Inside The Colorado Politics That Enabled Mass Murder

TUESDAY UPDATE: Here’s a good story from 9News about Republican politicians, including El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, who flat out refuse to use tools that might have prevented this tragedy:

 

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El Paso County DA Michael Allen.

As we continue to gather information about this weekend’s horrific mass shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ nightclub, there are two separate principal tracks of forensic inquiry: how the shooter was able to legally obtain his AR-style assault rifle complete with what we assume to be illegal high-capacity magazines after a prior incident involving law enforcement that it could be argued should have triggered Colorado’s “red flag” laws, and the larger question of what motivated the shooter to commit this heinous crime.

AP reports on the first question, a 2021 incident in which the suspect made threats that, at least in this reporting, seem sufficient to have warranted an extreme risk protection order–which under Colorado law can be sought by either family members or law enforcement:

A year and a half before he was arrested in the Colorado Springs gay nightclub shooting that left five people dead, Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb, forcing neighbors in surrounding homes to evacuate while the bomb squad and crisis negotiators talked him into surrendering.

Yet despite that scare, there’s no public record that prosecutors moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich, or that police or relatives tried to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law that would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons and ammo the man’s mother says he had with him.

Gun control advocates say Aldrich’s June 2021 threat is an example of a red flag law ignored, with potentially deadly consequences. While it’s not clear the law could have prevented Saturday night’s attack — such gun seizures can be in effect for as little as 14 days and be extended by a judge in six-month increments — they say it could have at least slowed Aldrich and raised his profile with law enforcement.

In part due to strident political opposition to the ERPO law by a number of the state’s elected county sheriffs and some district attorneys, utilization of the law in Colorado lags distantly behind many other states where the rate of firearm seizures is far higher. During his campaign for office, now-DA for El Paso County Michael Allen promised that if elected, his office would “not participate in ‘red flag’ confiscation.”

In the above AP story, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder explained that his office only initiates ERPO petitions at the request of family members unless there are “exigent circumstances.” Newly-elected sheriff Joe Roybal likewise says he won’t enforce the ERPO law. It’s straightforward to conclude that the ERPO law was not utilized against the shooter due to the political reluctance of local elected officials to do so. Ever since the passage of the “red flag” law in 2019, we’ve apprehensively predicted a case in which the political refusal to implement Colorado’s gun laws would result in a preventable tragedy. The mass shooting at Club Q this weekend appears to meet that criteria.

Given the number of shots fired by the shooter before unarmed patrons stopped him, it’s also likely that the assault weapon used was equipped with high-capacity magazines–which are illegal under state law, but as 9NEWS uncovered in a statewide investigative report are widely sold with impunity in jurisdictions where law enforcement has declared they won’t enforce the law.

Like El Paso County.

The second major question about this shooting is of course the motivations of the shooter, who has already been charged with bias-motivated crimes in addition to murder. While we have not seen any statements directly attributed to the shooter to discern his motive, this year’s election season in Colorado witnessed an ugly reversion to anti-LGBTQ+ political themes that marked a change of course over previous years, in which Republicans had downplayed their opposition to marriage equality after years of being punished by voters for an increasingly unpopular repressive agenda. The Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez:

“You can draw a straight line from the false and vile rhetoric about LGBTQ people spread by extremists and amplified across social media, to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year, to the dozens of attacks on our community like this one,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The emphasis on anti-trans themes in particular in Colorado politics this year, from lurid mailers sent to Spanish language households by GOP supervillain Stephen Miller to Heidi Ganahl’s crusade against “children identifying as animals,” reflected a nationwide strategy to terrorize a gullible segment of voters into turning out for Republican candidates. It doesn’t appear to have worked anywhere except maybe in Florida, while in Colorado it backfired–and arguably contributed to sweeping losses for Republicans in the election.

In 2015, a deranged man who called himself “a warrior for the babies” killed three people at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic after months of false stories circulated in conservative media about the supposed sale of “baby body parts” from abortion clinics. These two incidents appear to share commonality in political messages that directly served in the minds of these unstable people as incitement to violence.

No one wants that on their conscience. But at some point, the traffickers in hateful rhetoric and the political movement they overwhelmingly adhere to must own this cause and effect.

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48 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Lauren Boebert is a Worthless POS says:

    Before long, we will hear some declare that the shooter should not be stigmatized because of his sincerely held religious beliefs.

  2. JohnInDenver says:

    I didn't expect law enforcement or the DA to initiate ERPO proceedings. The law allows but does not require such a move.

    What I DO wonder about and hope someone will be able to explain … how does someone make threats of a bomb, defy police orders for hours, and do whatever it takes to get an initial announcement of two counts of Felony Menacing and three counts of First-Degree Kidnapping and then avoid ANY formal charges?  And then, beyond a lack of action, get records sealed? 

    Who was the defense attorney?  Who was the DA office attorney assigned to the case?  What judge acted?

    • Lauren Boebert is a Worthless POS says:

      "how does someone make threats of a bomb, defy police orders for hours, and do whatever it takes to get an initial announcement of two counts of Felony Menacing and three counts of First-Degree Kidnapping and then avoid ANY formal charges?  And then, beyond a lack of action, get records sealed? "

      Because it's the 4th Judicial District.

    • 2Jung2Die says:

      I wouldn't have expected law enforcement or the DA to initiate ERPO in EPC either, but to me it's time for more folks to start expecting. A whole bunch of death and trauma might have been preventable.

