SOUTHERN COLORADO — The new District Attorney for the 4th Judicial District, Michael Allen, is nearing the end of his first week on the job. News5 sat down with Allen to discuss his new role.
Before Allen was voted to become District Attorney, he worked as the Senior Deputy District Attorney in the 4th Judicial District. Allen said Martha McKinney was promoted to his former role. He wants her to have a hybrid position, handling administrative work while still carrying a caseload.
Throughout his campaign, Allen spoke about the importance of animal cruelty cases. He said they are now building an animal cruelty unit within the district, which McKinney will oversee. "If somebody's willing to commit violence against an animal, they're also going to be willing to commit violence against a person," said Allen.
Allen said he's optimistic about the budget for the office this year. "The two counties, Teller County and El Paso County, did a really good job for us this year. And we were lucky, especially in times of COVID, because we anticipated that COVID would have a big impact on the county budgets, and it didn't have as big of an impact as we thought it might," said Allen.
Still, he said he must deal with the realities of working within the limitations of a budget. "In a perfect world, would we love to have everything that we want, absolutely. But, we have to be reasonable in our expectations of how we can staff the office, on how much money we can spend on different projects, like expert witnesses," said Allen.
According to Allen, prosecutor paychecks are key to retaining attorneys at the 4th Judicial District. He said they have brought salaries up to reasonable and competitive levels, and are pretty much on par with other employers. Allen only mentioned the Denver city and county offices as paying their staff more. Prosecutors finding a balance between work and personal lives is also a priority for Allen. "Getting an environment where young attorneys trust and want to work in the office, I think we're doing a fantastic job there as well," said Allen.
The 4th Judicial District covers a large area, and has a huge caseload. Allen said homicide cases will always be prioritized first and foremost, but that sexual assault or aggravated robbery cases also have impacts that should not be understated. "Any time somebody is willing to take somebody else's life, that's always going to be a high priority case. I'm always going to be involved to some degree or another in those cases, whether it's staffing the cases, helping with charging decisions, potentially talking strategies with the attorneys that are prosecuting the cases," explained Allen.
Allen is the lead prosecutor on the Letecia Stauch case, and said he will remain in that position. Stauch is accused in the murder of her stepson, 11-year-old Gannon Stauch. "We saw the searches out in the fields, we saw people wanting to give information, as much as they possibly could, and just like the people out in the community, I'm a person too. I'm a father, and so it grabbed my attention as well," said Allen, speaking to the emotions behind the case.
Revamping the homicide unit as it relates to high profile cases is another one of Allen's goals. He wants to ensure the most experienced and equipped prosecutors are being assigned to those cases earlier than they have been in the past.
After a summer of Black Lives Matter protests across the country and in Colorado Springs, News5 asked Allen if he believes a database to track sentences based on demographics could be a future goal. He said the 4th Judicial District does not have a system like that in place, and that it would be difficult for his office to track those statistics, since the information would need to be collected first by law enforcement.
"It's important to note too though that I don't know of a single prosecutor in this office or any other prosecutor's office that I've worked in, where a prosecutor is worried about what the race or ethnic background is of either the victim, the defendant, or the police officers, for that matter."
Still, Allen said collecting demographic information could be helpful. "If we're going to start collecting demographic data on defendants, we should do it for victims too. Because when we start talking about just defendant focus, we lose sight of victims. And they are a big player in what happens in the criminal justice system. They don't get to choose to come into the criminal justice system as a victim, it's the defendant that gets to choose that. And I always want to keep my eyes fixed on how are we treating and serving victims," said Allen.
On a similar subject, News5 questioned Allen about officer involved shooting investigations. He reminded the public that his office does not investigate those incidents. The investigation is submitted to his office, which determines whether or not to bring charges in the case, or send it to a grand jury. Allen said grand juries were created as a form of oversight for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. "A grand jury is it's own independent investigative body. They can ask for any type of evidence that they think is relevant for their determination, and they often do. So, I think it's important to keep in mind that there's another layer of independence from whatever the agency is that's doing the actual investigation," said Allen.
"It's really a fact-based determination. That doesn't mean though that my perspective is the same as somebody that's out on the street that's had to deal with police in a different way. And they may have a different perspective, and we're open to having conversations with those folks as well."
A Brady list is a document comprised of law enforcement officers with credibility concerns. Allen said that list can be released to defendants in certain cases, but he does not think that releasing it publicly is a lawful determination. He said that decision rests with the legislature.
Allen also seemingly referenced a law that went into effect in March of 2020, which made possession of four grams or less of certain drugs a misdemeanor charge, rather than a felony. He said there is a societal struggle with addiction issues, and if new programs are created by the legislature, then there should also be funding dedicated to treatment programs. "More drug use that we're seeing. We're also seeing a rise in violent crime recently especially, over the last, roughly a year," said Allen.
Allen also explained why so many cases end in plea agreements. "It's something like 95% of all criminal cases [nationally] result in a plea agreement. And that's a matter of the prosecutor evaluating the case, and seeing where the strengths and weaknesses are, but also on the other side, the defense attorney and the defendant are doing the exact same evaluation, trying to figure out where the strengths and weaknesses are, and seeing what sort of exposure they might have," said Allen, who added that resource allocation also plays a hand in plea agreements. He said it just would not be possible to take all of the thousands of cases they handle to trial.
Allen also said he has some internal business to handle, like going through the policy manual, that he will do during his first few months as District Attorney.