Citizen's Arrest

Here's a brainteaser for you:
A half-dozen thugs chase down and beat up repo man Robert Bradbury, who's confiscated their tow truck. They stomp on him and punch him--leaving him with a cracked rib and a concussion--before taking back their truck and racing off. Concerned citizen Andrea Anders, a 31-year-old student who witnesses the incident, stops to help the injured man. Minutes later, Denver police officer Scott Blatnik arrives to investigate.

Q: Who among this group has an arrest record for assault?
A: Officer Blatnik, who faces trial this week on charges of smacking around three people while answering a domestic-dispute call last year.

Q: Who got thrown in jail?
A: Andrea Anders, whom Blatnik arrested for interference.

Q: Who managed to avoid criminal charges?
A: The thugs.

For Bradbury, an employee of MB&A Recovery, the trouble began about 4 p.m. February 25, when he and co-worker Eric Anders ("no relation, just a coincidence," Eric Anders says) spotted a tow truck belonging to Corporate Recovery towing service. They'd been trying to repossess the truck for some time, Eric Anders says, so when they saw it parked on the street in front of Corporate's yard, they decided to take it, using a key provided by the truck's lienholder.

Bradbury jumped in the tow truck, started it up and took off down the road, with Eric Anders close on his tail. "Then," Eric Anders says, "three Corporate Recovery trucks started chasing us down. We were on Evans going east. I was going 50 miles an hour, and they just flew by me to get to him."

When Bradbury made a quick left turn in an effort to evade his pursuers, his partner lost sight of him. The Corporate raiders, however, proved harder to shake.

Andrea Anders, meanwhile, was westbound on Jewell Avenue near Federal Boulevard when "I was almost run off the road by three tow trucks." Unnerved by the close call, she turned off of Jewell, only to meet up again with the tow trucks, which had stopped a block away, in the middle of West Colorado Avenue.

"Seven or eight guys," she says (Bradbury told police he believed he was attacked by "six or seven"), pulled Bradbury from the tow truck and began beating him. They scattered when she approached in her car.

"I jumped out to help," she says, "and then the police and a fire truck came." While paramedics attended to Bradbury, Blatnik began questioning Anders.

Anders says she was perfectly willing to cooperate in the case, with one exception: Fearing retaliation from the assailants, she asked Blatnik to omit her home address from the police reports. "He said, 'All you gotta do is protect yourself,'" Anders claims. "And I pointed at [Bradbury] and said, 'You mean the same way he was able to protect himself?' And he said, 'If this guy would have had a gun, he could have protected himself.'"

Anders says she walked away after Blatnik told her to "file a report or get the hell out of here." But before she could reach her car, Anders claims, Blatnik barged ahead of her, grabbed her purse from the car, put a handcuff around her left wrist and told her she was under arrest.

"I said, 'For what?'" Anders recalls, "and he started screaming that I was resisting. Then he threw me in the back of the police car."

Eric Anders says he arrived at the scene just as Andrea Anders was being arrested. "Robert told her, 'Thank you for saving my life,' and then they put her in the squad car and they left," he says. (Bradbury says he cannot recall much of what happened after he was attacked.)

Andrea Anders was taken to the District 4 police substation, then to the city jail, where she posted a $200 bond and was released at 2:30 a.m., ten hours after she was picked up. The charge, Anders learned then, was interference.

Anders says she did not learn the details of Blatnik's complaint against her until she appeared in court for arraignment March 11. What she read surprised and angered her.

In the summons, Blatnik wrote that Anders balked when asked to make a statement: "...she refused, stating that she was afraid that the suspects might come after her. I asked her a second time if she would assist us, but she became irate and, yelling at [me], stating that she did not have to. I agreed, and asked her to stand back so I could get some information from the victim.

"She became enraged, yelling again that the police are worthless and that we would not catch the suspects. I asked [her] to step back and not interfere. She would not. I then asked her to leave and she would not. She was then placed under arrest."

Anders pleaded not guilty to the charge and told assistant city attorney April Snook that Blatnik's report was false. Snook told her that "it's the cop's word against yours," Anders says, but she held her ground and demanded a jury trial on the matter. A short time later, Anders says, Snook asked that the charge be dismissed.

"I dismissed it in the interest of justice," Snook says, adding that she thinks there was "a good chance" the city could have proven the charge against Anders, primarily because Blatnik would have testified.

"But she agreed to testify in the other [assault] case," Snook says, "and the officer did acknowledge that she had been assisting when the argument started and that she was afraid to give her address. I considered all those factors in making the decision. I just didn't think it was proper to use the city's resources to take it to trial."

But if Anders's case had gone to trial, Blatnik's word might not have carried much weight with jurors--partly because of what Denver Fire Department lieutenant John Sigafoos saw (or didn't see), and particularly if the jurors had learned about what happened on August 24, 1996, when Blatnik answered a domestic-dispute call on South Wolff Street.

Sigafoos, one of the firefighters dispatched to aid Bradbury, says that he was busy helping the injured man but that he spoke with Andrea Anders to make sure she was all right. "The next thing I know," Sigafoos tells Westword, "[Blatnik] was handcuffing her and putting her in the car." Sigafoos says he did not see Anders go out of control, nor did he hear her yell at Blatnik or make disparaging remarks. What he did hear, he says, was Blatnik tell Anders, "If you're afraid, you'd better buy a gun."

But perhaps more damaging to Blatnik's account of the events that day would have been a police report of the incident last year on South Wolff Street. According to a criminal complaint against Blatnik himself, the officer was met at the Wolff Street house by a woman named Gaila Montgomery. Moments later, Montgomery's father, Byron Lund, came out of the house and declared that he wanted his daughter arrested. According to Lund and two independent witnesses, Blatnik stepped toward Lund, told him to shut up and then punched or slapped him in the face. One of the witnesses also told police that Blatnik pushed Montgomery and her mother, knocking them both to the ground.

Blatnik was issued a criminal summons for assault and ordered to show up in court. The charge has since been dropped to disturbing the peace. He asked for a jury trial, which is slated for this week. (Blatnik could not be reached for comment.)

As it turns out, Andrea Anders won't be testifying in the Bradbury case. That's because there is no case. According to detectives, prosecutors declined to file assault charges due to a reasonable likelihood that they could not obtain a conviction.

"The deputy DA said there's something under Colorado law that gives you the right to protect your property with reasonable force," says Bradbury's boss, Mike Bomer.

But Andrea Anders and Bradbury might yet have their day in court. Bradbury says he is pursuing "litigation" in the case, but he won't say whom he plans to target. And though it's a good bet he plans to go after the folks at Corporate Recovery, he might have a tough time finding them--the company's phone has been disconnected.

Anders, a former victims' advocate for the Commerce City Police Department, is pursuing a complaint against Blatnik with the Denver Police Department's internal affairs bureau. To date, she has received little satisfaction. An internal affairs investigator quickly washed his hands of the matter, claiming that Blatnik had probable cause to make the arrest. Her complaint has now been passed on to officers at District 4, who will continue the investigation.

"What a game," Andrea Anders says. "What a game.