A federal judge said Wednesday he is inclined to allow a man arrested during major raids on Colorado marijuana businesses to be released on bond because the government has not sufficiently shown him to be dangerous.
Federal investigators obtained a picture appearing to show the man, 49-year-old Hector Diaz, holding two semi-automatic rifles in a house that was among the places raided by a SWAT team last Thursday. It is unclear when the picture was taken, but Diaz, a citizen of Colombia, is not allowed to possess firearms in the United States under the terms of his visa.
On Wednesday federal Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer said a photo, alone, is not sufficient to show Diaz is a threat.
“I’m still looking for something in the file before me that suggests this gentleman is a danger to the community,” Shaffer said near the end of the hearing. “I’m not going to overreact based solely on a photograph.”
A federal prosecutor chose not to call Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a hearing Wednesday to explain better the allegations against Diaz or describe how he is connected to the marijuana raids.
Instead, the only witness to testify at the hearing was a special agent with the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security office, whose statements revealed that at least one of the raids Thursday was far more dramatic than authorities have let on.
The agent, Todd Burkes, testified that SWAT officers preparing to raid a $1.3 million home in Cherry Hills Village held a predawn briefing Thursday morning at which they said they would knock first at the house before entering. But when Burkes arrived at the home roughly two hours later, he saw a rear glass door shattered and upstairs bedroom doors busted from their frames. A woman and a young child sat in one room. Burkes said he also saw assault-style rifles in several bedrooms and a large drum magazine for such a rifle in one of the rooms.
And Burkes said he learned that a confrontation between officers and one occupant, who was armed with a handgun, resulted in that occupant’s being taken to the hospital via ambulance. A Justice Department official later clarified that the individual suffered minor injuries when SWAT officers tackled him. The man was not arrested.
Last week’s raids hit “approximately 15” locations, according to a court record, and witnesses saw federal agents — some in masks — taking armfuls of marijuana plants from warehouses and storefronts. Sources have told The Denver Post that investigators are looking at connections between medical-marijuana providers in Colorado and Colombian drug cartels.
Diaz, who entered the United States most recently earlier this month on a tourist visa, is not among the 10 people named as targets of the raids in a search warrant obtained by The Denver Post.
Investigators’ interest in him, though, dates back to at least August, when a DEA agent sent Burkes the photo apparently of Diaz and inquired as to his visa status, Burkes testified Wednesday.
Diaz’s lawyer, Abraham Hutt, said during Wednesday’s hearing that Diaz has no criminal history in the United States or Colombia and serves as a reserve policeman in his hometown.
Shaffer said he is inclined to release Diaz from custody, provided he can post bond and meet certain conditions — like finding a place to live and agreeing not to try to obtain new travel documents. A hearing is set for Monday to finalize the conditions.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/john_ingold