COLORADO Attorney General Phil Weiser will appoint an outside independent monitor as part of a settlement agreement with 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne and his office following an unprecedented investigation into violations to the state Victims Rights Act by a district attorney’s office.
In announcing the agreement Tuesday, Weiser said the outside monitor will be in place to oversee compliance with the Victim Rights Act and the Colorado Constitution as well as implement new policies and procedures, complete regular trainings, and improve communication with victims and stakeholders.
“Excluding victims, disrespecting, and retraumatizing victims” were violations by Payne and his office to the Victims Rights Act that occurred, said Weiser.
He didn’t set a deadline on which to appoint the outside monitor, but said the monitor “needs to be somebody who has the confidence of the people of the San Luis Valley, law enforcement, and the judicial system and can be someone who can make sure the office is on the right track and is honoring victims.”
Weiser said he will be in the San Luis Valley next week to begin the process of appointing an outside monitor. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone from the San Luis Valley but cares about the people of the San Luis Valley.”
“By excluding, disregarding, and disrespecting victims, District Attorney Payne and his office dishonored crime victims, and worse, compounded the trauma suffered from the crimes committed against them.”
– Attorney General Phil Weiser
Payne, who couldn’t be reached for comment, is facing a recall election following a successful effort led by the city of Alamosa to secure enough registered voter signatures for a recall vote. Payne was elected district attorney in November 2020.
In February the state Crime Victim Services Advisory Board forwarded four complaints against Payne and the 12th District Attorney’s Office. A formal complaint was also filed by the Rocky Mountain Victims Law Center.
“By excluding, disregarding, and disrespecting victims, District Attorney Payne and his office dishonored crime victims, and worse, compounded the trauma suffered from the crimes committed against them,” Weiser said. “Because the district attorney’s office failed to allow victims’ input and consultation during the justice process as required by law, those victims lost the chance to contribute to just outcomes in their cases. In some instances, the office may even have placed victims’ safety at risk.”
Emily Tofte Nestaval, executive director for Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, said Weiser’s office was “very interested in our thoughts.
“We are pleased,” she said, that the state attorney general’s office took the complaints seriously.
Nestaval said there is a lot that “has been left unanswered” for the victims, but the monitor will be sure to bring a new high level of transparency that she hopes will make the Victim Rights Act “meaningfully enforced” going forward.
She said she foresees victims having their “voice centered” not just in the 12th Judicial District, but everywhere. Nestaval said this was the first time they’d seen this kind of attention directed at the Victim Rights Act.
The implications and positive change are far-reaching, but Nestaval said she remains saddened. “It doesn’t change the circumstances for the victims.”
Staffing issues in the 12th Judicial DA Office are a concern, said Weiser, who added he’s been working with the head of the state district attorney’s association “to make sure we find and provide any resources we can to help them.”
It’s the first time in the 30-year history of the Victims Crime Act that a district attorney was investigated for violations.
NOTE: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. to add comments from Emily Tofte Nestaval, executive director for Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center.