1. What role can the DA’s office play in protecting our environment? In what ways will you use the office to battle the climate crisis and the development of Rocky Flats?
District Attorneys can play a crucial role in protecting the environment through their Environmental Protection Units. Typically, DAs in Colorado have left environmental reform in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office, but there is no requirement they do so. Colorado law gives DAs concurrent jurisdiction over certain environmental crimes, including pollution. The District Attorney’s Office for the 1st J.D. was cited for its environmental prosecution efforts by the Department of Justice in 1993. Since then, however, the District Attorney’s Office has failed to adequately protect the environment through its enforcement arm. DAs have the ability to enforce laws against those whose flaunting of environmental regulations damages the property and enjoyment of their neighbors, including the fracking industry.
As District Attorney, my office will investigate and prosecute hazardous material transportation, storage, and dumping violations, fraudulent automobile smog checks, and companies and individuals that commit fraud and thwart regulations at the expense of environmental safety and public health. This includes any developer making false or misleading claims concerning the safety and history of the Rocky Flats area that rise to the level of fraud. Further, as District Attorney, my office will work closely with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, and other state and federal agencies and their associated environmental crimes divisions to investigate and prosecute violations in Jefferson and Gilpin Counties.
A DA’s Office can also take the lead in its use of environmentally friendly measures to limit waste and use of energy, to encourage good stewardship of the environment by its employees and running an environmentally friendly office.
2. How have the policies of the military and local law enforcement impacted the violence in our local communities?
Law enforcement approaches and District Attorney strategies have direct impacts on crime and violence in local communities. For the last thirty years and the “War on Drugs,” which is neither a war nor an effective attempt to stop drug use, law enforcement has gone through a series of strategies based on such concepts as stop and frisk, broken windows, and a general attempt at punitive consequences influencing behavior. These strategies have not only failed to reduce crime but have also disproportionately affected communities of color and economically depressed areas.
All candidates for District Attorney should be focused on reducing violence in our community. However, the continued use of outdated models of enforcement and the election of DAs who tout their experience within the office instead of their programs to change the mindset and practice of enforcement, have led to a continuation of violence and a 50% recidivism rate in Colorado. Over-militarization of police forces and outdated strategies lead to a broken trust within the community. This broken trust then leads to a failure of intelligence gathering on crimes and a failure to properly utilize law enforcement. This then leads to more violent crime. At its heart, police-community interaction is based on relationship building. When the police are an integral part of the community and have healthy community relations, information flows freely from the citizenry to the police and crimes can be more easily prevented or those that commit them more easily apprehended. A community-based policing approach, coupled with de-escalation in violence, and a focus on preventive treatment instead of merely punitive sanctions will lower violent crime, and rebuild community trust.
Law enforcement and District Attorneys must make progress in earning the trust of local communities through fair and community-based policing and prosecuting. Included in this approach needs to be a shift of focus from low-level “quality of life” crimes to investigating and prosecuting truly violent criminals through the use of strategic gun laws, coordination and intelligence gathering, and the above-mentioned community trust-building. Criminal justice reform and progressive prosecution are about ending the cycle of violence in our community to make it a safer place for all. I was the criminal justice reform candidate when I ran for DA in 2016 and I have been advocating and fighting for these reforms for the last ten years. Only by truly reforming our mindset from reactive to proactive in criminal justice will we truly address violence in our community.
3. What important steps will you take to improve equality and safety in the workplace for all marginalized people?
I am the only candidate in this race that has endorsed the creation of a Worker Protection Unit along the lines of the one created by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Worker and consumer rights are too often overlooked in our rush to prosecute violent offenders and higher profile crimes. As D.A., my office will no longer refer these to the civil legal system. We will, where appropriate, prosecute willful violations of worker safety that result in serious injury and death, proactively investigate and prosecute wage theft, including payroll fraud, employee misclassification, and foreign labor force wage theft. To this end, we will partner with cities and community-based organizations, especially those that work closely with vulnerable populations, to increase reporting and visibility of these often-overlooked crimes. When we protect the ability for everyone in our community to work to feed their families and do so in a safe environment, our entire community prospers.
