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Explosives, junk contribute to Vista Grande neighborhood tensions

The house on Misty Drive


Britten's response when told to "smile for the photo." - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Britten's response when told to "smile for the photo."

John Britten is not a good neighbor, a fact that he readily acknowledges.

Answering the door on a Thursday afternoon, Britten is wild-haired, bearded and more than a bit disheveled. He's also frank.

"This is my mom's property," the 26-year-old says. "I look after it very poorly."

Indeed, the house at 4523 Misty Drive, near North Academy Boulevard and Flintridge Drive, stands out on the otherwise tidy street of mid-century homes. Piles of trash, random junk, tools and knick-knacks clutter the front yard. Apparently, the scene is actually an improvement over what it has looked like over the past couple years, when it was common to find appliances in various states of dismemberment on the front lawn.

The house has proven a steady problem for the city's code enforcement officers, who have received six complaints on the property since October 2014, and have issued two summonses. Britten didn't show for his latest court date, sparking a municipal court warrant for his arrest. Notably, documents show the El Paso County Court also has two warrants out for Britten's arrest.

But all these problems pale in comparison to one issue that cropped up Aug. 5, neighbors say.

Emily "Emy" Jacobsen, a retired 66-year-old who lives across the street, says she was already fed up with Britten by August.

"Then with this bomb scare thing," she says, "it's like, you've got to be kidding."

Colorado Springs police aren't talking about the "bomb scare thing," saying it's an open investigation. But KKTV reports that, in the late morning of Aug. 5, the police bomb squad showed up at the house and detonated what appeared to be a "homemade explosive device." Police, the report said, detonate such devices when they can't safely transport them. KKTV reported that "the explosives unit and the ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives]" would be investigating the incident.

Britten was not arrested following the detonation and has not been charged in relation to it. But the scare has rattled his neighbors, including one, who declined to be named citing fear of retaliation, saying he's outraged that the house has been allowed to remain in such condition for so long.

"Now there's been a freakin' explosive detonated in there," he says. "It's a threat to public safety."

Britten says the explosives were not his and he wasn't even aware they were in the home until police showed up.

And he has a fascinating explanation for how they got there.

"June 1 of this year, Courtney Beaudette was murdered in front of her 5-year-old son and her stay-in boyfriend had nowhere to go, and his whole life had just collapsed in front of him, and he blamed himself entirely for her having no protection when she died," he says. "It was really fucked up."

Britten says Beaudette's boyfriend was a friend of his, so he allowed him to stay in the house after the murder. Many will remember the case — the young woman's 5-year-old apparently offered three assailants his life savings of $1 when they demanded money and Beaudette had none to give. She was shot to death.

Asked how that led to explosives being in the home, Britten and his 26-year-old roommate, Chase Rozsa, start talking excitedly.

Rozsa asks, "Have you ever seen The Punisher?"

Britten explains, "Essentially, he was a criminal prodigy."

Rozsa adds, "His family got murdered and now he wants revenge on every criminal in town, I think."

According to the two, the boyfriend stayed with them for a few days, built pipe bombs and left them somewhere in the house — the police never told them where. When the boyfriend was later arrested, they say he told the police about the bombs, taking full responsibility for their creation, and the police came to dispose of them. The roommates say the boyfriend apparently intended to target criminals in retaliation for his girlfriend's death.

"I've got a map in my house right now of Colorado Springs where he had plotted out every major dope dealer and every major arms dealer — everybody he knew that was involved in whatever criminal activity," Britten says.

While strange, it's not exactly uncanny that criminal activity would take place in Britten's house. Britten freely admits he's a meth addict, saying he became a heroin addict at age 11, and his mother got him off the drug and out of homelessness when he was 13. He says he was drinking heavily when he met a girl and fell in love around the age of 20, when he first moved into his mother's home on his own.

(His mother, Eva Britten, lived in the house for some time before that, but now lives with Britten's father elsewhere in the Springs.)

The girl Britten loved was a meth addict, and he says, "I couldn't bear the idea of this beautiful creature, this person that understood me better than anyone in my life ever has, to feel that lonely.

"So I decided I'd walk with her in hell, you know? And however brave that choice may be, it was pretty stupid."

Britten says he and his two roommates are trying to get their lives together, but he freely admits "it's failed dramatically."

With the explosives gone, the Britten household has gone back to being what it has long been to the neighborhood: an eyesore.

Tom Wasinger, the city's code enforcement supervisor, says his officers have made repeated visits to the home. Often they'd see improvement, only to see it worsen soon thereafter — something Britten admits is true.

In September 2015, the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department issued Britten a stop-work order for an addition built without a permit. Neighbors describe it as a covered porch of some sort, or a "shantytown." Rozsa says it started as an improvement but got out of hand as random junk was attached to it.

Given the choice between getting a permit and removing the addition, the roommates simply tore it down.

Britten says the other trash is largely related to his livelihood — harvesting scrap metal from trash heaps, piecing larger items and selling them. Since all the roommates' cars have been impounded, Britten says he's no longer able to drag as much stuff home, though he sometimes carries it by hand.

Wasinger says that Britten's code enforcement violations carry a maximum of a $2,500 fine and up to 189 days in jail.

That could be seen as a positive to Jacobsen, who says Britten's roommates try more to clean up the yard when he's in jail, and have even helped with her yard. Jacobsen says she's tried everything to get the place cleaned up, including calling Britten's mother, who, she says, simply told her, "Kids will be kids."

Meanwhile, Britten also has warrants for failure to appear for court dates relating to probation from drug charges and a burglary that he says was of metal from an "abandoned" lot. Britten says he was unaware of the warrants, explaining that he mixed up one of his court dates with one of Rozsa's court dates. He also says his lack of a car has kept him from the courts.

Informed Aug. 11 of the warrants by the Indy, he shakes his head, and exclaims, "Fuck!"

Then, looking apologetic, he adds, "Oh, there's nothing you could tell me that would faze me at this point."

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