ALAMOSA — With her campaign that resulted in a decisive victory now in her rearview mirror, 12th Judicial District Attorney Anne Kelly is looking to a future that includes major goals and big plans.
“Right now, we’re focused almost entirely on building our resources,” she said. “That’s something everyone across the state is struggling with.”
Kelly reports that the DA’s office currently has four prosecutors and thinks they can “scrape by” with five for a while. The attorney general’s office is still providing “some help” but the bulk of support continues to come through the Colorado District Attorneys Council.
“The visiting attorneys are doing a tremendous job,” she said. “They’re prepping dockets and reviewing cases and whatever I need them to do. They’re so generous with their time and will continue to come as long as I need their help.”
Against that backdrop, Kelly’s top priority “is and always has been” to continue to improve the way the DA’s office treats victims.
“We’re looking at our systems and making sure they reflect the most and best compassion for victims,” she said.
To that end, Kelly and her staff have taken on the formidable task of building an infrastructure that, instead of duties being siloed as they have in the past, will integrate duties so that processes are looked at from a more systemic perspective and communication between people is enhanced.
A prime example is the creation of an intake navigator position whose role involves a hybrid of duties. The intake navigator will be the first to greet people when they walk through the door and will see — both literally and figuratively — every case that comes into the office.
Part of the job will involve collecting and assembling information an investigator might need in conducting an investigation or attorneys will need going into court. Upon reviewing a new case, the intake navigator will refer it to the diversion manager, if appropriate. Equally important, the person will function as a victim advocate, reviewing, for example, jail dockets and contacting victims when someone is getting out on bond.
“It’s more of a general type of victim advocacy instead of being an advocate assigned to a specific case,” she said.
Kelly’s emphasis on victims is also reflected in the background experience she hopes to find in hiring for the job. Not only is she looking for someone with a background in psychology, she would also prefer someone who has personal, lived experience with the criminal justice system, as a victim. That pre-requisite, Kelly believes, will provide a “level of comfort and foster an immediate connection” with someone in the throes of trauma that typically comes with being victimized by a crime.
Kelly reports they have received a large number of applicants for the support positions they have posted, some of which come from the valley and other highly qualified applicants from along the Front Range.
“I’m sitting on forty to fifty applicants right now,” said Megan Martinez, director of administration and diversion services.
“Now, if those were attorneys applying for jobs, I’d sleep a whole lot better at night,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s next priority is law enforcement collaboration.
“The law enforcement officers in the valley are amazing and so excited just to do their jobs again,” she said. “I want to capitalize on the energy they have to create and enhance collaboration.”
Kelly said she’s not sure what that will look like but the goal is “huge” to her.
“There’s so much information in each agency that we need to share and work together because these criminals are not just staying in Alamosa,” she said.
Martinez cites “great progress” that has already been made.
“In the last month, we’ve gotten our last law enforcement agency up on the electronic server,” eliminating, she said, the current practice of law enforcement having to print and deliver warrants by hand and in person.
“Now everything looks basically the same and is in the same place,” Kelly said.
The DA’s office also has been working with law enforcement agencies to make sure they have more than one person on staff able to upload information.
Kelly is clear in defining collaboration. It’s about more than relationships; it involves actual memorandums of understanding between agencies that put agreements in place to facilitate the special units and task forces she plans to create, including a domestic violence and sexual assault unit, a major crimes task force and a task force investigating officer-involved shootings.
“By statute, I’m required to review all those OIS cases where officers have shot — and hit — a suspect,” she said. “It’s much better for community trust and my ability to put out a statement with merit and integrity if I’ve got a lot of different agencies coming to the same conclusion rather than just one agency.”
Currently, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is called when there is an OIS, and Kelly praises them for their response and professionalism. But Kelly said she feels it’s most important to the valley to have a network of detectives from across the valley looking at the same case and coming to the same conclusion to make sure she has the information needed to make a decision on further action.
Kelly also is beginning to put resources in place to form a Special Victims Unit, as she has done in other judicial districts. The process will start with hiring an investigator solely devoted to investigating domestic violence and sexual assault across the six counties. Ultimately, she would also like to hire an attorney whose sole job is to prosecute those cases, but she needs more full-time, permanent attorneys on staff before that will be possible.
When envisioning a major crimes task force, Kelly sees a team of law enforcement investigators and patrol who would come from different agencies to collaborate on a major case.
“They wouldn’t be doing this every day,” she said. “This wouldn’t be their day job. But if something happens — like the Baroz case, for example — they can rely on each other for resources and skills. So, if it happens in, say, Conejos County, Costilla and Blanca and Fort Garland would send people.”
“And it would be structured,” Martinez said. “If it happens in, for example, Conejos, Conejos would be in charge.
“Everything would be laid out in a (memorandum of understanding).”
DA Kelly’s plans going forward involve a significant amount of restructuring and building new capacity.
“I think, in a community, the DA’s office can and always should be that builder and the strongest law enforcement voice,” she said. “In other districts, when there’s a need to after a particular crime, it’s always the DA’s office that’s leading that charge and rallying people behind that effort. That hasn’t happened in this DA’s office in, at least, the last eighteen months. We’re starting to build our structure so that law enforcement will build their faith in us and trust that we’re leading them in the right direction.”
In speaking about her plans, Kelly’s focus eventually returns to the victims.
“I’ve heard such gratitude from people — not for me but for what we’re doing — and that we’re giving hope to people who have been so disrespected,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘we’re so thankful that you’re here and we’re relying on you.’ That’s humbling to me.
“I know that we can do it but it’s still humbling. And it’s exciting and awesome and a feeling that I’ve never had before. It’s inspiring.”