November 28, 1944 – June 3, 2022
Bob Braudis, the Colorado sheriff who spent his teenage years in Buffalo and captured worldwide attention with his unconventional approach to law enforcement, died June 3 in Aspen, Colorado, after falling ill his home. He was 77 years old.
Despite criticism for his longtime friendship with controversial gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Mr. Braudis was elected six times as sheriff of Pitkin County. He was so popular that voters eliminated a term limit rule in 2000 so he could stay in office. He retired in 2010.
A towering figure, 6ft 6in tall with long hair, he was famous for his laid-back enforcement of drug laws and his humane treatment of prisoners in the county jail, which he designed himself. One of his most popular innovations was the Tipsy Taxi, which allowed drunks to get home from bars for free.
“The Tipsy Taxi is not a gimmick. It’s a crime prevention program,” he told British journalist Robert Chalmers in 2009. “There’s not a dime of government money in this. It is funded by donations. Statistically, the biggest threat to your life in Pitkin County is a drunk in your lane at 5 a.m. driving a five-ton pickup truck.
Robert C. Braudis was born in Boston, Massachusetts, of Lithuanian and Irish ancestry, and recounted how as a child he belonged to a street gang. By the time he was a teenager he was in Buffalo. He graduated in 1962 from the Lycée Canisius. The yearbook listed that his activities included school theater and the swim team and that he lived on Highland Avenue in the city’s Delaware district.
He then attended the University at Buffalo, majoring in philosophy, and married Linda Larkin Kellogg, the great-granddaughter of two historically prominent Buffalo businessmen – Spencer Kellogg and John D. Larkin. He then began a career as a business analyst at Dun & Bradstreet in New York.
“I was part of the movement of my generation, which was anti-war, pro-civil rights, pro-women’s rights — whatever social justice was in the ’60s,” he says. “I was trying to get out of the corporate rut and into it. So what did I do? I bailed out and moved to Aspen and got stoned. And everything was fine. »
He arrived in time to volunteer for Hunter S. Thompson’s upstart campaign for Pitkin County Sheriff in 1970. They quickly became friends.
Mr. Braudis found work as a ski instructor and bought a condo near one of the ski resorts, but when his marriage broke up and the slopes went bare in 1976, he had to find a way to support himself and his two daughters.
“He went from being a hippie to being a father,” his daughter Stephanie Braudis told Anthony Cotton of the Denver Post in 2010. “Suddenly he had to bring in money, get a job, and be Mr. Mom. “
He was hired as a deputy by Sheriff Dick Kienast, who brought a community-based, non-confrontational approach to policing and attracted officers who shared his philosophy. When Kienast decided to retire in 1986, he asked Mr. Braudis, then county commissioner, to run and succeed him.
Like Kienast, he disapproved of sting operations and advocated for the legalization of recreational drugs, saying drug addiction was a medical problem, not a criminal offense. His constituents endorsed him by re-electing him again and again.
“I tried to eliminate the idea of them and us,” he told British journalist Chalmers. “Libertarians I can count on. But I also get support from ultra-conservative billionaires because I help make this place safe for them. I hope I am also able to have an intellectual dialogue with them, to the point that they are willing to accept the possibility that the so-called War on Drugs is absurd.
In the television crime comedy “Reno 911”, grumpy officers dreamed of being transferred to Aspen to work for him. What they didn’t know was that he only hired local residents, believing that his deputies should first get to know the community by living there.
Another of his innovations was the prison, although his house-like accommodations won him notoriety after pictures of it appeared in the National Enquirer.
“I’m proud of my prison,” he told Chalmers, “it’s designed and staffed so that if you or your mother had to do 90 days, you’d be safe. We have no inmate-on-inmate or inmate-on-staff aggression. We treat people like human beings. Every facility I visited when designing my prison had steel furniture. I chose wooden beds and tables, just like I have here at home. My detractors said that inmates would carve initials and make bonfires there. Over 20 years later, none of this has happened.
Nonetheless, he was fiercely devoted to protecting children and facing danger.
“He’s handled incredibly difficult situations where people are armed and threatening to kill other people,” former Aspen mayor Bill Sterling told the Denver Post interviewer in 2010. “He has a way to defuse these incidents…. He doesn’t come in force, but he steps back, and when a big man of that size steps back instead of trying to overwhelm you with his dimensions, it’s reassuring to people.
Mr Braudis has strongly maintained that he did not engage in drugs or alcohol in Aspen while he was sheriff. Being a friend of Hunter Thompson didn’t make it easy.
“Hunter and I have developed a protocol, designed to prevent me from being compromised,” he told Chalmers. “I can’t give you specifics, but it was effective.”
After Thompson committed suicide in 2005, Mr. Braudis and fellow friend, artist and Aspen newspaper columnist Michael Cleverly, collected their memories of him in a book, “The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson.” He also wrote a preview of the book “Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff” by Daniel Joseph Watkins.
He made appearances in several films. In retirement, he remained in Aspen, greeting well-wishers on downtown streets and frequenting the Gonzo Gallery, which specialized in Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia.
He has been married and divorced three times. His first wife died in 1994.
Survivors include her two daughters, Stephanie Braudis and Heidi Mitchell, and three grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be organized.