Ballots have been mailed for Colorado’s primary election on June 30. The Lake County Clerk and Recorder’s Office will receive ballots via in-person voting, mail and a drop box set up outside of the county courthouse.
Locally, two Democratic candidates, Heidi McCollum and Braden Angel, are vying to become the Fifth Judicial District Attorney. Bruce Brown, the current district attorney for the district, is term limited The Fifth Judicial District spans Lake, Eagle, Summit and Clear Creek Counties.
1. Do you have a preexisting relationship with the Fifth Judicial District? What is your background in law?
I am currently the Fifth Judicial Assistant District Attorney. I have served in this position full-time for the past seven and a half years. I am tasked with administrative and budgetary duties, as well as assisting and advising prosecutors on cases throughout the district. I also maintain the juvenile court docket in Eagle County.
I earned my J.D. from Chapman University in Orange, California. I began my legal career as an intern in the District Attorney’s Office in 2000. From there I went into private practice in Eagle County for six years. I stepped away from law for five years to run my own business focusing on fitness and education for kids. In 2010, I returned to the practice of law with partner Ed Woodland, former Mayor of Eagle. In 2013, I was brought on as the Assistant District Attorney for the Fifth Judicial District where I have been honored to serve my community.
In January 2007, I joined the District Attorney’s Office in the Fifth Judicial District as a law school intern through the University of Denver. Upon graduation, I was offered a deputy DA position and served with the office for nearly six years. During this time, I prosecuted a wide variety of crimes ranging from speeding tickets to the most egregious and violent cases. In 2010, I was appointed head of the Lake County DA Office where I served for approximately one year before returning to Eagle District Court.
During my time in Lake County, I developed strong and collaborative relationships with office staff and partner agencies, as well as local businesses and non-profit organizations. In 2013, I began as municipal prosecutor in Summit County’s town of Blue River. I have prosecuted across our district for over 12 years. I have successfully prosecuted dozens of trials throughout every county within our District.
2. How would you characterize crime in Lake County?
Crime in Lake County is similar to crime in the other three counties of our judicial district. Cases include domestic violence, DUIs, theft, criminal mischief and trespassing. We have had some very serious cases in Lake County including homicides and a number of cases involving the prosecution of law enforcement officials; Mike Leake, former Leadville Police Department chief, Fernando Mendoza, former Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) undersheriff and former LCSO deputies William Berry and Jeffrey Hartman. All of these former law enforcement officers were prosecuted by the current district attorney’s office and all were convicted.
We have worked closely with now Sheriff Amy Reyes and Police Chief Saige Bertolas, who have endeavored to bring a culture of integrity to Lake County law enforcement. I and these two women are all dedicated to this community and we will continue to work together to bring transparency and accountability in the investigations and prosecutions of criminal cases in Lake County.
In 2010, I served as head deputy DA in Lake County. I remain in contact with local colleagues and actively involved with community meetings. As President of our local bar association, I ensure that the issues facing Lake County, including the jail, are prioritized by our membership
Offenses encountered in Lake County are diverse. Traffic offenses are lower than other counties; however, offenses involving substance abuse, including DUIs are common. My office will prioritize treatment over incarceration when prosecuting substance abuse and/or behavioral health-related offenses. Further, Lake County experiences violent crimes, including sexual assault and domestic violence. I have significant expertise in victim-based crimes and have trained hundreds of attorneys and advocates on these prosecutions. I also acknowledge that Lake County has seen law enforcement and local officials be the subject of prosecution. During my tenure in Lake County, I was duty and morally bound to prosecute (successfully) both elected officials and law enforcement.
3. When prosecuting a case, what is your primary goal?
Well, it’s not a win at all costs philosophy. Prosecuting cases is a balancing act. The competing interests include harm to victim(s), rights of defendants, community safety, integrity of an investigation, availability of witnesses and more. The goal of a prosecutor should never be the same in any two cases. Prosecuting a mass murderer like Aurora Theater shooter James Holmes, probably didn’t involve discussions by the DA’s office of rehabilitation and release back into the community. Conversely, discussions of long prison sentences for drug offenders does nothing to address the underlying issue of addiction and costs taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. So what is the goal? It depends. When rehabilitation, treatment, community support and therapy can play a part in getting someone’s life back on track, then we owe it to those involved, and to our community, to put our resources toward that end.
My office will not only effectively prosecute crime, we will create a culturally responsive, victim-centered, and trauma-informed environment that prioritizes respect, competence, and equity. Immediately upon taking office, I will enhance employee recruitment and retention. Turnover has been a persistent problem in this administration, with at least 36 attorneys having left the office over the last seven and a half years; a turnover rate double the national average. This lack of consistency is incredibly dangerous to victims and the community. Further, my office will prioritize cultural and language equity by recruiting dedicated Spanish-speaking attorneys/team members from our Latinx communities. Finally, I will prioritize behavioral health and restorative justice programs. During my previous tenure with the DA’s office, I assisted in developing our first problem-solving courts. When elected, I will work to develop a behavioral health court and expand the current problem-solving courts across all districts. I will prioritize treatment over incarceration.
