Officers with guns drawn alarm local preschool

An administrator with Durango Early Learning Center became upset Friday with the Durango Police Department’s handling of a felony stop in front of the day care.

Lesley Lach, director of the preschool on East Third Avenue, said children were about to go outside for recess when a teacher noticed several police officers with their guns drawn.

“This incident was directly in view of and close proximity to our school playground,” she wrote to the police chief in a letter, which was forwarded to parents of the school. “Nobody notified me of what was happening.”

Lach said she tried to speak with an officer to find out if it was safe for children to go outside, but no one would speak to her. She called the dispatch center and was told there was no record of a lockdown, she said.

The school erred on the side of caution and went into a lockdown, she said.

Officers eventually left the scene, but no one came into the school to inform her about what happened or whether it was safe to let children outside.

“I am responsible for the welfare of 83 children and clearly would rely on law enforcement to help me with this task,” she wrote in the letter. “I was extremely dismayed to have no initial or later contact from the police, especially given that guns were initially drawn, at least three police cars were in full view of our playground and the suspect was apprehended on our loading zone.”

Efforts to reach Lach were unsuccessful Friday afternoon.

Spratlen was out of town Friday and wrote in an email he was unaware of the situation. He deferred to Durango police Capt. Dan Shry, who said the incident developed quickly, so there was no time to give the preschool advance warning. Police officers should have gone to the school afterward to explain the situation, he said.

He sent an officer to the school Friday afternoon after learning of Lach’s letter.

“We do have protocol for doing lockdowns if we know something is going on, but this is one of those incidents where it evolved quickly and the location was incidental,” Shry said. “In her defense, we should have done a better job at the scene of doing follow-up with her.”

The incident occurred sometime between 8:25 and 9:05 a.m. near East Third Avenue and Ninth Street. Police were called to “stand by” while two people divided property in a domestic situation. When police arrived, they found the man’s vehicle double-parked in the middle of the road on East Third Avenue, Shry said.

An officer had the license plate number checked and learned the man had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder, had made suicidal threats in the past and possessed weapons, Shry said.

Officers proceeded with caution and decided to do a “felony stop,” meaning they approached him with guns drawn and asked him to step outside of the van.

The man was cooperative, and he was not in possession of any weapons, Shry said. He was not arrested.

No children were outside at the time, Shry said.

“I’m sure if the kids would have been playing they would have been noticed, and it would have been handled differently,” he said.

shane@durangoherald.com

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