The Denver District Attorney's Office has formally charged ex-Denver police officer Hubert Martin "Marty" Vanover on counts of possession with the intent to manufacture or distribute marijuana or marijuana concentrate, possession of marijuana or marijuana concentrate, and possession of a controlled substance — reportedly methamphetamine.
Vanover has had plenty of experience with both substances, as he told us in previous interviews. He was a key figure in two Westword feature articles published during his time as a cop — one in which he talked at length about dealing with marijuana smokers while working off-duty security at the Ogden Theatre, the other focusing on how he contracted pneumonia after busting a meth lab, with an added note about how he learned to make the stuff himself.
The LinkedIn page for Vanover notes that he worked for the Denver Police Department from June 1993 until June 2014 — the point at which he was fired for threatening to kill his girlfriend and a bank employee, according to a disciplinary letter accessed by the Denver Post. But he continued to stir controversy even after his dismissal. That November, the Denver City Council made a $25,000 payment to Regina Ann Petkus, whom Vanover had improperly busted outside the Ogden while she gathered signatures for Amendment 64, a measure to legalize limited recreational marijuana sales that was approved by voters in 2012. The council resolution about the payout is on view below.
On LinkedIn, Vanover notes that from 2010 to 2011, he also ran a snack business called Mr. Munchies; he describes it as a cooperative venture with the Denver Police Activities League in which the proceeds from candy vending machines were donated to the organization. But after his ouster from the DPD, his career became "President and Beer Taster." In his (unedited) words, "I have to wake up everyday by the crack of noon and determine what clothes I should wear for today what kind of jobs I'd like to do around the house or who would like to go visit it's a tough job not for the faint of heart but damn it man someone has to do it."
According to Vanover's Facebook page, he broke up his leisure time this year with a business called Titan Tree Service — "full service tree care and removal."
Trees, of course, are a slang term for marijuana — and Vanover became quite familiar with pot working off-duty at the Ogden. Here's an excerpt from our 2008 feature "Rent-a-Cop."
Marty Vanover has been part of Denver's music scene for a dozen years, greeting crowds at the Ogden Theatre and listening to the bands on stage, whether they be hip-hop or hippie. After more than a thousand shows at the East Colfax concert hall, he's gotten to know hundreds of people who frequent the venue. Rock stars and fans alike ask him to pose with them for pictures.
A sergeant for the Denver Police Department during the day, Vanover works off-duty for the Ogden at night, wearing his uniform and packing his gun and handcuffs. He doesn't check IDs or pat people down, because cops need probable cause for a search regardless of whether they are on or off duty. But his very presence at the door discourages mischief, something both he and his boss at the Ogden appreciate.
Most concert-goers are friendly, but every once in a while someone hassles him, saying that off-duty cops who work at bars or clubs are just sitting around doing nothing. "You have to realize that we get paid not so much for what we're doing, but for what we may have to do," Vanover tells skeptics. "We're there to make sure everyone is safe and has a good time, not to ruin people's good times."
Inevitably, though, some people's definition of a good time involves something illegal. And just as Vanover isn't allowed to enforce any Ogden rules that aren't also laws, he can't ignore people breaking rules that are laws, no matter who signs his check.
"Striking a balance is common sense," he says. "Obviously, at concerts people smoke marijuana, and obviously, it's against the law to smoke marijuana. So that's where the balance has to come into play. If you have, for example, 1,500 patrons in the concert and the lights are down and you smell marijuana, it wouldn't behoove you as a police officer to walk through that crowd of 1,500 with the lights down and try to find out who is smoking marijuana. I don't see the balance between enforcing the law and officer safety to go through that crowd of 1,500 with a gun strapped to your side.
"But if there was a homicide, I'd be going right through that crowd," he adds.
During his years at the Ogden, Vanover has arrested twenty people, including a man who came walking through the door with a joint behind his ear and another who mistakenly pulled a joint from a pack of cigarettes. Only four arrests got physical.
"When the crowd comes through the door, I'm standing there, and each one passes me, and each one knows an officer is standing there. I think that alleviates 80 percent of the problems that would've occurred," Vanover says. "It's good for the public, at least the law-abiding public. It might not be as good for the criminal element."
As for Vanover's experiences with meth, he characterized them negatively in a 2000 Westword feature, "Toxic Shock," as seen in this excerpt:
Denver detective Marty Vanover opened a Pandora's box while rummaging through the remnants of a dormant meth lab three years ago. It was an ordinary shoebox filled with crumpled newspaper.
The newspaper was wrapped around something, but Vanover didn't need to look further. As soon as he saw the paper, stained a deep, reddish purple, he shut the lid and ordered an evacuation. Iodine in crystal form sublimes quickly when exposed to the air; the Einstein who ran this particular operation must have busted the container it came in and stuffed the crystal into the shoebox for later use.
"I knew it was iodine," Vanover recalls. "But I'd already opened the box."
Vanover emerged from the house with a runny nose. He soon developed breathing troubles and landed in intensive care two weeks later; he spent five days there, recovering from pneumonia. A month after that, he was back in another lab.
"Most people in narcotics don't want anything to do with meth labs," he says. "You have to want to go in. The way I look at it, you're doing something important to protect your community."
Now assigned to District One, Vanover no longer tackles labs. But the chances that any of his successors will suffer a similar inhalation exposure have been greatly reduced by the protective equipment and procedures that law-enforcement agencies have since adopted for lab searches. The gear is unwieldy, costly and sometimes debilitating, but it works.
Aside from the possibility of explosions, fires and the occasional booby trap, respiratory damage is the greatest health risk posed by the labs. The toxic vapors produced by the manufacturing process are rarely vented properly and permeate walls, carpets and furniture. Add to that the sloppiness of the average addled meth cook, the frequent splashes and spills, the shabby garage-sale glassware used, and improper storage of unlabeled ingredients, residues and by-products — in leaky jars, cat-litter jugs and shoeboxes — and you've got an uncontrolled experiment in atmospheric mutation.
"Any moron can make meth," says Vanover, who's cooked batches under strict quality controls in a DEA lab. "It takes a chemist to make it safely."
Yes, you read right: Vanover told us that he'd cooked batches of meth in a laboratory setting — a statement that's likely to be of interest to prosecutors, who filed charges against Vanover following a September 22 search of his home prompted by a neighbor's complaint about the strong smell coming from the residence, according to the DA's office. Among the items said to have been found were two pounds of what is thought to be pot, plus an unspecified quantity of meth.
At this writing, the DA's office notes that Vanover is free on a $2,000 personal-recognizance bond. He'll be formally advised of the charges against him during a hearing scheduled for October 21. Here's a look at his booking photo, followed by the aforementioned settlement document from the Denver City Council.