Music teacher Christian Paetsch reaches tentative plea deal in Aurora bank robbery case

Arrest involved controversial mass vehicle stop

DENVER - A music teacher arrested on bank robbery charges during a controversial traffic stop where Aurora police corralled 25 vehicles has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, according to court records.

Christian Paetsch's public defender filed a motion last month in federal court saying he had reached the conditional plea agreement with prosecutors. The motion didn't give details of the agreement.

A judge scheduled a change of plea hearing for Paetsch on Jan. 24 and cancelled his Dec. 3 trial date.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Denver, told 7NEWS that, under the plea agreement, Paetsch is expected to plead guilty to armed bank robbery and use of a weapon during a violent crime. However, federal prosecutors will allow Paetsch to continue his appeal of a judge's ruling that the mass traffic stop the led to Paetsch’s arrest was legal.

Dorschner said he couldn't reveal what sentence, if any, Paetsch has agreed to.

Both armed bank robbery and using a gun in a crime of violence carry maximum penalties of 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prosecutors say Paetsch, an accomplished violinist who taught music in the Douglas County, Cherry Creek and Aurora school districts, robbed an Aurora Wells Fargo bank at East Hampden Avenue and South Chambers Road on June 2 -- a day after a banker there refused to renegotiate his loan.

According to an arrest affidavit, Paetsch entered the bank concealed by sun glasses and a mesh beekeeper mask. He is accused of brandishing a handgun and blasted a mini air horn to get customers' and tellers' attention before ordering everyone to lie down on the floor.

The robber made off with more than $25,000, but tellers hid a GPS tracking transmitter in the bundles of cash.

Police using a GPS tracking device followed the signal to East Iliff Avenue and South Buckley Road where several officers used patrol cars to block 25 vehicles containing a total 29 occupants at the intersection.

The tactic triggered a barrage of criticism from innocent motorists who said officers with shotguns and rifles went car-by-car, pulling out people at gunpoint and handcuffing them.

The GPS tracking device soon led officers to a white Ford Expedition with Paetsch behind the wheel, the affidavit said. Officers looking through the SUV's windows saw a purple band from a cash bundle with "$2,000" printed on it lying on the front passenger seat.

In the SUV, investigators found a large gray bag with the words "Cherry Creek High School" on it containing nearly $23,000 in a cash bundle and the hidden GPS tracking unit, the affidavit said. Officers also found two loaded handguns and a mesh beekeeper mask in the SUV.

Paetsch's public defender has argued that because the mass traffic stop was unconstitutional, the evidence against Paetsch seized from the SUV -- including the stolen bank cash, the mask and guns -- should be tossed.

In an October ruling, United States District Court Judge William J. Martinez said that, while the mass stop was unusual, he wouldn't "second-guess the officers’ decision to stop" the vehicles. Martinez wrote that the police tactic was reasonable "given that they were attempting to apprehend a dangerous felon in real time."

Martinez said some statements Paetsch made to police about the guns in his car won't be allowed at trial because the officers improperly questioned him after he asked for a lawyer.

But the judge ruled that all the evidence seized from the SUV can be used at trial, because officers had probable cause to arrest the man and search the vehicle.