4. The Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office has seen high turnover rates in recent years. What will you do, if elected, to improve staff retention?
The question is misleading. Deputy DA positions are very difficult. Long hours, low pay, incredibly high cost of living in our district, relentless workload and geographic isolation distancing friends and family take their toll.
I’ve always adhered to a managerial style of “training people up”. Employees should be encouraged to grow professionally. For a manager to believe the she can “keep” people from expanding their professional development is simply bad management. I have never, and will never hold any employee back from their professional goals. If more lucrative positions are available or employees are ready for a new challenge, then it’s my job as a manager to support them. Previous deputy DAs in this office have gone on to successful careers in private practice, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, judicial clerkships, and larger DA offices. Gordon McLaughlin is currently running for DA in Larimer County. Those are the successes I pledge to continue.
As the question identifies, turnover in this District has been extremely high, even when compared to neighboring districts, such as the Ninth. Turnover is dangerous to the prosecution of a case. It is dangerous and often re-traumatizing for a victim, and ultimately, it is dangerous for our community. I served as deputy DA in our District for nearly six years. When I left in 2012, the attorney with the least amount of experience had been with the office for two and a half years. Turnover can be avoided with quality leadership. I will create a work culture that is supportive, collaborative and educational. I will actively take cases to trial and assist attorneys to feel confident and supported in challenging cases. Further, my entire office will receive the training necessary to successfully prosecute victim-based cases. My office will be a team. All team members will receive the respect and support they deserve.
5. Earlier this month, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out a search for a Lake County resident at a local manufactured home park. As district attorney, what would you do to develop a trusting relationship with immigrant populations in Lake County?
This is an issue that I’ve been talking about since I announced my candidacy last September. Our immigrant communities play such a vital role in our economy, our school systems, our churches and our communities’ potential for growth. Often immigrants are reluctant to come forward to the police to report crime. This may stem from their or their family’s documentation status, it may also be the result of growing up in a country where the most corrupt entities are the police. If someone is a victim of a crime, it is imperative it be reported. There are special programs including the U-Visa program, which allows undocumented victims to remain in this country to help with the investigation and prosecution of their perpetrators. Educating people on programs like these and more joint community interaction with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office will help strengthen relationships with our immigrant populations.
Cultural equity is a cornerstone of my campaign and will be a priority for my office. Within my campaign, I have several leaders from our Latinx community who are actively involved in all campaign areas and decisions. Similarly, I will create an office that is representative of our entire community population. My office will be inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive. This will involve education, training, and the development of a position focused on equity, community engagement and outreach. My office will actively partner with attorneys and organizations that have established trust with our immigrant population to determine ways to continuously enhance trust and engagement. I am very pleased with the passing of Senate Bill 83, prohibiting civil ICE arrests on courthouse property. I am also very happy with the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold DACA protections. I will continue to work to earn the trust of our immigrant community.
6. As district attorney, how would you handle a fatal use of force incident involving local police?
I have unfortunately been in this exact situation. Any use of lethal force must be critically scrutinized. The process of reviewing every piece of evidence does not happen within 24 hours. Rather the time must be taken to determine why a fatality occurred. That includes reviewing physical evidence, dash and body cam video, surveillance video, bystander videos, eye witness accounts, 911 calls, medical and toxicology reports, ballistic reports, agency use of force policies, training, supervision and prior incidents of the officer(s) involved and the list goes on. Evidence should be reviewed by an independent law enforcement agency. The analysis should center on what force was necessary versus what force was actually used, and why. The overuse of tasers and other non-lethal tools should also be addressed.
No one believes that the force used on George Floyd was acceptable, and his murderer will now stand trial for that crime.
I have communicated with law enforcement and reviewed current use of force policies. When elected, I will meet with all departments to review policies for implementation of best practices. If there is fatal use of force, Colorado Bureau of Investigations will be contacted immediately, as will the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, to ensure independent agencies are involved in the investigation process. Across the Fifth Judicial District, we are fortunate to have many devoted law enforcement officers. I have worked closely with almost every law enforcement agency in the district. Law enforcement is crucial to public safety and I respect their role immensely. During my tenure at the DA’s office, I prosecuted law enforcement. Every law enforcement official I prosecuted has either been found guilty at trial or plead guilty. As district attorney, my role is to prosecute crime. I will be judicious about charging decisions, but I will do what is right.