Crime is on the rise in Colorado, and citizens in the San Luis Valley are dissatisfied with the local District Attorney, Alonso Payne, skirting justice by allegedly granting “sweetheart” deals to perpetrators of serious crimes.
On March 16, the Alamosa City Council voted to fund the recall of DA Payne. The one “no” vote came from Councilman Charlie Griego, who stated his support for the recall, but not using taxpayers’ dollars to fund it. Neither DA Payne nor any 12th Judicial District staff attended the meeting.
The city council’s move will allow city staff to now work on the recall election “up to the point of the certification of signatures.”
Residents crowded Alamosa City Council chambers during two meetings in March where they watched as council members took an unprecedented step forward towards recalling Payne. The forum allowed for public comment and members of the public took the opportunity to express their frustrations about the lack of accountability on the part of Payne and his office. Several of the comments were from victims who felt that Payne failed to be accountable to them, leaving them feeling re-victimized by the judicial system that is meant to protect them.
Payne is currently under investigation by the State Attorney General’s office for violation of the Victims’ Rights Act in multiple instances.**
District Court Judge Amanda Hopkins, on March 7, 2022 issued a Citation for Contempt to Payne for his conduct in her court. In her statement alleging Payne’s malfeasance, she outlines escalating concerns about Payne’s failure to comply with several trial management orders. Referencing a recent case from March 2022, Hopkins, in her Factual Allegations in the citation, asserts, “I believed Mr. Payne was dishonest about his reasons for dismissing this case.”
Further on in the citation, Hopkins continues, “Mr. Payne was included on all of this correspondence and did not respond in any way to the conversation.”
Law enforcement officers across the valley are also concerned about the lack of action on warrants that include domestic violence, assault, forgery, theft, burglary and felony menacing.
Payne, who ran on a platform of advocating for criminal justice reform and keeping low-level offenders out of the judicial system; now that seems to apply to all levels of crimes, and that jail is not productive.
The city council’s actions come after Payne appears not to take the City’s employees’ concerns seriously.
City Administrator Heather Brooks, Police Chief Ken Anderson, and City Attorney Erich Schwiesow presented concerns about the lack of professionalism in the DA office, potential violations of the Victims Rights Act, the unprecedented use of sweetheart plea deals for serious crimes, the lack of response in carrying out regular duties, risks to law enforcement officers due to emboldened criminals, concerns about animal cruelty, and, most recently, abuse of power with the embezzlement charges filed against former DA Robert Willett, Payne’s former opponent in the 2020 Democratic Primary.
Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick was in attendance at the March 16 meeting.
In a phone interview, Warwick shared his grave concerns about the number of cases that have been pled out, dismissed, with too many receiving reduced sentences.
Warwick referenced two cases. The latest is a major case he requested charges of First-Degree Murder on that was reduced to charges of Second-Degree Murder. The difference in jail time is significant. First-Degree Murder comes with a life sentence or death penalty, while Second-Degree Murder is an 8- to 24-year sentence. DA Payne made this judgment call after judicial review of the charges and without any discussion with the investigators of the crime.
Another, more well-known case, involved the mummified corpse of Amy Carlson, and the Love Has Won cult. Warwick found the decision to dismiss all charges to be unexplainable. “Our office doesn’t know how to give answers why something did not happen. The family is re-victimized by the failure to pursue charges.”
Warwick also referenced the tremendous waste of resources when his offices expend hours in evidence collection and investigation and the DA decides not to prosecute. This echos the concerns in the contempt citation of the significant resources being wasted in this judicial district due to prosecutorial unpreparedness.
The recall campaign needs a minimum of 5,000 signatures of registered voters from the six counties that make up the 12th Judicial District.
**The Victims Right Act violation investigation was prompted by a complaint from the Rocky Mountain Victims’ Law Center, a nonprofit law firm providing free legal services to victims of crimes throughout Colorado