A law unto himself: Robert Chalmers meets Aspen's gonzo lawman Bob Braudis

Bob Braudis has been sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, for more than two decades. A close personal friend of Hunter S Thompson, he has adopted many of the gonzo writer's beliefs in office. Yet this former gang member, whose jail has been mocked for being as comfy as his own home, is as big a hit with local ultra-conservative billionaires as he is with libertarians

The evening before my lunch-time appointment with Sheriff Braudis in Aspen, I was completing another assignment in Colorado at Telluride, 250 miles to the south. I'd badly underestimated the time it would take to collect a rental car and drive through the mountain passes to Aspen, with the result that I would have to be up well before five the following morning – a predicament I was lamenting, with some warmth, to a friend in the backstage area at the Telluride Music festival.

"You have to see Braudis?" said a handsome, olive- skinned man sitting nearby, who looked curiously familiar. "Bob Braudis? In Aspen?"

"Do you know him?"

"Of course I know him. I have to fly home to Aspen tomorrow morning, for a wedding. Why don't you come with me?"

"There are no flights from here to Aspen."

"No, but look... I have a plane. We'll take off around nine."

It's no surprise that Braudis should be familiar to John Oates. (I'd failed to recognise the singer, formerly of the legendary pop duo Hall and Oates, only because he had shaved off his moustache.) The musician's ranch is in the heart of the sheriff's area of jurisdiction, in Woody Creek, close to Owl Farm, the home of Braudis' late friend, the writer and self-styled doctor of gonzo journalism, Hunter S Thompson. (The author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr Thompson took the Wodehousian bachelor's blithe and adventurous attitude to alcohol and extended it to LSD and munitions. He shot himself in the kitchen at Owl Farm in February 2005.)

But Bob Braudis is famous well beyond the boundaries of Pitkin County and is one of the very few sheriffs who regularly makes national news. In the TV comedy Reno 911, oppressed deputies periodically fantasise about getting transferred to Aspen to work for him. Here in Telluride (population 2,221), a shop is displaying a print of Braudis' last re-election poster, decorated with Thompson's trademark two-thumbed gonzo fist and the slogan: "Elect the Sheriff You Know."

It's true that, internationally, Braudis can't claim to be America's best-known sheriff. That distinction belongs to Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Phoenix. A disciplinarian of the old school, Arpaio – who introduced chain gangs for women, boasts about being called "the Führer", and has his inmates sleep under canvas and bury the dead – has become a hero to some in the UK through regular television coverage of the Spartan regime at his "tent city". The Sun has practically begged Joe Arpaio to move to the UK; in 2005, BBC Radio Four's Today programme, undeterred by his notorious record on deaths in custody and human-rights abuses, invited the man Bob Braudis has described as an "ignorant publicity whore" to London, to share his thoughts on law enforcement.

Sheriff Braudis approaches his responsibilities from an equally bold and distinctive position, although no BBC controller has yet considered flying him here to lecture on crime prevention. A former gang member and drug user from Boston, he was in the US national press a couple of years ago after it emerged that the Aspen police department had omitted to notify him of a cocaine raid – on the grounds, most assumed, that Braudis has no appetite for enforcing drug laws. Conditions in his jail are so far from oppressive that the facility has featured in a double-page "exposé" in the National Enquirer.

The following morning, John Oates makes the 90-minute drive to the nearest airstrip in Montrose. Like many of Aspen's most famous landowners – others include Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Lance Armstrong – the singer is an incomer. He grew up in Philadelphia and came to the ski resort to enjoy the tranquillity, inspirational scenery and famously relaxed lifestyle.

Bob Braudis was elected sheriff in 1986, since when his unique dedication to justice and compassion has been vital to preserving Aspen's affluent yet bohemian character. In 2006, John Oates reminds me, Braudis, who had been unopposed in four previous elections, faced his first challenger for two decades; a serving police officer named Rick Magnuson. Magnuson was doing nicely in the polls, promising robust law enforcement, when rumours began to circulate concerning a video the officer had made. The 12-minute footage, which appeared on YouTube, consisted of Officer Magnuson digging a hole six feet deep in a remote area of the Mojave Desert, then masturbating into it. This uncompromisingly original work failed to enthuse his mainly conservative supporters – most of whom, if asked to choose a film that involved a man out of uniform engaged in excavation, would probably have preferred The Great Escape.

