Pubdate: Fri, 9 Jan 2004
Source: Craig Daily Press, The (CO)
Copyright: 2004 The Craig Daily Press
Author: Jeremy Browning


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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh