she arrived at the jail, the detention deputy showed her the plastic bottle, which contained a “thick reddish pink substance” with a “distinct sweet fermented smell,” much like a sweet wine. A test on the liquid came back positive for alcohol, according to Merritt’s report.
When Merritt questioned the teen about what was in the trash can, he claimed ignorance, the report suggests. He told her he asked the detention deputy to move a trash can into his room because he didn’t have one.
Pressed further, the teen told Merritt he made a drink earlier in the week that was “gross” and that he might have thrown it into the trash can. She asked what was in the drink, and he reportedly said, “I don’t know, like milk and stuff.” The report says he told Merritt that he had seen another jail detainee eating “an ice cream thing” and it looked good. As he was tired of plain milk, he tried to make ice cream, the teen allegedly said.
Merritt informed the teen that the substance tested positive for alcohol and that it was time to come clean.
“I asked [him] what was in the bottle we found,” Merritt wrote. “[He] said, ‘Hot reds, jolly ranchers, banana and a little milk.’ [He] told me he left the bottle in the fridge and forgot about it. Then yesterday he took it out, tasted it by dipping his finger in the bottle and licking his finger, and decided it was so gross he threw it out.”
The teen insisted, according to Merritt, that he didn’t know the ingredients would make alcohol.
“[He] said he’s been sober for nine months and does not want to go back to drinking,” Merritt wrote.
The jailer supplied Merritt with a copy of the inmate handbook, which lists possession of any intoxication beverage or fermenting ingredient as a major rule violation. The teen signed a copy of it indicating that he reviewed jail rules and regulations, the report states.
The two new charges include: introducing contraband in the first degree, a class 4 felony, and illegal possession of ethyl alcohol by an underage person, a petty offense.
The teen appeared before District Court Judge Chris Seldin on Monday afternoon, but the “hooch” matter was barely mentioned. Instead, his defense attorney, M. Trent Trani of Denver, discussed procedural matters related to the upcoming Aug. 1 reverse transfer hearing with Seldin and prosecutor Don Nottingham.
In May, a scheduled preliminary hearing for the teen was canceled amid the announcement of a plea offer from the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The deal includes a 16-year state Department of Corrections sentence — with 10 of those years suspended — on a single count of second-degree assault, a class 4 felony.
Under the offer, the teen would be sent to the Youth Offender System facility in Pueblo, a maximum-security prison operated by the corrections department that houses male and female felony offenders, between the ages of 14 and 25, who have been convicted as adults regardless of their age.
In court on Monday, officials said the offer is still officially pending, but that the reverse transfer hearing would remain on the court’s schedule.
The teen is being held in the Aspen jail under $300,000 bond. Authorities have stated previously that the local investigation has uncovered as many as 10 sexual-assault victims.
Keegan Callahan, 21, of Woody Creek, faces similar charges involving fewer alleged victims. His bond has been set at $100,000. One victim reported to police that she was assaulted by the two of them together, while another said both males were present when she was assaulted by one of them.