When it emerged that Magnuson had also been reprimanded for spending 10 minutes circling a roundabout in his pick-up truck with a bowl of goldfish gaffer-taped to the dashboard (another excursion immortalised on film), Bob Braudis was re-elected with 85 per cent of the vote.

Aspen, as a resident once told me, is a place "where the fun button got stuck on hold". In a gesture indicative of its reputation for laid-back generosity, Oates flies me here in his four-seater aircraft, gives me breakfast without letting me pay for so much as a coffee and then, when he leaves me at the airport, apologises for not being able to drive me up to the sheriff's house, because he can't be late for the family function.

I check into a motel and wait for Braudis in the lobby.

We first met in 1996, at the Pitkin County Courthouse, when I'd travelled here with Hunter Thompson's long- standing friend and gonzo co-conspirator, the artist Ralph Steadman (who is driving over from Denver this afternoon and will meet us at Woody Creek later in the day). Back in 1996, Thompson was on trial for drink-driving. "Where was Police Officer Glidden," the judge asked Thompson, "when he stopped your car?" "He was hiding under a bridge," the author replied, "like a troll."

The last time I saw the sheriff was at Owl Farm on 21 August 2005, the day after the detonation of Thompson's ashes from a 150ft column: a planning and security nightmare that the sheriff helped resolve for Hunter's widow, Anita, and for Johnny Depp, who funded the exercise.

Braudis, 64, has lost a little weight since then, but the whole reception area still falls silent when he walks in. A party of French tourists stares at him in undisguised amazement. While Joe Arpaio (in his own words: "the toughest sheriff in America – no, the world – no, the universe") is a portly 77 year-old who tweets and gives the impression of a man two cheeseburgers away from a heart attack, Bob Braudis is a sheriff in the tradition of Wyatt Earp. At 6'6" and 270 pounds, one glimpse of him might have instantly subdued Laredo in the mid-19th century.

He has appeared in a number of films, including the bedroom farce Vacanze Di Natale '95. "I used to keep a still from that movie in my office," he says. "They were short of extras, so the photo shows me giving orders to what is actually a bunch of mannequins. This chick came in to see me one day, to bitch about a DUI she got coming back from [a very famous movie star's] house. The tests were all positive. I advised her of her rights. She looked at the picture and said: 'For a moment, I thought that was you.' I said, 'Well, that is me. Giving directions to dummies. Nothing's changed.'"

He has to stop in town to pick up tacos at a market stall. When we enter the side-street, on foot, the Brad Manosevitz Band, Aspen's premier rock group, who are playing at the far end of the street, salute him and go into a medley of Junior Brown songs: "'Highway Patrol", and the drunken driver's anthem: "(When I See Those Party Lights Come On) The Party's Over For Me".

Strolling around Aspen with Bob Braudis is a bit like walking in Manchester with Ricky Hatton; you can't get three yards without someone shaking his hand. The people who greet him are of all ages and – so far as you can guess from their appearance – political persuasions. What's really astonishing, especially from a British perspective, is that nobody voices anything but praise.

"I've tried to eliminate the idea of Them and Us," he says. "The libertarians I can count on. But I also get support from the ultra-conservative billionaires, because I help make this place safe for them. I hope I'm also capable of having an intellectual dialogue with them, to the point that they're prepared to countenance the possibility that the so-called war on drugs is absurd."

One of Braudis' most popular innovations has been the "Tipsy Taxi": a system that offers any drunk a free ride home from a bar. The scheme, since replicated elsewhere, has significantly reduced road fatalities.

"If an alien landed and asked what commodity I provide," Braudis tells me, "I would answer: 'Safety.' The Tipsy Taxi isn't a gimmick. It's a crime-prevention programme. There's not a cent of government money in it. It's funded by donations. Statistically, the biggest threat to your life in Pitkin County is a drunk in your lane at five am, at the wheel of a five-ton pick-up truck."

"Doesn't it get abused?"

"We did have one guy who was taking cabs from one bar to another. But the drivers soon let you know about things like that. You ask the bartender for a voucher, which you hand to the cab driver. We don't distinguish between the rich and the poor, the stupid and the smart, the paralytic and the merely impaired. Our aim is simple: to keep anybody who is unfit off the road."

His home – an elegant, open-planned development which he shares with his partner Dede, a retired TV advertising producer – overlooks Aspen airport. A small facility with a short runway, it has been kept that way, to the annoyance of developers, with the help of a campaign supported by Hunter Thompson and sustained by Braudis. In the living-room, there are books everywhere, mostly novels. "I read four books a week," the sheriff says. "Television has no interest for me."

