By Sam Klomhaus, Grand Junction Media (AP Storyshare)
A Colorado State Patrol trooper at the center of recent controversies was also involved in the 2021 traffic stop that prompted an investigation into the altering of official reports that led to the removal of his immediate supervisor.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Christian Bollen also may have failed to disclose important information while testifying in court on the case, according to court documents.
Bollen has had two of his cases tossed by the Colorado Supreme Court and was also the officer involved in a marijuana stop that overestimated the weight of the contraband by more than 1,000 pounds.
He was involved in the traffic stop that would eventually lead to an investigation into former State Patrol Sgt. Aaron Laing, who removed a reference to an undercover Homeland Security car that was part of the case.
The investigation found Laing, who oversaw State Patrol’s smuggling, trafficking and interdiction unit in Fruita, had substantially altered at least 13 reports. He is no longer with Colorado State Patrol.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation records show Bollen, also a member of the smuggling, trafficking and interdiction unit, was asked to speak with investigators on the matter, to which Bollen responded:
“Do I have a choice?”
The interview was voluntary, and Bollen did have an attorney listen in on the conversation.
That information, along with details of court testimony that Bollen gave, was included in a copy of the report provided to The Daily Sentinel.
That CBI summary found that Laing altered a report, authored by a trooper other than Bollen, to hide the fact that an undercover Homeland Security car had been in front of the suspected vehicle before Bollen pulled the car over for allegedly following too closely.
According to a summary of the CBI interview, Bollen also neglected to tell CBI investigators that the stop was initiated with the help of Homeland Security.
“I told Tpr. Bollen he neglected to tell me the part about two (2) HSI Agents also following the vehicle, but he stated he did not think that occurred. He did admit the silver vehicle that was ‘followed too closely’ was a silver Dodge Charger, driven by a HSI agent,” Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent James Bennett wrote in his report.
“When I confronted Tpr. Bollen about not mentioning the fact that the silver vehicle was driven by an HSI Agent to me, or in his report, he stated ‘I don’t think it matters who the driver is or whether or not there is a violation.’”
The omission of the Homeland Security agents raised concerns that the Homeland Security involvement could be seen as manufactured probable cause used to initiate a traffic stop.
In fact, prior to Bollen following the suspected vehicle, another trooper had been following the car, but “could not find any probable cause to stop the vehicle,” according to the CBI investigation summary.
That trooper, Jeff Vrbas, was the author of the report that was later doctored to remove the reference to Homeland Security.
Asked by investigators if he had been instructed to omit references to Homeland Security operations in reports, Bollen said he had not and would mention them “when they became involved.”
But, when pressed on why he did not mention the specific involvement in that case, Bollen told investigators “I just didn’t think it mattered either way.”
REPORTS ON THE STOP
The case stemmed from a Jan. 20, 2021, traffic stop near Rabbit Valley, in which Colorado State Patrol troopers said they found a large amount of cash concealed in a car.
The version of Vrbas’ report that had been edited by Laing omitted an initial mention of two unmarked Homeland Security Investigations cars that were in the area of the investigation.
It also omits a mention of the two HSI vehicles passing Vrbas before Bollen and Trooper Connor Aydt, who was riding along with Bollen, passed him at a high rate of speed.
Also omitted from the edited version was a mention of both unmarked HSI vehicles around the SUV (sports utility vehicle) in question.
In addition, an entire paragraph was deleted from the original version. The paragraph describes the HSI vehicle slowing down in front of the SUV, leading to the lane change for which the SUV was pulled over.
In part, the paragraph states: “I observed the unmarked HSI Charger Speed up for a short distance and then slow down. I then observed the white sport utility vehicle close the distance on the charger and then I observed the brake lights come on the white sport utility vehicle come on. I then observed the left turn signal come on and the white sport utility vehicle slowly pass the unmarked charger.”
Bollen’s report on the traffic stop describes becoming alerted to the SUV because it had taken five trips through the Grand Junction area from June, 2020 through January, 2021.
As to the actual stop. Bollen states, “There was a silver sedan in front of it in the right lane. As the vehicles approached Exit 2 for Rabbit Valley the sedan slowed to take the exit. I observed the driver of the white Honda SUV continue to approach the rear of the sedan and I used a delineator post on the right shoulder of the roadway as a fixed object to measure the distance between the two vehicles. I counted aloud and found the driver of the white SUV was following the rear of the sedan at about 1.5 seconds. The Colorado Driver Handbook recommends a following distance of 3 seconds utilizing fixed object.”
The reasoning described by Bollen to pull over the white SUV was deemed faulty by the Colorado Supreme Court in September, ruling a separate traffic stop also made by Bollen, in which the court ruled the Colorado Driver Handbook does not constitute state law.
Bollen later wrote in his report HSI officers arrived on the scene following the search and seized the cash so it could be counted.
Both reports state the K9 unit used in the stop, Jedi, indicated the odor of narcotics in the car, but no narcotics were found in the search.
Vrbas has been with the smuggling and interdiction unit about 13 years, and Bollen has been with the unit for about 4.5 years.
TESTIFYING IN COURT
A letter from 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein dated Dec. 7 states he believes Bollen testified during a hearing in June 2022 and did not disclose information Rubinstein believes should have been disclosed.
As a result of the investigation into the altered reports, a so-called Brady letter was issued for Laing, which details credibility issues for law enforcement officers. No action was taken with Bollen at the time.
In his Dec. 7 letter detailing that Bollen may have omitted relevant information while testifying in court, Rubinstein wrote “This is not a ‘Brady letter,’ as I do not have the power or authority to conduct administrative investigations of other agencies, and have not done so in this matter.”
According to court documents, Bollen testified in a preliminary hearing in the case that, “there was a separate silver vehicle in front of it. The vehicle with California license plates had gotten very close to the vehicle traveling in front of it and was following it too closely.”
Bollen said that’s when he decided to make the traffic stop.
Bollen’s testimony in the hearing makes no mention of the silver sedan being an undercover Homeland Security car.
Instead, Bollen testified that Colorado State Patrol contacted Homeland Security after the search of the vehicle, saying, “We removed all the packages, contacted Homeland Security Investigations to kind of take over or assist in the investigation.”
Of the two co-defendants involved in the stop, one was offered a softer plea agreement and the other had their charges dismissed, Rubinstein said.