4. Would you recommend changes in the Juvenile Justice System in the 1st Judicial district, and if so, what sorts of changes? In general, how should the juvenile system differ from the adult justice system?
The Juvenile Justice system, in general, has an entirely different focus than the Adult Justice System. While the Adult Justice system is fundamentally focused on community safety and victim’s rights, the Juvenile Justice system is focused on the interests of the child involved. As such, the Juvenile Justice system has much more of a focus on rehabilitation and treatment, instead of a punitive based approach. I will continue and expand on this model including increased use of diversion programs.
My concerns with the Juvenile Justice system have to do with the number of times we remove juveniles from the Juvenile Justice system and charge them as adults. While there may be some circumstances where this is appropriate, I believe the vast majority of juveniles belong in the Juvenile Justice system. We know the juvenile mind is not the same as an adult mind and is not fully developed to consider consequences. DAs also need to support the current reforms bringing down life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders to more appropriate sentences.
Juvenile justice extends beyond the criminal system. Our focus should be to prevent juveniles from ever entering the justice system. While juvenile diversions programs are fantastic, the true need is to ensure that juveniles are not detained in the first place. We know that just one night in juvenile detention results in a massive 30+% increase in recidivism. We need to end the school-to-prison pipeline by providing more resources to schools in the form of counselors and behavioral health specialists. We need to provide better nutrition in schools and homes for young children and address the increase in police contact that was an unintended side effect of SROs in school. I believe so strongly in these ideas that I assisted in the recall election for the school board and served as the finance director of 5A/5B to provide the Jeffco School system with the tools and funds necessary to implement these policies. Running for office isn’t merely about what you say you support. It’s about what you’ve done to make your proposed changes a reality.
5. What are your views on gun control, and the red flag law recently implemented in Colorado? Does it need changes, or to be repealed entirely?
I support the red flag law recently implemented and believe the DA has an important role in ensuring that law enforcement follows the law. I’ve spoken on the red flag laws at various groups and recently defended the law at a candidate forum run by the South Jeffco Tea Party. While the Supreme Court recently ruled in Heller that the right to own a weapon is an individual right, even that Court recognized the right is not boundless and that there are individuals who should be never in possession of weapons. The Red Flag law will no doubt undergo minor tweaks in its implementation, but I believe it is constitutional and an important tool in preventing those individuals facing serious mental health crises from accessing the tools that take their situation from an individual tragedy to a community tragedy. Red flag is designed, among other things, to reduce the number of suicides by gun in this community, and given our incredibly high number, especially our high number of youth suicides, this is a welcome step.
Rep. Duran is also currently running a safe gun storage law which I support in order to restrict access to weapons for teenagers and others not allowed by law to have access. We cannot only address how one legally acquires weapons but must also address the attempts by many to illegally acquire them.
When talking about guns, it is always important to address the connection between domestic violence and guns. While the Lautenberg provisions federally ban anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning or accessing a gun, the enforcement of these provisions has been somewhat lacking. It has been my position from the beginning of this campaign, that I will cross-deputize selected DAs as Federal prosecutors with the power to bring federal cases against repeat domestic violence offenders who continue to possess guns. We know that a gun in the home during a domestic violence incident dramatically increases the lethality of that incident. DA McCann in Denver has attempted to address this issue by providing a full-time investigator to look into persons with DV convictions who possess guns and I agree with her approach. Felons and domestic violence offenders with guns will be a primary target for my office.
6. What is the role of the DA’s office regarding:
Homelessness plays a large and increasing role in the cases coming before the DAs Office. I have been involved in the fight to end homelessness for years now through the National Center For Law and Homeless Policy and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. I have testified for the repeal of the Denver Campaign Ban in the State House, and written articles opposing the criminalization of homelessness and supporting attempts to end that criminalization in Denver. I ascribe to a “Housing First” solution to homelessness and believe the prosecution of quality of life offenses for those who have no housing is merely adding to the problem instead of creating a solution. I became a prosecutor to protect society from violent criminals, not to lock up those who do not have the resources to get by and are frequently suffering from mental illness and addiction. I appreciate the recent efforts by Lakewood and Arvada police to have homeless response teams and want to encourage county-wide cooperation in these efforts.