Braudis – the name is Lithuanian, though his ancestry is mainly Irish – grew up in a working-class district of Boston.

"Weren't you shot in a street fight?"

"Not exactly. I was in a gang in Boston. The fights were mainly with knives, chains and fists. I was shot at by a Colt 45. I dove behind a bench with a concrete foundation. The bullet hit the concrete; pieces flew into my face. After that, we started making our own guns."

As a youth, he says, "I grew up hating cops. They were not my friends. I never once called the police to help me."

Hunter S Thompson's suicide precipitated an outpouring of literature whose mediocrity and bulk was on a scale America hadn't experienced since the OJ Simpson trial. But Bob Braudis' memoir, The Kitchen Readings, is articulate, authoritative and entertaining. Together with The Gonzo Way, by Anita Thompson, and Ralph Steadman's The Joke's Over, it stands out as one of the few works of originality, wit and perception. (A biography by Dr Thompson's friend and literary executor, Professor Doug Brinkley, is an eagerly awaited work in progress.) Of those close to the writer at the time of his death, Braudis represents the gold standard.

He was Hunter's partner at shotgun golf (the sport – similar to clay-pigeon shooting, but much more affordable and dangerous – took place on land behind Owl Farm.) "There were many things about Hunter that the country-club crowd didn't approve of," Braudis recalls. "But the sight of the butt of a 12-gauge sticking out of his golf bag filled them with a kind of unease they could barely comprehend.'"

His mobile phone rings.

"It's Steadman," he says. "He's on the I-70 coming out of Denver. He'll be here in two hours."

The duties of a sheriff, I tell Braudis, are not easy for a British observer to grasp. Why have a sheriff's department at all, when you have the police?

"The institution began in England," Braudis explains, "in the 10th century, during the reign of Edward the Elder. The title is a contraction of 'shire-reeve'. The office died out in Britain but here the sheriff is the chief law-enforcement officer in areas that do not have a municipal police department – primarily rural districts. It is the only elected office in the US law-enforcement system."

Wearing the badge and being Thompson's friend was, Braudis concedes, "a difficult tightrope to walk".

"The last conversations we had when Thompson was still alive," I remind him, "were at Owl Farm, four months before he committed suicide. I remember one night a reporter arrived from New York. In his article, he quoted you as saying something like: 'I'll go into the other room while you do your drugs, Hunter." Something I can't imagine you saying – ever."

"I drove that little prick out of there," says Braudis.

"At the same time, when you were up at Owl Farm," I suggest, "there must have been certain things that you didn't see."

"Hunter and I developed a protocol, designed to keep me from being compromised. I can't give you the details but it was effective."

"Don't tell me that you had no idea what happened in that kitchen."

"I know very well what went on in the kitchen. But I was never compromised by him."


"Well, the biggest lapse on Hunter's part was one time at [Aspen's historic] Hotel Jerome. We were at the round table in the bar, where I spent eight nights a week in the 1970s." (Braudis, especially in his youth, enjoyed a reputation for being sociable at most hours of the night or day.) Hunter met me there with [two well-known local attorneys]. I was off-duty, of course. Then he pulls out that thing." Thompson was rarely separated from an implement that resembled a pepper grinder.

"He slaps it on the table. He was demented. He didn't realise where he was. I went: 'What the fuck are you doing?' He said, 'Oh, Jesus,' and put it away. The whole table was in shock. He never did it again. When Hunter got really fucked up it was usually the alcohol, and when the alcohol eclipsed the good sense he became a slurring, embarrassing drunk."

"There is this myth, isn't there, perpetuated by hardcore loyalists, that he never once exceeded the point of control."

"There is. And it is a myth. After a while I stopped travelling with him. It just became too much work."

Bob Braudis has an honours degree in history. He reads Latin and ancient Greek. He would have become an attorney had he not run out of money at the end of his first year in law school. By that time, aged 21, he was in upstate New York, married, with two daughters. The sheriff, who has been married three times, has no other children. He came to Aspen as a ski instructor in 1969.

"I arrived here with my first wife and our kids. I'd been working for a corporation based in New York City. Most days I'd eat breakfast wearing one of my 20 Brooks Brothers suits, in a Sheraton, with my briefcase. At weekends I'd change into denim and get tear-gassed at anti-war demonstrations."

