On Tuesday, April 6, Grand County Court Judge Nicholas Catanzarite once again denied a reduction in bond for Stephen “Rusty” Branstetter, who is currently being held in Grand County Jail on two separate bonds, a $20,000 bond for a felony menacing charge and a $500,000 bond for a case involving six attempted murder charges.
A Grand County native, Branstetter has been in the jail since being taken into custody on December 1, following a nearly 24-hour standoff with Grand County Sheriff’s deputies, the GC Emergency Response Team, Fraser-Winter Park Police, Granby Police, Grand County EMS, and the Jefferson County SWAT team and during which at least two gunshots were allegedly fired by the defendant.
He also faces a felony charge of alluding police and numerous misdemeanor cases for various traffic infractions and a single allegation of possession of a controlled substance.
Branstetter has repeatedly expressed his desire to move ahead quickly with anytrial, even though he had several changes in legal representation, initially being appointed a public defender, then representing himself, and then being advised and/or represented briefly by a private attorney, Jacob Eppler, who requested to be withdrawn from the cases in February.
Though resistant to being represented by the Public Defender’s Office, in whom he has indicated a certain level of distrust, Branstetter appeared on Tuesday with Attorney Chad Oxley, an alternative defense attorney contracted through the State.
A representative of the Court explained that alternate defense is regularly appointed when there is a conflict of interest or other matter that would render the Public Defender’s Office unable to represent an individual who otherwise qualified for their services.
Oxley offered a well-formed argument for permitting a reduction in bond with whatever conditions were desired by the Court. He asked that any combined bond not exceed $20,000 and indicated that Branstetter was working with a social worker who was helping him connect to ongoing services.
Oxley noted that the “genesis” of the more serious allegations seemed to be traced back to November 2018 when Branstetter lost custody of his son, of whom he had had primary custody for years. “Things just started spiraling out of control.”
But he continued, stating, “Mr. Branstetter appears to have had some sort of an epiphany. He has acknowledged that there were probably some mental health issues at play. He had intake today with Mind Springs. And he is set up for weekly, ongoing mental health treatments through Mind Springs.”
Mind Springs is Grand County’s primary provider of counseling and mental health services, offering subsidized services and a
sliding client pay scale.
Oxley also indicated that Branstetter, who is a master plumber, had an offer of employment waiting that would provide income for several months and that he had strong family support in moving forward along a new path. He indicated Branstetter’s status as a homeowner and business owner who was “on the verge of losing everything” if he remained in jail.
“I understand the District Attorney’s trepidation in going forward,” Oxley summarized.
“These are serious allegations. But Mr. Branstetter is pleading for help.
“Mr. Karzan [the elected District Attorney] notes that there are not enough resources in the community to provide the services and supervision that he needs. But that is not Mr. Branstetter’s fault. I have used every tool in my toolbox to allow a safety net for Mr. Branstetter, allowing supervision and accountability. (…)
He is taking the onus on himself to make positive change. But he can’t do that while he’s in custody.”
District Attorney Matt Karzan responded, stating, “It feels like all the options available to us are inadequate. And the case really does demonstrate the shortcomings of the system’s resources. I do believe that Mr. B is on what
I would call a good path!”
But Karzan also cited a “history of volatility” shown by the recent cases and concluded, “I just don’t see how it would work without too high a risk that [Branstetter] would encounter a triggering event that would cause him to move off of his current path and would result in more violence. I find myself with no other option than to recommend against the bond reduction.”
Branstetter was offered a chance to speak as well, and he emphasized how much he “loves” his community, especially that of Hot Sulphur Springs.
“I want to focus my attention on regaining control of my life and on my mental health,” Rusty said with a sometimes cracking voice. “I know my mental health would greatly benefit from reconnecting with my child, and I can’t do that in here.
“I want an earned income. I want to seek trauma counseling and be in the beautiful place we live in order to stay on that path that was mentioned. I don’t see how I can stay on that path in this jail. (…) I see a path forward. And I do that outside of this jail.”
Ultimately, Catanzarite denied the request for reduced bail.
“I appreciate Mr. Branstetter’s connection to the community, particularly Hot Sulphur Springs. (…) But I share a lot of the DA’s concerns,” the Judge stated. “These are serious allegations. And there is a lack of services available to monitor Mr. Branstetter. Though it is hard to imagine what services we could provide that would ensure community safety. The risk is too great.”
Preliminary hearings were set for the felony cases for which the bonds are in place. The felony menacing charge will
be taken up at 4:00 pm on May 3, and the attempted murder charges will be preliminarily addressed at 4:00 pm on May 11.