The Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office is no longer prosecuting a case the office brought against Lake County Coroner Shannon Kent in 2019.
On June 10, Fifth Judicial District Judge Catherine Cheroutes filed an order granting defense attorney John Scott’s motion to remove Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown from Kent’s case. Cheroutes appointed Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney to prosecute the case instead.
Kent was first indicted on a second-degree official misconduct charge by a Fifth Judicial District Grand Jury in August 2019 for allegedly sending his wife, Staci Kent, to coroner call-outs by herself. The grand jury concluded that Staci Kent acted as deputy coroner from March to July of 2019 without being authorized to do so.
A few months later, in December 2019, Shannon and Staci Kent were each charged with perjury of the first degree, a felony offense, for allegedly making false statements at the grand jury hearing in August 2019.
Cheroutes’ decision to remove Brown from the case and grant Kent a special prosecutor is explained in her June 10 order, a document that outlines a personal conflict between the DA and the coroner. “There is something personal about the case,” Cheroutes writes.
Cheroutes references testimonies alleging that Kent spoke to the DA and his staff in an inappropriate and threatening manner. After one interaction between Kent and DA staffer Barb Brink in November 2019, Brown requested that Colorado Bureau of Investigation look into the incident, stating that he believed Kent to be “unstable.”
The order also includes testimony from Kent’s former defense attorney, Jim Fahrenholtz, alleging that Brown told the attorney Kent might face additional felony charges and should therefore plead guilty to the misconduct charge and resign as coroner.
As previously mentioned, Kent was indicted on a felony perjury charge by a grand jury in December 2019. Brown and two of his staff members acted as witnesses in the presentation of evidence to the grand jury that December.
“The fact however, that in order to pursue the perjury charge, the district attorney had to rely on its own staff to testify to that evidence is problematic,” Cheroutes writes in her analysis.
In January 2020, Brown filed a formal complaint about Kent’s activities with the Department of Regulatory Affairs (DORA). Brown requested that DORA share any information discovered in the agency’s investigation with the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Cheroutes also cites an issue of transparency in her order. The judge notes Brown’s attempt to quash two of the defense’s subpoena requests, as well as the district attorney’s failure to disclose the DORA complaint to Scott.
“What is gravely concerning to the court, beyond just the fact of a potential conflict with the district attorney’s staff acting as witnesses to material elements of the offense and beyond the district attorney making a complaint (to DORA) which seeks additional ramifications to the defendant beyond the criminal process, is the district attorney’s lack of transparency and failure to comply with its affirmative obligations pursuant to Colo.R.Crim.P.16,” Cheroutes writes of her decision to appoint a special prosecutor. “This pattern raises grave concerns about the ability of the defendant to receive a fair trial with Mr. Brown and his office prosecuting the case.”
Brown told the Herald that his office is currently evaluating the Cheroutes’ ruling and is considering the possibility of requesting further review.
Kent will return to Lake County District Court on July 30 at 9 a.m. Cheney, not Brown, will be in attendance as chief prosecutor.