Magnuson wants to bring 'relevance' to sheriff's office

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenAugust 5, 2010

Rick Magnuson is one of three candidates running for sheriff of Pitkin County. Magnuson, a veteran of the Aspen Police Department, faces current Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo and lawman Rick Leonard in the Aug. 10 primary. Unlike the other two sheriff's candidate interviews, this one, at Magnuson's request, was conducted via e-mail.

Real Aspen: Why did you decide to run for sheriff again?

Rick Magnuson: Relevance. The Pitkin County Sheriff Department lost its relevance a long time ago. They are a model of complacency and stagnation. There needs to be a rejuvenation of concepts and philosophies. They need to represent the time we live in. They need to tighten their economic belt to come in line with current market conditions, they need to have a concern for climate change and they need a fundamental change in the way they address substance abuse education and prevention.

Real Aspen: What's the driving force behind your campaigns: art or politics?

Rick Magnuson: I do not make a distinction between art and any part of life. Art can be anything and anything can be art.

Real Aspen: How has your art, specifically projects like "Hole" and "Blowjob" affected your political appeal?

Rick Magnuson: Those who are open-minded understand the correlation between being a creative person and the ability to suggest contemporary solutions to problems. That is a fundamental attribute of a leader.

I find it curious that out of the hundreds of art works that I have made, you focus on only two. Certainly, sensationalism sells papers, but the truth is that either of those works would be rated PG-13 by the MPAA. Secondly they are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. The reason why our founding fathers placed freedom of expression in the First Amendment is because it is so important. I would gladly compare my constitutionally protected artwork with Mr. Disalvo's publicized violent criminal act, which you did not mention in the fluff questions you asked of him.

Real Aspen: When Joe DiSalvo punched another man at Jimmy's restaurant in 2004 it was covered extensively by this reporter and several others. The incident has since been legally expunged from DiSalvo's criminal record. "Hole" and "Blowjob" are still highlighted on your website,, which is why I bring it up.

Real Aspen: Why did you get into law enforcement in the first place?

Rick Magnuson: In 1976 I was eleven years old, growing up on a tobacco farm in Connecticut with my three siblings. My brother and I shared a room in the basement of our raised ranch. One night my parents woke us up sometime during the night. I knew something was wrong. They sat on our beds — my mother was crying. My dad was stoic. My dad told us that Uncle Hughie died in a motorcycle accident that evening. I did not find out until years later that he died when his Triumph Daytona flew off a winding road. He was drunk. Uncle Hughie was the kind of man that an eleven year old, like myself idolized. He always had cool motorcycles, long hair, and would let us stay up late whenever he babysat. He was 29 years old.

A few years later, at the dinner table, my dad said he had something to tell us. Uncle Billy got arrested. They never told us the details and I wouldn’t have been able to understand anyway. I later found out that he was robbing liquor stores to support a heroin habit.

Uncle Billy was a repeat offender and was sentenced to 25 years in maximum-security prison.

I remember visiting Uncle Billy in prison. I remember his letters asking to borrow $10 or $20 for cigarettes. I remember being searched before entering his house. I remember fantasizing trying to break him out. And I remember when my dad told me that Billy was spitting up blood. He had lung cancer. He started smoking as a teenager and could never quit.

We visited him more often after he was diagnosed with cancer. We visited him in a Hartford hospital. He had two armed guards preventing his escape even though he was paralyzed from the waist down due to the cancer spreading to his spine. We petitioned the courts to pardon him on humanitarian grounds. It worked. His release was imminent — only required the signature of a busy judge. He was sent back to the prison infirmary and given pain medicine. While we were waiting for the signature my dad got a phone call from the warden. Uncle Billy died en route to the hospital. He was 44 years old.

That’s why I do this job. That is why I want to be the Sheriff of Pitkin County.

Real Aspen: How would the sheriff's office operate differently under your guidance?

Rick Magnuson: It would be forward looking, more modest, more transparent and would shift from reactive to proactive.

Real Aspen: What is Bob Braudis's legacy?

Rick Magnuson: We are blessed with an idyllic lifestyle in the Roaring Fork Valley in spite of the policies of the Sheriff, not because of them. It is arrogant and reckless to ignore laws that our democratically elected leaders pass. Specifically, turning a blind eye toward substance abuse is not relevant today and plainly enables many citizens that need assistance and intervention. Certainly this is Braudis’ legacy as is evidenced by the number of drug dealers his department has investigated and convicted under his leadership: Zero.

Real Aspen: Please evaluate your opponents, Joe DiSalvo and Rick Leonard.

Rick Magnuson: Mr. Leonard has a wealth of experience, but little understanding of how we conduct law enforcement in the upper Roaring Fork Valley — we do it a little bit different here than anywhere else, and I think we do it better than anywhere else. I do not want to lose our policing style or morph into a black and white view of humanity.

Mr. Disalvo understands the unique perspective that law enforcement shares with the citizens, but with all due respect he is not a leader — he is a follower. He has not offered any new ideas or concepts to this debate and I would suggest that the single most important recent change in the sheriff’s department was placing a SRO in the school system, an idea that came from my 2006 platform.

Mr. Disalvo has followed the leadership of Mr. Braudis, who followed the leadership of Dick Kienast — the originator of the current ideology in Pitkin County law enforcement.

