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Lawsuit alleges police brutality

A local resident is leveling charges of brutality at the Durango and Farmington police departments. However, Jerome Gardner, son of former La Plata County Sheriff Bill Gardner, has also been charged with assault on a police officer, a case that is currently being tried.

The incident occurred Sept. 1 last year during the Iron Horse Motorcycle Rally in a house west of Durango on Highway 160. According to police, who were trying to break up a party at the house, Gardner, a 22-year-old Fort Lewis College student, refused to leave when asked, resisted arrest and punched an officer.

Because of the Iron Horse Rally, seven Farmington police officers also were on assignment with Durango police. According to the incident report, Gardner was pepper-sprayed by a Farmington officer around the eyes.

Gardner and other witnesses allege that officers pushed, yelled, swore and threatened to arrest or pepper-spray people who did not leave. Gardner said that he had permission to stay because he was playing with a band that night at the house. But an officer, who was tapping a baton in his hand, told Gardner he had to leave. Gardner alleges officers then surrounded him, ordered him to leave and handcuffed him. He said that he was pepper-sprayed in the face for no apparent reason, at which time he fell forward and was beaten with batons.

Gardner is filing a civil lawsuit alleging assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, negligent imprisonment, and use of excessive force. He said the $500,000 suit is not financially driven.

“Basically, the real reason that I’m trying to be active in pursuing a civil suit is I want to see some change,” Gardner said. “The change is the relation between college students and police. A lot of my friends were afraid to go out after that night.”

Gardner added: “I don’t want to perpetuate a negative cycle and point fingers and blame. I just don’t want to see police treat people this way.”

Gardner’s suit has been filed, but it will be dormant until criminal charges against him are resolved. Gardner was charged with assault on a police officer, a case that went before a motions hearing Oct. 11. A final determination on whether or not the case will be pursued will be made Nov. 15. Gardner is disappointed that the case is on such a slow-track.

“It’s been really frustrating for me because it’s been more than a year now,” he said. “The motions hearing was supposed to happen in March. Everything’s just taken so long.”

Meanwhile, Gardner said he has asked for an internal investigation of the incident. He said an investigator was supposed to be working on it in Farmington but said as far as he knew, nothing was happening in Durango.

Captain Dale Smith said that force was used in the apprehension, but that he doesn’t believe Durango Police were at fault for misconduct. “Our stance, of course, is that we disagree with the allegations,” he said. “This incident occurred well over a year ago. We’re now in the middle of a hearing and the defense is raising the allegations.”

Smith confirmed that Gardner has requested an internal investigation. “We have received a letter from Mr. Gardner asking for an investigation, but there has not been an internal investigation as of yet,” he said.

Arson possible in trailer fire

Arson is suspected as the cause of a fire that quickly consumed a north valley mobile home last week. Durango Fire & Rescue Authority officials are awaiting results from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation before making a ruling.

The fire started around 5 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Durango North Village trailer park on County Road 203, just south of Trimble Lane. Crews responded, but the fire burned hot and the trailer was completely lost within 10 minutes. The home was owned by Ray Grossardt and his girlfriend, Joy Mason, and the fire occurred shortly after Grossardt left to get a pack of cigarettes.

“It does look like it was intentionally set,” said Dave Abercrombie, spokesman for the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority. “We do not have any suspects at this point.”

CBI is making a final determination as to whether arson was involved.

Abercrombie said results should be available by next week.

“Obviously, everyone’s concerned if we have arson in the area that we take care of it as quickly as possible,” he said.

City cracks down on BK sign

The new Burger King at the corner of Camino del Rio and Main Avenue is continuing to ruffle the feathers of city of Durango officials. The franchise’s brightly lit sign is in violation of a city ordinance, and the city said the owner of the business has two weeks to replace it.

Since its construction, Burger King has gotten into repeated trouble with city planners. First, the restaurant installed blue mullions, the separations between window panes, rather than the approved bronze. The building also has a two-story playground structure rather than the one and one-quarter story that was originally planned. There also have been concerns about the amount of light pollution the restaurant emits.

“The owner of the Burger King relied on contractors who ended up doing the wrong thing,” said City Planning Director Greg Hoch. “There were a whole bunch of issues related to the property, and signage is one of the last things they have to address.”

The large, square sign’s white background is the essence of the problem. The city requires white lettering on dark backgrounds, particularly when the sign is backlit and on at night.

On July 30, members of the planning department met with the owner of the franchise and gave him 90 days to replace the sign.

“He’s given us notification that he’s going to comply, but we’re still waiting,” says Hoch.

Burger King’s 90 days expire at the end of the this month.

City defends political signage

In separate city of Durango signage news, the Planning Department defended itself against charges that it was expressing campaign sign favoritism toward Democrats.

Randy Hubbs, chairman of the La Plata County Republican Central Committee, charged in a letter to the Durango Herald that Democrats had been allowed to put their signs up early and in public places. Hubbs said that on the other hand, the city had sent a warning to Republican headquarters to not do the same. Campaign signs cannot be placed in the public right of way and cannot be erected more than 30 days prior to an election, which includes early voting.

“I was notified that there was a complaint about political signage cropping up in town early and in the wrong places,” said Planning Director Greg Hoch.

Hoch added that early voting allows signs to be put up as early as September, and there is widespread confusion about who owns the public right of way. In addition, Hoch said that warnings were given to both Democrats and Republicans.

In closing, Hoch said that this issue somehow seems to come up “every two years.”

Tallwhiteman guilty in stabbing

The Ignacio man responsible for a Main Avenue stabbing this spring was found guilty last week.

Roy Allen Tallwhiteman was found guilty on several charges, including attempted reckless manslaughter, which could carry a maximum of 38 years in prison.

On March 26, Tallwhiteman stabbed then-Durango resident Augie Giordano with an 8-inch knife. He was also accused of running the knife across a tourist’s chest in a menacing manner.

After a jury deliberated for more than 10 hours Oct. 11, Tallwhiteman was found guilty of attempted reckless manslaughter, first-degree assault with intent to cause serious bodily injury, first-degree assault with extreme indifference, menacing with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment.

He faces a maximum of 38 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for 8 a.m. Nov. 22 in District Court.

Assistant District Attorney Craig Westberg had asked the jury to convict Tallwhiteman of first-degree attempted murder but said he was pleased with the outcome and would be pushing for maximum sentence.





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