El Paso DA, sheriff defend actions relating to Club Q suspect’s 2021 bomb-threat arrest
Law enforcement officials blast ‘false and virulent statements’ after unsealing of prior court case
4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen speaks at a press conference on Dec. 8, 2022. (screenshot via 4th Judicial District livestream)
In a lengthy and combative press conference Thursday, the lead prosecutor in the case against the alleged Club Q shooter defended his office’s handling of a prior incident in which the suspect vowed to stockpile guns and explosives and become “the next mass killer.”
Michael Allen, the 4th Judicial District attorney, accused “the media and certain politicians” of spreading “misinformation” in relation to the 2021 arrest of Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was charged this week with first-degree murder and hate crimes in connection with the mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
In the wake of the Nov. 19 shooting, which left five dead and nearly two dozen injured, gun safety advocates have questioned whether law enforcement could have done more to prevent the shooting in light of the June 2021 incident, in which Aldrich threatened family members and was arrested by El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies on five felony counts of kidnapping and menacing.
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The case was later dismissed and, as required by a 2019 state law, remained under seal until a judge ordered it to be released on Thursday, allowing Allen to speak publicly about the 2021 case for the first time. Prior to the unsealing, however, documents relating to the prior case were leaked and verified by an AP investigation.
“Those people should be ashamed of themselves,” Allen said Thursday. “All they’ve accomplished is to cause harm to the victims of Club Q and a community that is mourning the tragic loss of five lives.”
Allen, a veteran prosecutor who was elected district attorney as a Republican in 2020, laid out a detailed timeline of his office’s prosecution of the 2021 case, ending in its dismissal by a judge in July 2022.
Aldrich’s mother and grandparents, key witnesses in the case who initially reported Aldrich’s threats of mass killing to investigators, eventually became uncooperative, Allen said. At a bond hearing in August 2021, Aldrich’s grandmother “described him as a sweet young man (who) doesn’t deserve to be in jail.”
Without testimony from witnesses like Aldrich’s grandparents, who moved out of state and were not able to be served with subpoenas, Allen said the prosecution couldn’t move forward to trial, and although the DA’s office requested a continuance, he called the judge’s dismissal appropriate. He rejected suggestions that other evidence, like witness statements from neighbors and bomb-making materials seized by law enforcement, would have been sufficient to try the case.
“Nobody gave up on this case. We were fighting this case to the end,” said Allen. “This office prosecuted that case until we couldn’t prosecute it any longer.”
Red flag law
Many observers have also raised questions about whether an extreme risk protection order under Colorado’s 2019 “red flag” law could have prevented the Club Q shooting by blocking Aldrich from obtaining firearms.
The law does not currently allow district attorney’s offices to file for an ERPO. Petitions must be submitted by family members, housemates or law enforcement agencies like the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Aldrich in 2021.
“I don’t think that based on the conduct of the witnesses in this case that (the sheriff’s office) would have been successful on that,” Allen told reporters. “But whether they should have or not, I think is a question for somebody else.”
In a five-page statement released Thursday, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office joined Allen in blasting politicians and the media alike for “false and virulent statements” that “fan the flames of perception-driven public discontent.”
“Rumors, false allegations, and incendiary accusations have reached a crescendo that ignorantly denigrated our actions surrounding our arrest of Aldrich in the summer of 2021,” the release said.
Allen and the sheriff’s office both stressed that between the filing of felony charges in June 2021 and the dismissal of the case in July 2022, Aldrich was under a mandatory protection order, or MPO, prohibiting the lawful possession of firearms. The guns and bomb-making materials that were seized from Aldrich following the 2021 incident were never returned, the sheriff’s office said.
After the MPO’s expiration in July, the sheriff’s office argued Thursday, a petition for an ERPO wasn’t appropriate because the details of the June 2021 arrest were “too old to be effective in court.”
“The legal ability Aldrich had to acquire firearms following the dismissal of the previous case and the MPO can only be addressed legislatively,” the sheriff’s office wrote.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, however, has been an outspoken opponent of Colorado’s red-flag law, and his office confirmed last month that it has never initiated an ERPO procedure. In Thursday’s press release, Elder’s office again stressed the need for a law that “passes Constitutional muster.”
Allen expressed openness to legislative changes to the 2019 sealing statute, the red flag law and policies relating to self-manufactured “ghost guns,” which 9News has reported were used by Aldrich in the Club Q shooting. But he declined to say explicitly why he believed a red-flag order or further prosecution of the 2021 case would have prevented the tragedy, citing the need to protect the ongoing investigation.
“That case would not have necessarily prevented Club Q. As to the reasons for that, I can’t get into that, because that would impact the Club Q investigation and prosecution,” Allen said. “You’re just going to have to accept that statement.”
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