b. Mental Illness
The State Penal system is the single largest provider of mental health services in the entire state. It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of criminal cases involve either mental illness or substance abuse or both. While Mental Health Diversion Courts are frequently cited by DA candidates as the solution to this issue, they are not nearly enough. There are 5,000 felony cases and 20,000 misdemeanor and traffic cases in Jeffco each year. A mental health court can handle perhaps 50 cases at any one time. There just isn’t enough band-with to handle these types of cases through diversion courts. Rather, mental health must be addressed at its source. A DA must advocate at the legislature for more dollars for a functioning mental health system and make the case that spending money on mental health saves money on criminal justice. A DA must work with partners such as JCMH to provide services to people identified as repeatedly appearing in the criminal justice system before they are arrested. Police must be encouraged to use mental health officers, as Denver does, and to respond differently to mental health crises then crime calls. Our goal shouldn’t be the diversion of a person suffering from mental health crises once they are in the criminal justice system but prevention from them ever having law enforcement contact or being charged in the first place. Once we have incarcerated someone suffering from mental illness even one night, we have made the situation worse. DAs conducting charging decisions need to be aware of the role mental illness plays and charge accordingly, and prosecutors must implement a true, pre-charge diversion, not our current post-plea diversion.
c. Substance use
Substance use mirrors mental illness in how the criminal justice system currently responds and should respond. Once again, we are treating a public health crisis with the blunt hammer of state force and we are then shocked when that creates as much damage as the original problem. The “War on Drugs” is an absolute and total failure and any DA candidate who does not proclaim that cannot be considered a progressive reformer. We need to look to the Portugal model for how a public health crisis should be accurately treated. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge the tremendous damage done to communities of color and low-income communities by the “War on Drugs” and use our Conviction Integrity Unit to redress those past harms. Substance abuse is a pervasive problem across America, but we need to stop trying to address morality with criminal laws and address actual harm. To this end, I intend to use a harm reduction model across all crimes as DA where the focus is on stopping harms, not regulating individuals’ personal lives. We must recognize that substance abuse is an addiction and not just an individual making bad choices. As such, in line with the DA’s role of reducing crime, we must treat the addiction to prevent the recurrence of the crime.
7. Is sentencing reform needed? If so, how much can be accomplished on the judicial district level, and what will require statewide action?
Absolutely, sentencing reform is needed. In Colorado, sentencing is entirely in the hands of the state legislature. However, a DA is a powerful voice in advocating for reduction or elimination of mandatory minimums, more appropriate classifications of drug offenses, and a continued step away from the draconian sentencing of the war on drugs. Mandatory minimums, in particular, should never be used as a bargaining tool or to force a Defendant to take a plea instead of asserting their rights at trial. Mandatory minimums take away a judge’s discretion and force a “one size fits all” solution into inherently individualistic situations. As such, they should be reserved for the most severe of crimes only and never used for bargaining purposes. I was an advocate for the recent reduction in simple drug possession cases from felonies to misdemeanor and the sentencing changes that went with that. When the District Attorney advocates for sentencing reform, people listen.
A D.A.’s real power is in charging decisions and advocacy for appropriate sentences in individual cases. The single biggest factor in someone’s sentence is the D.A.’s decision on the appropriate charge and the plea offer made. A D.A. intent on a fairer sentencing structure will institute guidelines for charging appropriate to the level of the crime, instead of merely charging the highest possible crime that the facts could be made to fit. In these charging decisions, the D.A. should consider factors such as mental illness, substance abuse, past history, economic opportunity, and other factors. Many DAs charge the highest possible crime with the intent to plea bargain lower. These charges meanwhile contribute to higher bail, more pretrial release conditions, difficulty maintaining employment during the pendency of the case and, studies reveal, higher sentencing when a bargain is eventually struck. As D.A., I will charge what I believe is fair and just and not with an eye towards plea bargaining.
A District Attorney’s mission at sentencing is achieving justice regardless of popular passions. A DA must always consult with the victims but must request a sentence that reaches beyond merely punitive to attempt to stop crime from happening again. Some truly terrible people must be locked away from society for the protection of all, but we must also consider who can be rehabilitated and who can once again be a productive member of society.