Real Aspen: How have you contributed to the Aspen Police Department?

Rick Magnuson: I hope I have provided the citizens and visitors to Aspen with compassionate and thoughtful services that met their needs and enhanced their view of law enforcement and the City of Aspen.

Real Aspen: What's been your best experience as an officer of the APD?

Rick Magnuson: Running into a burning house and assisting three people and a dog in their escape.

Real Aspen: What's been your worst experience?

Rick Magnuson: Rushing a recently deceased infant to the hospital.

Real Aspen: How is Aspen different from the rest of the world?

Rick Magnuson: It is more homogenized, more relaxed, more beautiful, and more contradictory.

Real Aspen: How is Aspen the same?

Rick Magnuson: It is afflicted with the same human psychology as anywhere. We have greed, addiction, narcissism, love, compassion, tolerance and human decency.

Real Aspen: After you do your job, how much attention do you pay to the subsequent legal proceedings?

Rick Magnuson: I often review my cases to see the disposition. It is fascinating to see how the criminal justice system works and I enjoy learning from the process.

Real Aspen: How is the relationship between the APD and the S.O.?

Rick Magnuson: It is exceptional — the best in my memory and I have worked there for 14 years. We work well together and back each other up without pause.

Real Aspen: What's your view on undercover police work in Pitkin County?

Rick Magnuson: I believe it should be used sparingly to limit the amount of hard drugs available to children. I believe that it can be done quietly, and effectively. We should not conduct high profile raids in public areas; this is dangerous and politically unacceptable. There are other ways to arrest drug dealers, like using an informant to buy drugs from a dealer; giving him marked money and then quietly arresting him when it is safe to do so.

I am not suggesting that we engage in undercover drug sales as that has the potential to entrap people.

Now that marijuana is essentially legal, the logic behind not using plain-clothes officers to stem the flow of drugs into Pitkin County is flawed. We are only protecting hard drug sales if we broadcast to the dealers that we will not use plain-clothes officers. Currently the sheriff refuses to do these type of operations and instead leaves that work to TRIDENT and the DEA. I disagree with this philosophy. The DEA does not even recognize the legality of marijuana and he wants them doing our undercover work? Where is the logic in that equation? I want to be involved in those operations so that I can control the risk level.

The sheriff says that undercover work erodes the trust of the community. Bullshit. Undercover work protects the community from prevalent hard drugs. Not using the appropriate tools to challenge the largest public safety problem in Pitkin County is reckless. Broadcasting to dealers that we will not use the most effective tool to limit the amount of hard drugs is unnecessary; they are already protected by the fourth amendment of the constitution, which states:

'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'

Any peace office that does not obey this amendment will be held civilly responsible. Case law clearly allows plain-clothes officers to work without a badge on their chest; certainly it is the most effective way at stemming the flow of illicit drugs. Not doing plain clothes work to catch a drug dealer is analogous to trying to catch a hummingbird with your bare hand — it’s almost impossible.

If peace officers were allowed to use appropriate tools- plain clothes drug enforcement, maybe we could have prevented that tragic and violent rape of a woman in the Centennial Housing complex. He was a drug dealer before he was a rapist. These are the type of people we are protecting by limiting this type of work.

What is the point in having trust in the community if you cannot cash it in? In 1999 when a dozen local kids were committing violent crimes in the community no one with knowledge came forward and told the sheriff; and a lot of people knew what was going on.

When the sheriff’s good friend Mr. Blanning was terrorizing the town on New Years two years ago, where was the trust between the cop and the criminal?

Trust is earned by fulfilling the promise all peace officers took when they took the oath; that is to uphold the United States Constitution and to uphold local and state laws. A sheriff needs to respect the laws that are currently on the books and be an impartial guardian of the law, not a political activist.

Real Aspen: Would you make any changes to the jail?

Rick Magnuson: Plant-based diet for Pitkin County Inmates - 

The U.S. Government Report on the Dietary Guidelines of Americans, 2010 states: "Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits whole grains, nuts and seeds.  In addition increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amount of lean meats, poultry, and eggs."

"In a 2006 report the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that worldwide livestock farming generates 18 percent of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions-by comparison, all the world's cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions." - Time Magazine.

If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat.  That's the single most important thing you can do." - Paul McCartney.

Temperature - The Pitkin County Jail is heated to 72 degrees in the winter. This is wasteful and excessive.  Inmates live in T-shirts in the winter.  I will buy them sweatshirts and turn the heat down to a reasonable 65 degrees in the winter.    

Useful Public Service - Non-violent inmates should be out in the community, performing useful public service.  I will require all qualifying inmates to contribute to the beautification of Pitkin County.  Specifically, they will be cleaning up dog feces, assisting in trail maintenance, and picking up trash.  

Recycle or reuse - The current commitment to recycling is marginal in the jail.  I will mandate strict recycling guidelines, which will be tied to management's performance review.  

Real Aspen: Would you carry a gun and wear a uniform if elected?

Rick Magnuson: No.

Real Aspen: What will you do if you're not elected?

Rick Magnuson: Smell the roses.

To learn more about Rick Magnuson, check out his candidate website at

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