  3. spaceman2021 says:

    So much for the tough-on-crime narrative from the 4th JD DA's office

  4. NotHopeful says:

    The legislature should amend the Red Flag Law to give the Attorney General the authority to enforce it anywhere in the state if a local DA refuses to do so. The same authority should be extended to the Colorado state patrol, so that it can stand in for any local law enforcement agency that refuses to enforce the law.

    And the legislature should consider some sort of financial penalty for DA offices, sheriff offices, and local police departments that refuse to enforce the law.

    • Voyageur says:

      You may be Nothopeful but you is plenty smart.

    • Duke Cox says:

      Aye…that^^^^

    • lovedance says:

      I thought the AG could already do that.

    • Dano says:

      Red Flag laws are flimsy on a good day.

      I want our legislature to take a more direct approach:

      A bill: No person shall own, buy, or sell an assault weapon in the State of Colorado. And make it a felony with an automatic jail sentence of at least a year (just enough to really fuck up someone's life) if they break this law. Having laws is not enough. The laws have to have teeth to be effective.

      Of course there would have to be all the salad dressing, such as defining an assault weapon, and allowing a delay so people can move their current assault weapons out of Colorado, but the purpose of the bill should be that succinct.

      • Lauren Boebert is a Worthless POS says:

        "A bill: No person shall own, buy, or sell an assault weapon in the State of Colorado. And make it a felony with an automatic jail sentence of at least a year (just enough to really fuck up someone's life) if they break this law. Having laws is not enough. The laws have to have teeth to be effective."

        While they have the votes in the legislature to do something substantial, you know what will happen when the RMGO lawsuit gets up to Alito, Thomas and the other ammosexuals on the bench.

    • Blackie says:

      Why not start at the beginning: Any police officer who refuses to do the job gets his/her police commission yanked immediately? And any other state who wishes to hire him/her should be informed that they can’t do the job.

  5. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    I have a slight disagreement with the article.  The deranged “pro-lifer” back in 2015, Robert Dearing, has yet to be tried in a court of law. So, innocent until proven guilty in court.

    Having said that, it’s been 7 years since the shooting. How long will this piece of crap “pro-lifer” be allowed to keep up with his possibly fake mental state? 

    • Genghis says:

      The deranged “pro-lifer” back in 2015, Robert Dearing, has yet to be tried in a court of law.

      That's true, but this here article says nothing about Dear's guilt or innocence. The issue in the state court proceedings is competence to stand trial, and the issue in related federal court proceedings is whether he can be forcibly medicated to make him competent. This Pols article states only that Dear killed 3 people at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. AFAIK, that's an undisputed fact. Whether he's legally culpable is a whole 'nother issue.

    • spaceman2021 says:

      Robert Dear has been repeatedly diagnosed by professionals with a delusional disorder and therefore not competent to stand trial.  The order to allow forced medication was only entered this year and is stayed pending appeal.  So his "possibly fake" mental state doesn't seem very fake at all.  

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        I spent time working in social security disability during my career in social services. Somebody really good can run a good scam on mental stuff, considering that the professionals usually see someone in a one snapshot situation.

        This guy should have been told years ago that he was headed for trial. Could have been a good "head clearing" for him. The families of the dead need their day in court.

  6. notaskinnycook says:

    This seems like a big ol' lawsuit against the 4th JD is in order. There's a law on the books. The D.A. has a duty to enforce the law. I wonder what other laws he might choose not to enforce. I haven't heard it yet, but I'll wager EpCo has one one of those B.S. "Constitutional sheriffs". Fine. Then hold him and the D.A. responsible for the damage their "principled stand" has caused. 

    • spaceman2021 says:

      Such a suit probably doesn't get past prosecutor's immunity.  

    • Genghis says:

      In "the king can do no wrong" news, there's the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. I've never had to look at whether there might be a "prosecutors not doing their jerbs" exception to the general rule of nonliability, but I kinda doubt it.

      Of course, CGIA would not be a defense to civil rights proceeding based on federal law, but it's difficult to imagine a federal court holding a state prosecutor liable in damages for what amounts to an exercise, or non-exercise, of discretion.

      • spaceman2021 says:

        It goes beyond CGIA immunity.  In state court, it's absolute immunity from suit for a prosecutor acting in his official capacity under existing case law.  And there's no way this doesn't get kicked out of federal court under the (completely-judge-made) doctrine of qualified immunity.  Sad reality

    • 2Jung2Die says:

      Thing is, and I'm being sort of Bill Clintonian here, the red flag law doesn't require anyone to petition for an ERPO. It uses the word "may" and not "shall." Not a lawyer but I'll assume this would make it technically very difficult for a suit to succeed.

      Morally and not legally, I just watched a video of the murderer from 2021, and how any law enforcement agency could have watched the same video and decided the dude should still have legal access to weapons is beyond me.

  7. kwtree says:

    We know the names of the victims- and of the heroes who saved many lives.

  8. doremi says:

    Correction:  NEXT reporter made an error in statement.  Friends can not file for an ERPO (red flag). Only law enforcement and household members can.  Friends can go to law enforcement and request they petition.  Doesn't soundlike Sheriff Elder would have been receptive to the request. 

  9. notaskinnycook says:

    Posted to Tuesday Open Thread.

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