8. What life experiences do you feel prepare you to support victims? How do you feel about conviction integrity units and are you willing to start one in District 1? Please speak to your managerial experience.
There is no doubt that life experience plays a major role in both empathizing with and supporting victims. As a sex crimes prosecutor on two different occasions, with numerous sex crimes jury trials, I frequently tell victims about my time liberating Iraqi torture camps and bond with them over terrible traumatic experiences and sights. I talk to victims who are scared of retribution from defendants about how scared I was when being shot at or facing bombs in Baghdad. I talk to parents about being the primary caregiver for my two young sons and I talk to victims of crime about having been a victim of a violent home invasion myself. I am also able to talk to victims having been a defense attorney where I represented victims throughout the process. It helps to have lived in numerous states, to have practiced law both as a defense attorney and prosecutor, and to have practiced civil law. Quite simply, a variety of experiences matter.
I will implement a Conviction Integrity Unit whose purpose is to reexamine past convictions, not only for actual innocents but also for prison sentences that we would no longer consider just or appropriate. In particular, this unit will look for past sentences that no longer conform with our current understanding of drugs and marijuana. I committed to this in 2016 when I ran for District Attorney and it has been part of my platform in this race from the beginning. I was present for one of the first conviction integrity units established by Craig Watkins in the Dallas prosecutor’s office and saw what a valuable tool these units are to address past wrongs.
I am the only candidate in this race with outside managerial experience. I learned leadership as a soldier in Iraq leading 9-15 young Soldiers through the streets of Baghdad in search and rescue missions into Iraqi torture camps where managerial and leadership mistakes would have resulted in their deaths or the deaths of innocent people. I have been a supervisor in the DAs Offices I have worked in and now run Sexual Assaults for the 5th Judicial District.
I also have managerial experience as I owned and ran my own law firm, Triple L Law. At Triple L, I was responsible for budget, managing my employees, benefits, accounting, and all of the trappings of running a small business. Being District Attorney isn’t just a matter of being another prosecutor. It’s running a large law office and understanding there are many different ways to do something. I have practiced in 5 states, 3 different district attorneys’ offices, a federal prosecutors office, a military prosecutors office and 13 counties in Colorado alone. I have tried jury trials in 6 counties in Colorado and countless counties across the country. This breadth of experience provides me with a diverse background to draw on in both managerial and practical experience for a prosecutor’s office.
9. Jefferson County is currently dealing with budget cuts, which has led to a decrease in jail beds, decreased funding for the DA’s office, and decreases in other areas of the county’s budget. What are your thoughts about how best to address the serious budget issues facing the largest county in the first judicial district?
There can be no doubt that Jefferson County is facing a budget crisis. We must remember some basic facts though. The 1st Judicial District remains the best-funded DA’s Office in the state. It’s budget per capita is a little over $38, while DA’s offices like the 18th and the 14th are down around $27 per person. Jeffco also has the highest paid District Attorney in the state, at $235,000/year, who is also one of the highest-paid individuals in all of state government.
The DA has a responsibility to utilize the funds allocated wisely. This includes lowering jail overcrowding by implementing bail reform. Over half of the people in the Jefferson County Jail are there pre-trial and have not been convicted. If budget cuts require the reduction of people in the County Jail, the District Attorney should lead the effort to determine which of those remaining in the jail should be reduced to a PR bond. If someone is acceptable to be released on a $1000 bond but does not have the money to do so, how do they become more of a danger if they are released on a PR bond? In short, they do not. I have long advocated for total abolishment of cash bail and a model more similar to the federal system which requires only a release/no release decision. As this would take a statutory and constitutional change, in the meantime, I will look to lower jail population by a re-examining of misdemeanor bonds to determine who is truly a danger and who can be released on PR bonds pending trial. Furthermore, I expect my focus on treatment and rehabilitation in misdemeanor cases and increased use of diversionary tools to contribute to an overall reduction in jail population.
