In November, the Mile High City will elect a new district attorney for the first time in 12 years (incumbent Mitch Morrissey is term-limited). Since the Democratic primary is on June 28 and three of the four candidates registered at press time are Democrats—the other is unaffiliated—now seems like a good time to chat with the hopefuls about how they plan to improve the DA’s office.
Kenneth D. Boyd (D)
CV: Denver senior deputy district attorney (prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial District, which encompasses Denver, for eight years), J.D. from University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Key Endorsements: Morrissey and Bill Ritter Jr., a former Denver district attorney and governor (who happens to be Boyd’s uncle)
On His Docket: Implement a DA-led public review when charges are not filed against officers who fatally shoot civilians*; assign deputy DAs to act as neighborhood liaisons; review whether race has played a factor in the severity of charges sought by deputy DAs in the past.
On The Death Penalty: “I would vote to abolish the death penalty. That being said, that’s not really what this job is about….We enforce the law that’s been given to us by the citizens.”
On Marijuana: “We were prosecuting marijuana long before Amendment 64, and we’re prosecuting marijuana now, after Amendment 64. We’ve just been given a different set of rules that we go by.”
Beth McCann (D)
CV: State representative for District 8, former Colorado deputy attorney general, prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial District for eight years, J.D. from Georgetown Law
Key Endorsements: State House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, two Denver City Council members
On Her Docket: Start a court for military veterans modeled after the city’s homeless and drug courts, which use mental health and substance abuse treatment—as opposed to jail time—for minor crimes; develop performance reviews of deputy DAs that factor in quantitative data (conviction success) and qualitative data (why a DA pursued specific charges)
On The Death Penalty: “I can’t imagine I would use [the death penalty], but the law requires victims to be consulted. Rather than make a blanket statement, it is more appropriate to have the discussion with the victim’s family about why I wouldn’t bring it and let them have an opportunity to talk it through.”
On Calming Tension With The Public: “The DA office doesn’t have direct authority over the police department or the sheriff’s department, but the DA can be instrumental in getting communities together.”
Michael Carrigan (D)
CV: University of Colorado regent and former Board of Regents chair, senior litigation partner at Holland & Hart, former senior deputy district attorney (prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial District for six years), J.D. from University of Colorado Law School
Key Endorsements: Mayor Michael B. Hancock, four Denver City Council members
On His Docket: Review and make public information in all significant use-of-force incidents involving police—not only for shootings*; create a text-messaging system that reminds people of court dates
On The Death Penalty: “I oppose it on moral grounds. I oppose it on policy grounds. I oppose it on racial grounds. I oppose it on economic grounds.”
Helen Morgan (Unaffiliated)
CV: Chief deputy district attorney overseeing the Denver County Court Division (prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial District for 22 years), J.D. from University of Minnesota Law School
Key Endorsement: Retired Denver Police Detective Joel Humphrey
On Her Docket: Better inform the public about the DA’s role in prosecuting—or not—police misconduct*; make the office more accessible through free parking and DAs performing neighborhood outreach; use treatment when possible for cases related to addiction and mental illness
On The Death Penalty: “The death penalty is the law. When you’re sworn in as DA…you have to swear to uphold the constitutions of the United States and of Colorado.”
*Currently, when criminal charges are not filed against officers who have fired their weapons at civilians, the DA releases a letter explaining the decision on its website.
Read more from the candidates about marijuana, the death penalty, and police relations.
Trust between law enforcement and the public—between the DA’s office and the public—is under close scrutiny. What do you think is the role of the DA in that conversation?
Kenneth Boyd: “It begins with transparency…. I think that the DA’s role in establishing trust is educating people in what we do, continuing to do the things that we do well, and implementing ways in which we can do things better than what we have been doing.”
Michael Carrigan: “As the only elected public safety official, the DA has to be that voice of the community. I have tremendous respect for law enforcement officers who wear the badge. The vast majority of them are good, honest people, but their jobs are made tougher when the public perceives that their brethren are not held accountable when they use excessive force. The DA needs to do that.”
Helen Morgan: “I’m not the chief of police. I’m not the manager of safety. I can’t dictate what classes they have or they don’t have, but what I can do is educate the community about my role.… So much of the distrust that we have now is based on a misunderstanding of what we can and cannot do. It’s really unfortunate.”
Do you, personally, support the death penalty and would you enforce it as DA?
Beth McCann: “I am opposed to the death penalty. I actually voted to repeal it in the Legislature when we had a vote about four years ago. I can’t imagine that I would ever use it, but we have a victims’ rights law that requires that victims be consulted in every important stage. So I feel like, rather than make a blanket statement, it is more appropriate to have the discussion with the victim’s family about why I wouldn’t bring it and let them have an opportunity to talk it through.”
Boyd: “This is one of the toughest questions that we get asked because, personally, I don’t believe in the death penalty. If I had the opportunity to vote [on the issue] I would vote to abolish the death penalty. That being said, that’s not really what this job is about.… We enforce the law that’s been given to us by the citizens, and as of right now the death penalty is something that is still the law of Colorado.”
Carrigan: “I’m the only candidate who is being unequivocal in saying I would never seek the death penalty.”
Morgan: “It’s not relevant whether I’m personally for or against it because every victim in Denver needs to know that I will hear them, and every defense lawyer needs to know that I will hear them, and every judge needs to know that if I make the decision to either seek it or not seek it, it’s not for political benefit or gain.”
If elected, would your office take a different stance on marijuana than the current DA?
Boyd: “I’m interested in engaging [the marijuana] community in order to say, ‘Lets try to make sure that we’re rooting out the people who aren’t following the rules.’”
Carrigan: “I did not support Amendment 64; I voted against it. But it passed—it passed overwhelmingly in Denver—and the law isn’t changing. So if I’m elected DA, I want to have a liaison with the office to the marijuana businesses and industry, because I absolutely believe that there are businesses that are trying to get stuff to the black market.”
Beth McCann: “I am concerned about dispensaries that are illegally growing or selling in the black market, so I think that’s an area where we would want to continue to examine and inspect.”
Helen Morgan: “No. It’s the law, and my job is to enforce the law. I am frustrated by the inability of the marijuana industry to bank, and the reason I am frustrated by that is because we create what they call ‘attractive nuisances.’ When you have to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a safe because you’ve got to pay your employees cash, because you cannot bank, that creates opportunity for crime. We don’t need to create opportunities for crime in Denver.”