Once settled in Aspen, Braudis recalls, "I came across "this crazy motherfucker who was running for sheriff." Hunter Thompson had settled in Woody Creek in late 1967 with his first wife Sandy and their young son Juan. Running on the "freak power" ticket, he shaved his head so that he could refer to the incumbent Sheriff Whitmire ("a man," ' Braudis says, "politically to the right of bleach") as "my long-haired opponent".

Dr Thompson, the sheriff recalls, "convinced us that we didn't have much effect on what happened in Washington, or vice versa, but what happened in Pitkin County had a visceral, hourly effect on the way we lived. Hunter was a visionary. He understood more about land development than anybody. Nobody else was standing up to the bulldozers."

Opposition to property speculators and the legalisation of drugs for personal use were at the heart of Thompson's manifesto. In Alex Gibney's 2008 film Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr Hunter S Thompson, Johnny Depp reads from his campaign programme.

"One: rip up all city streets with jackhammers and sod the streets at once. Two: change the name Aspen to Fat City. This will prevent greedheads, land rapers and other human jackals from capitalising on the name Aspen. Three: it will be the philosophy of the sheriff's office that no drug worth taking should be sold for money. My first action will be to install a set of stocks so that dishonest dope-dealers can be punished in a proper fashion."

In the aftermath of his defeat, Thompson observed: "We frightened the bastards so badly that they rolled people in wheelchairs, even on stretchers, into the polling places to vote against us. When I lost, they got down to making sure that nobody like me could ever run for office again."

In this last aim, his opponents failed conspicuously. On the day Braudis took over in 1986, his first act was to hang a poster from Thompson's campaign on the wall of his office. It's still there.

"How on earth did you end up in this job?"

"In 1976, I'd planned to work as a skiing teacher but there was no snow. The sheriff at that time offered me a job. He was Dick Kienast – the man Hunter would have appointed to run the department, if he'd won in 1970. In 1986, Kienast told me he wanted me to replace him. I won that election 60:40."

"There's a perception, among your opponents, that you don't give two hoots what substances Pitkin County residents consume; is that fair?"

"I've been labelled the sheriff who doesn't enforce drug laws. That is categorically untrue."

"A couple of years ago I was in a bar – not in this state – with a very senior undercover drug enforcement officer from the FBI. I saw him turn a blind eye to people smoking cannabis. You presumably wouldn't turn in a friend for using marijuana?"

"No. I am pro legalisation."

"Of everything?"


"Politically, that must be quite a hard sell."

"Very hard. What I would emphasise is that I don't distinguish between chemicals. I don't think most of them are particularly healthy. I do not promote or advocate their use. But I don't believe they should be regulated by the criminal justice system. If you have an addiction to anything – be it alcohol or heroin – I believe you should be placed in the hands of physicians. I don't think that you should go to prison. It costs $35,000 a year to incarcerate a non-violent drug inmate. Add the cost of probation, prosecution, all those other 'tions', and it runs into billions. And what has been the result? Availability has soared. The price has gone down and the potency has increased."

"I met Sheriff Arpaio a few years ago; I spent several days observing and interviewing his inmates, many of whom were frightened, some traumatised. I'd say that 75 per cent of the women I met in the Maricopa County Jail were imprisoned for drug use or prostitution. I can still remember sitting in the office of the lawyer Nick Hentoff [Arpaio's nemesis] watching CCTV footage from the jail's own cameras, that showed people being beaten. That was after the case of Scott Norberg, the 32 year-old who was asphyxiated while being restrained by Arpaio's guards, in 1996. [The sheriff settled out of court, paying $8.25m in compensation. As has been repeatedly documented, one video shows 14 guards beating and suffocating Norberg, and Arpaio's office was accused of discarding evidence, including the dead man's larynx.] I can't claim to be one of Joe Arpaio's admirers. But I can imagine what he'd say if he heard you talking about legalising heroin."

"As I said, the responsibility of the sheriff is safety. Sheriff Arpaio has a punitive approach to that."

"Public safety requires incarceration, doesn't it?"

"Absolutely it does – to separate the truly dangerous, predatory motherfuckers from the innocent. But in the US we now have more people per capita behind bars than any other country. We make the British look good."

"Arpaio's never going to see his prison mocked in the National Enquirer, is he?"

"I am proud of my jail."

"Why?" "Because I built it. It is designed and staffed so that, if you or your mother had to do 90 days, you would be safe. We have no assaults of inmate on inmate or inmate on staff. We treat people like human beings. Every facility I visited when I was designing my jail had steel furniture. I picked wooden beds and tables, just like I have here at home. My critics said inmates would be carving initials in it, and building bonfires. Over 20 years later, none of that has happened."

