A 26-year-old man who has challenged the validity of the court’s authority since his March arrest for allegedly squatting in a $3.6 million home in East Aspen failed to appear for his pretrial conference Monday.
In turn, Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin ordered a $100,000 cash-only bench warrant for Issac Brehm. Pitkin County is not the only jurisdiction seeking to take Brehm into custody; he also faces misdemeanor charges in both Garfield and Mesa counties. Presumably, he would have been arrested by the on-site Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy if he had appeared at the scheduled conference.
According to a self-proclaimed friend who has shown up to several of Brehm’s previous scheduled court appearances, Brehm is staying in De Beque.
“They’ve sent Garfield County sheriffs to pick him up; they’ve sent the marshal in De Beque to pick him up. He just beats it out the back door. He just doesn’t want to go to jail,” he told Seldin in his chambers during the public hearing held in Brehm’s absence.
The man said he’d posted bond for Brehm recently in Garfield County after he was arrested for driving without a license.
“I’m just hoping not to have to shell out $3,000,” he continued.
In Pitkin County, Brehm faces much steeper charges than the misdemeanors in neighboring counties. Brehm — who’s been convicted of four felonies in the last decade, starting with juvenile first-degree burglary — allegedly moved into the Mountain Laurel Drive house in December 2018. An arrest affidavit estimates that in the months living in the house, Brehm and his by-invitation “roommate,” Tyler Parks, 33, caused $25,000 in damages.
Brehm’s bond after being arrested in March was then set at $25,000. His mother “put up the house” to post a property bond, as Brehm’s friend described the situation.
The house belonged to a California woman in her 80s. She had been attempting to sell the property for several years. Her daughter who oversees the property noticed a spike in utility bills. It was photographs on Brehm’s Facebook page identifying the property that led Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies to the scene. Parks answered the door and was also arrested in the incident. Incidentally, Parks — who posted a $5,000 bond after that arrest — was also scheduled to appear in court Monday and failed to appear; in his case, Seldin ordered a $25,000 warrant.
From the outset, Brehm seemed to have prepared for conflict with law enforcement.
“Brehm … directed me to a metal container in the entryway of the house that contained the ‘adverse possession’ affidavit. In the container, I found a seven-page Affidavit of Adverse Possession,” sheriff’s deputy Chris Sulek wrote in an affidavit.
The adverse possession doctrine, commonly known as “squatters’ rights,” in Colorado allows a person who trespasses and occupies a property to eventually claim ownership of that property — but only after a minimum of 18 years openly occupying said property or after seven years of consistently paying property taxes.
Brehm allegedly could only claim about three months of occupancy, and instead of paying property taxes, he allegedly damaged the property — three of four narcotic identification kits for substances found at the house tested positive for heroin, according to the affidavit — and kept and used reportedly stolen vehicles.
Since then, when Brehm has made his scheduled court appearances, he’s come equipped with scripts printed from websites he’s found, often aligning with what’s known as the sovereign citizen movement. Sovereign citizens subscribe to a belief that by not consenting to be governed, the government doesn’t actually have any jurisdiction over their actions, especially when it comes to taxes and property. Utilizing his right to a preliminary hearing, Brehm used the opportunity to consistently call into question the court’s authority.
“To the extent that you’re asking for information concerning the jurisdiction of the court, it’s your job to do the research on that. I’ve already told you, the court believes it has jurisdiction to handle this case,” Seldin told Brehm in that preliminary hearing while looking through a multi-page printout the defendant had brought to the courtroom. “I have no doubt about that, in fact.”
Despite Seldin’s repeated urging that he seek legal counsel in his case, Brehm has so far insisted on representing himself — that is, until he seemingly ceased engagement altogether. Monday was not Brehm’s first missed appearance. He also missed a previously sought motions hearing in November. Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham requested a warrant at that time, but Seldin denied that request.
“Mr. Brehm, as I recall, was very eager to have a motions hearing but didn’t file any motions. As a consequence, when he failed to appear for the motions hearing, there having been no motions filed … the court didn’t fault him for failing to appear,” Seldin recounted Monday. “However, pretrial conferences… there’s no way to explain away the failure to appear for the pretrial conferences… pretrial conferences is a mandatory appearance and obviously essential in bringing a case to trial.”
That trial, scheduled for Jan. 13 and 14, was vacated. Brehm would have had to convince a jury that he was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of burglary of a dwelling, a class 3 felony, felony theft and criminal mischief, possession of schedule 2 drugs and two counts of felony aggravated motor vehicle theft. The class 3 felony burglary of a dwelling count alone carries a presumptive prison sentence of four to 12 years.
“Given the nearness of the trial dates, it would be prejudicial to the [prosecution] to require them to prepare for trial, and we don’t have any assurance that Mr. Brehm will appear,” Seldin said.