Fines, jail possible for police

Refusal to return pot could be costly

Attorney Kristopher Hammond has found himself in the middle of what he calls an "interesting irony."

On Feb. 2, he'll be sitting in a Routt County courtroom, in front of a Routt County judge, listening to a Routt County Sheriff's deputy and other law enforcement officers explain why they shouldn't be punished for disobeying the judge's order.

And taxpayers will be footing the bill "for them all to fight about it," Hammond said.

A Craig Police officer and a Moffat County Sheriff's deputy will also be present. They're among nine officers cited for contempt of court Wednesday by Routt County Judge James Garrecht.

The citation commands the officers to appear in court Feb. 2 "to show cause, if any they have, why they should not be punished for contempt, for neglect and refusal to comply with the Order of the Court ..."

The officers face possible fines or imprisonment or both.

The Craig Police officer and the Moffat County Sheriff's deputy are assigned to the Grand Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team. GRAMNET organized an October raid of the home of Hayden resident Don Nord. The officers confiscated marijuana, smoking pipes, indoor horticulture equipment and other items from Nord's home.

Nord, however, is legally registered as a medicinal marijuana user. According to state law, he's done nothing wrong.

The Colorado Constitution allows individuals suffering from certain debilitating conditions to grow and use marijuana if the drug is recommended by a physician.

On Dec. 8, Garrecht ordered the officers to return Nord's property. He gave them 21 days to comply.

GRAMNET returned some of the items they took from Nord's home, but two ounces of marijuana and the smoking pipes were not returned.

Hammond, who is Nord's attorney, filed a motion asking Garrecht to issue the contempt citations.

The court's authority, and public respect for it, constitute what Hammond calls a cornerstone of the "rule of law" in our society.

"If people needed to be forced by contempt of court to obey court orders, that's all the courts would do," Hammond said. "Who are you going to call when the police don't obey court orders?"

Federal law makes no concession for state laws that legalize marijuana. Technically, GRAMNET is a federal task force, although it is staffed with officers from police departments and sheriff's offices in Grand, Routt and Moffat counties. Only two members of GRAMNET's staff are federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said he wishes District Attorney Bonnie Roesink would have stepped in.

"Frankly, I was really hoping the District Attorney's office would have appealed the county court decision so it could be taken to a higher court to provide guidance on a statewide level," Vanatta said.

Roesink could not be reached for comment.

Vanatta asked that the officers not be named because it might compromise their safety and their investigations, which they often conduct in an undercover capacity.

Vanatta said he spoke with a DEA official Wednesday who indicated that the officers will be represented by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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