"I can hear some of our less liberal readers muttering that these bastards don't deserve anything softer than steel."

"I'm not sure that every Brit realises that, in a sheriff's jail, most inmates are awaiting trial. They're in simply because they can't afford a [bail] bond. Millionaires don't do time pre-trial. Of those who are convicted, very few are serving a year; the maximum is two years. Around 80 per cent of my inmates are polyaddicted, to alcohol and some other drug. They're in jail for human weakness, not crimes of moral turpitude. That's why, while Arpaio boasts about his inmates' [daily] food costing less than it costs to feed a dog – 30 cents – I spend $10 on a prisoner's meals. They are prepared, with care, in the kitchen of the local hospital."

Bob Braudis, Anita Thompson told me, "is a great sheriff as he's more interested in peace than power. Perhaps that's the reason he is loved rather than feared – despite his ' size. But he isn't afraid to stand up to odious federal agents such as the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration]."

She might have added that he could never have survived had he not delivered a consistently superb service to his community. There have been no ugly blunders such as the botched investigation into the shooting of Olympic skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, by his girlfriend, the French pop singer Claudine Longet, who stars with Peter Sellers in the 1968 film The Party. Sabich died here in March 1976, during Sheriff Whitmire's tenure. Police bungled warrants, making crucial evidence inadmissible. Longet claimed that the gun discharged accidentally while Sabich was showing her how to fire it (a claim the prosecution suggested would be inconsistent with the position of the body). The singer was punished with a fine and 30 days in jail. Longet, formerly the wife of crooner Andy Williams, married her defence attorney. She still lives in Pitkin County.

"You're not exactly unpopular here. So how did you wind up in the National Enquirer?"

"My jail has four private cells and a multi-purpose room upstairs. I got burned by this photographer called Nicholas Devore."

Devore worked for Time and National Geographic before moving to Bisbee, Arizona. There, he appalled locals with an art exhibition that included "Sushi Pup": a dead newborn puppy shellacked and laid on a plate. He shot himself in 2003.

"He knew one of my inmates. He said he wanted to take pictures for her 'family album'. Next thing, they're a centrefold in the National Enquirer. He made the cells look like suites. The Enquirer claimed I'd built a health spa in the jail; all this bullshit. I got calls from sheriffs all over America saying: 'Braudis – you're embarrassing us.'"

"I'd guess that Joe Arpaio would argue that running Pitkin County is like policing Disney World. You don't have the chronic methamphetamine problem that Phoenix does – I guess because most people have money here, and you could make enough crystal meth to get the whole of Aspen high for about $40."

"We don't have that difficulty, it's true. Meth is the poor man's cocaine. But the bottom line is that his model is paramilitary. I don't know whether Sheriff Arpaio has informed his British reality TV fans that Maricopa County has settled $49m in lawsuits with another $100m in the conduit for civil-rights violations."

"Most of Phoenix loves him."

"They do. Arpaio is a hero to his voters. That's one of the beauties of having an elected law officer. Every sheriff, whether he's an idiot or a genius, has to address the needs of his county. I have always believed that it is easier to take an 'Aspenite' and train them to be a peace officer than to hire a young retiree from LAPD and train them to the mores and culture of this town. I get 60 applications annually from out-of-state cops. I advise them to move here, lay down a couple of years in a profession sans public safety, then go through the rigorous application process. Few do. My goal is to hire cops that like the people here, and train them to be peace officers. A chimp can learn the basics. I seek anti-authoritarians to become the authority. Knowledge of the Constitution and the spirit versus the letter of the law is essential. We work outside the margins in order to spare people like you and me the trauma of the system as codified by legislators."

When he was consulted by senior legislators about reforming Baghdad's police, Braudis recalls, "I said: 'Poll every block, find out whom most residents trust, then swear that dude in.' It works, believe it or not."

We drive out to Owl Farm, Hunter's old house, to meet Ralph Steadman, his wife Anna, and Stewart, their friend from Denver. (Anita Thompson hasn't been able to get down from New York, where she's studying at Columbia University.) "Last time we were here," I remind Steadman, "there were people like Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Bill Murray and John Cusack wandering about, as well as Hunter's family. In the immediate wake of his death there was a kind of vibrant disbelief about the place.

"Now, to me, it feels strangely eerie," Steadman says. "It's a loss I find difficult to manage."