I require Deputy District Attorneys to be trial lawyers, first and foremost. The DAs Office will, like all other county agencies, examine its budget to ensure that all DDAs are trial lawyers and that those with purely a supervisory role are kept to a minimum. Furthermore, the DA must examine its use of county property (such as county-issued cars) to ensure they are getting the most bang for the buck, and only the most absolutely of necessary expenses are funded. The DAs office needs to be a labor of passion for the attorneys therein.
10. Do you support the death penalty? If not, would you work for reform in Colorado?
Absolutely Not. Once again, I don’t just say that I am opposed to the death penalty because I am running for office, but I have been publicly working hard to end the death penalty. I have been involved in the abolition of the death penalty in Colorado for the last 5 years. I am a member and donor of the Coloradans for the Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CADP) and the CCDB anti-death penalty lobby. I have served as a guest facilitator for the ACLU on panels to explain why the death penalty is not an effective deterrent and personally lobbied legislators to help achieve the votes necessary to end the death penalty.
I was publicly opposed to the death penalty when I ran against Pete Weir for DA in 2016 and ran explicitly on my plan to end it. I am endorsed by Sen. Julie Gonzalez, the sponsor of the anti-death penalty act in both 2019 and 2020, and Phil Cherner, Past President of the Criminal Defense Bar and founder of the CADP. Finally, I went down to the Senate two weeks ago at the request of Sen. Gonzalez and testified for the repeal of the Death Penalty twice. I was one of only 3 district attorneys who did this, while many more opposed the repeal or remained silent. I’m not just opposed to the death penalty; I have given my time, money, and public reputation to ensure its repeal.
11. What should the role of the DA’s office be regarding immigration?
How we enforce our laws is a poignant indicator of the health of our free and democratic society. Therefore, fair and consistent enforcement of the law for ALL people, regardless of race, gender, or immigrant status is critical to our collective success and prosperity. The DA’s office must work to recognize and address racial, gender, and economic disparities and implicit bias within the judicial system. Fair enforcement must include efforts to address mass incarceration and the devastation resulting therefrom in economically depressed communities and treat with dignity and compassion the unique vulnerabilities of undocumented immigrants.
Further, the DA’s role is to protect victims and investigate crimes. This includes all victims regardless of race, gender, or immigrant status. To this end, the DA must promote an environment where any victim can feel comfortable coming forward to report a crime without fear of retaliation or deportation including by the U-Visa program. It’s far more important to prosecute those who commit criminal acts then to report illegal immigrants when they come forward. Those who exploit vulnerable populations are a threat to our entire community.
We must also allow full and equal access to our courtrooms. In order to achieve this, at the request of renowned immigration attorney Hans Meyer, I testified on behalf of his bill to prohibit ICE from making civil arrests in a court building in Colorado. This will allow all individuals, regardless of documentation, access to the Courts and ensure justice for all, including victims of crime.
The District Attorney’s Office is not and should not be an arm of the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws.
12. What is your position on private prisons? Does the DA’s office have a role, or potential role, regarding this issue?
Private prisons are an abomination and must be abolished. This concept has done nothing more than to promote mass incarceration, oppress vulnerable populations, and perpetuate racism in the criminal justice system and in our community. The DA can address this in two ways. First, the DA can be a powerful advocate at the legislature for ending private prison contracts. More importantly, the DA can work to end mass incarceration at the local level negating the need for a private prison system.
To do this, as DA, I will invest in expanding the use and capacity of Diversion Courts, including for Mental Health, Veterans, Drug Treatment Court, and DUI. Pre-plea diversions, pre-arrest diversions, youth offender diversions (17-25), officer-led diversions, and restorative justice will play a vital role in the effort to ensure rehabilitation of young and first-time offenders to prevent future crimes. Diversion and restorative justice techniques will also serve a significant role in addressing the school-to-prison pipeline and juvenile offenses. Finally, I will support efforts to fund a functioning mental health system, public health system, housing for the homeless, and a school system in order to address crime at its roots and be pro-active in lowering crime rates.
These efforts will be coordinated with an office-wide review whose goal will be to eliminate unnecessary incarceration so that we only incarcerate those who are truly a threat rather than those with whom we are merely angry.