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Durango police find 13 alleged intruders hiding inside former Red Snapper restaurant

Suspects include eight men, four women and a child
Derrill Macho, owner of the former Red Snapper restaurant building in Durango, looks over bedding and trash on Tuesday. Thirteen people, including a child, took shelter in the building earlier this week in downtown Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Thirteen people, including a child, took shelter in the former Red Snapper restaurant earlier this week in downtown Durango, according to the Durango Police Department.

The alleged intruders, some of whom are believed to be unhoused, included eight men, four women and a child, according to police. The adults ranged in age from 24 to 42 years old. The child was believed to be about 9 years old, according to a police spokesman.

Those arrested

Florentia Lee, 36

Susan Tormoehlen, 41

Erik Carney, 29

Debra Doane, 34

Tyler Fleury, 24

Tyrone Yazzie, 42

Keith Camps, 38

Casey Chapman, 38

Anthony Montoya, 32

Evan Garfield Jr, 37

Zion Spencer, 31

Jamie Muir, 31

Police took 11 of the 13 people into custody and booked them into the La Plata County Jail on suspicion of felony burglary and misdemeanor trespassing. A 31-year-old woman was cited and released, along with the child, police said.

Police arrived around 5:45 p.m. Monday to find multiple people living inside the vacant building.

“Officers attempted to call out the people inside, but none responded to the officers’ requests, requiring them to go into the business to locate and identify the people inside,” according to a news release from the police department.

Upon searching the building, officers found “significant evidence” of drug use, including syringes, foil and other drug paraphernalia. The alleged trespassers set up makeshift tents and beds on two levels: the main level that used to house the restaurant, and the basement level where supplies and equipment were stored.

Drugs and paraphernalia were found throughout the building of the former Red Snapper restaurant on Tuesday. Thirteen people, including a child, took shelter in the building. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Police believe the 13 people had been living in the building for at least a week.

“We believe that those inside were allowing other unknown subjects into the building for the purpose of using drugs in a concealed area,” police said in a news release.

The alleged squatters were first identified by an upstairs tenant who saw people walking next to the building and accessing the closed restaurant at 144 E. Ninth St., said Derrill Macho, the building owner, in an interview Tuesday with The Durango Herald.

One or more upper-level tenants also noticed odors of smoke, perhaps from cigarettes or drug use, he said.

Macho was notified of the intruders by a fourth-floor tenant, he said.

He provided the Herald with a tour of the building on Tuesday.

The former restaurant is largely intact and undamaged. But the alleged intruders stripped seat cushions from the booths and used them as beds throughout the building. At least one person set up a bedroom in the front grill area of the restaurant. Several other makeshift bedrooms were set up downstairs, including in a walk-in cooler, various storage areas and other hideaways characteristic of a historic building.

Artwork inside a walk-in cooler at the former Red Snapper restaurant Tuesday in Durango, where 13 people, including a child, took shelter. Durango police suspect the intruders had been there for at least a week. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Some dwelling areas had fake $20, $50 and $100 bills strewed about. The bills say “Copy” or “For Motion Picture Use Only,” but otherwise look authentic. Such bills can be purchased online and have been illegally passed in recent months at local businesses, according to police.

Macho believes the men living in his building used a 5-gallon bucket as a “bathroom,” while the women used an employee bathroom in the basement. The so-called women’s bathroom has a sign on the door that reads, “Clean bathroom after each use! Sink, toilet, mirror, etc.” The sign was put up by the alleged trespassers, Macho said.

The basement was littered with trash, backpacks, blankets, sleeping bags and snacks. There were fresh bananas, orange peels and snack-size bags of chips. A banjo sat among the piles of personal items.

There was plenty of evidence of drug use, including pipes, syringes and unsmoked marijuana. Several light bulbs had been taken apart to be used as heating chambers for illicit drugs, which is then inhaled through a straw. Liquor bottles, big and small, were strewed about. Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, also was among the refuse.

Macho said the inhabitants were fairly neat, referring to the fact that they didn’t cause any lasting damage to the building itself. But he called a professional cleaning company to obtain a quote for cleaning up the mess.

He's fairly sympathetic to the unhoused residents, saying he was adopted as a child and didn’t always have an easy life. But he is strongly opposed to drug use inside his building.

“They just wanted to get out of the cold,” he said.

The inhabitants are suspected of gaining access by jimmying a locked door.

Fake money is scattered on the basement floor, along with clothing and trash, at the former Red Snapper restaurant on Tuesday. Thirteen people, including a child, took shelter in the building earlier this week in downtown Durango. Durango police suspect the intruders had been there for at least a week. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Durango Police Department recommends building owners and managers find a way to monitor activity in their buildings, either through an active alarm system or by doing frequent in-person checks.

Macho said he walks through his building about once a week with his dog. He urged others to do the same.

“Every time I'm downtown, I just walk through here. It takes me five minutes,” he said. “… You’ve got to monitor it, especially now. You’ve got cold weather.

“I could sit here all day long and say the city should do more for homelessness and all that crap,” he said. “There's certain things you should do, too.”


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