"For me," says Braudis, "the shock of Hunter's death has ebbed slowly away. I'm over it now. But it's strange how, when we get together like this, we talk about him endlessly. The guy had some magnitude. Even if," he adds, "he did cause me a lot of stomach acid with the things he did."

"What was the worst? When he shot Deborah?"

(Deborah Fuller, Thompson's long-term assistant, received gunshot wounds after he "mistook her for a bear".)

"I'd say the episode involving his neighbour, Floyd Watkins," the sheriff replies. "Floyd moved here from Florida. He took a classic western ranch and turned it into something that looked like a horse farm in Kentucky. He was, in Hunter's vernacular, 'a pig'. One night Floyd and his son hid in a Chevy Suburban just inside their driveway. Hunter emptied a clip from a 9mm Second World War machine gun in their general direction. Floyd filed charges. Hunter claimed he'd been attacked by a giant rabid porcupine."

His remark at the time, Braudis recalls, was: "People call you the modern Mark Twain. Giant porcupine? Is that the best you could do?" The case was resolved "through a creative plea bargain. A perfectly good machine gun was hacksawed in half and surrendered to the DA."

"I believe the reason Bob Braudis liked coming up here," Steadman tells me, "is that he's a man who has never enjoyed the company of creeps or phoneys. And Hunter, whatever else he might have been, was neither."

On the evening Hunter Thompson died, Braudis called every one of his deputies. They gathered around the body in the kitchen, and each read out an excerpt from the author's work.

"Then I got a call from Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone asking me to contribute to a special issue," the sheriff says. "I was so angry, I wrote something like: 'Hunter, you cocksucker – thank you for not using your 12-gauge.' I had to call and get them to pull the piece."

The sun has gone down at Owl Farm and – although the properly is still very heavily guarded, with dogs, care- takers and alarms, to say nothing of the presence of Braudis – the atmosphere is very strange; it's almost as though it feels less safe without its former owner.

The conversation, on the other hand, is reassuringly aberrant. At one point I leave the room to have a look at the writer's peacocks. When I come back, the sheriff is in the middle of a speech about his friend Bob Rafelson, director of Five Easy Pieces and No Good Deed.

"So anyway," Braudis is saying, "Bob walks into town and buys the shrunken head and the switchblade. All of a sudden he's surrounded by Colombian military with rifles. 'What are you doing here?' they ask. He shows them the shrunken head and says: 'This is all that remains of my sister and I have sworn to give her a Christian burial. Hearing this, they place him in handcuffs and take him to the barracks, where they attach electrodes to his testes and start giving him these massive shocks. When he still won't talk, they waterboard him."

"Where," I ask him, "did you hear this?"

"Last week, at a party. Right after I learned about that woman who was killed by the exploding TV..."

As I leave with Braudis, heading back to Aspen, I'm struck by the curious thought that, whereas Thompson's life was, in certain ways, one of disappointed aspirations (the failure to see an honourable president elected before he died; the fact that he never produced fiction of the quality he would have liked; the collapse of his physical constitution), his contribution to local government remains one of his triumphs. Even if it was achieved by proxy, through Braudis, who carried out, where feasible, the spirit of the manifesto Depp reads out in the documentary, Gonzo.

Is there anything we can learn from Bob Braudis? What would our world be like, if its police officers implemented his philosophy to the limit?

"In Britain, until the early 1970s," Braudis recalls, "registered heroin addicts were prescribed the drug by their doctor. Those people, for the most part, paid taxes, bought their children bicycles and did not rob old ladies in the street. Today – and you'll just have to take my word on this – senior police chiefs that I meet admit, behind closed doors, that drugs should be made legal. But they can't say those things in public."

"Will you run again, in 2010?"

"That," says the sheriff, "is the subject of a difference of opinion between Dede and myself. She would prefer that I retire. The community is getting a little nervous, which is very flattering."

What are they nervous about? Perhaps the huge figure of Braudis – more even than that of Hunter S Thompson – has come to embody the defiantly unorthodox spirit of this small town. Maybe they suspect that, should he retire, the creeping process of normalisation will begin, bringing high-rise developments, more drunken drivers, pink underwear for convicts and large jets screaming down the newly extended runway. And, worst of all, a dramatic rise in what Bob Braudis has always regarded as the most pernicious menace of all: boredom. Perhaps what's really troubling them is an irrational fear – though who's to say it's unfounded – that once Sheriff Braudis leaves Aspen, the party lights will go out for good. n

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