EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — Prosecutors with the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said formal charges were filed against the Club Q shooting suspect in a June 2021 bomb threat but they were unable to serve subpoenas to key witnesses.
That ultimately resulted in the case being dismissed just months before the mass shooting in Colorado Springs, they said.
"The only way it [the case] would have prevented the tragedy is if the witnesses were actually present at trial and testified and somebody was convicted," said District Attorney Michael Allen. "Absent that I don't see anything else about that prior case that would have prevented the Club Q shooting."
Details about the 2021 case were made public on Thursday after El Paso County District Judge Robin Chittum ordered the unsealing of the case in a hearing earlier in the day. Anderson Aldrich, 22, is accused of walking into Club Q on Nov. 19 and opening fire, killing five people and shooting 17 others.
Aldrich was charged with three counts of kidnapping and two counts of menacing related to the June 18, 2021, incident, which occurred around 2 p.m. at a home in the 9800 block of Rubicon Drive.
Bomb threat at grandparent's home
Court documents say the suspect's grandmother called the police saying Aldrich was making a bomb in the basement. She told dispatch Aldrich described himself as the "next mass killer".
The arrest affidavit continued to say that Aldrich's grandmother reported that Aldrich held them at gunpoint during a "family meeting" to discuss their plans to move to Florida and said that, "if they moved, it would interfere with his plans to conduct a mass shooting and bombing."
The grandparents ran to the car and left while calling 911, according to court records.
SWAT arrested the suspect at another home in the 6300 block of Pilgrimage Road where Aldrich's mother lived.
That home and the grandparent's home on Rubicon Drive were searched, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said.
Two guns and bomb-making materials were seized and placed in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Evidence Facility. Deputies said they found more than 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate in a tub in the grandparent's home.
"It was believed the contents of the tub were ammonium nitrate and the packets of aluminum powder," said a report from El Paso County Sheriff's Office. "Separated the contents were not readily dangerous but if combined would make an explosive known as ANAL (ammonium nitrate aluminum)."
Aldrich was charged with two counts of felony menacing and three counts of first-degree kidnapping. The menacing victims were the suspect's grandparents. The kidnapping victims in the case were Aldrich's mother and grandparents.
A few weeks after Aldrich's arrest the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said a mandatory protection order (MPO) was filed against the suspect. The Sheriff's Office said the MPO ordered Aldrich to not possess or control firearms or other weapons.
District Attorney Michael Allen said initial statements by the grandparents were "extremely concerning.” However, Allen said on Thursday statements from the family began to change later in the investigation.
He said Aldrich was initially held on $1 million bail that was later reduced. He said that during a hearing about Aldrich's bail, the grandmother described Aldrich as a "sweet young man" who did not deserve to be in jail.
Aldrich was released from custody Aug. 7, 2021. When he was granted bail, protection orders remained in place that prohibited them from possessing firearms or other weapons, according to the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office.
Aldrich formally pleaded not guilty on Jan 27, 2022. That set a clock ticking off six months to hold a trial.
During the next six months, there were several hearings where prosecutors expressed concerns about being unable to serve subpoenas to the listed victims in the case. Allen said it was more complicated because Aldrich's grandparents moved out of state.
"The interstate subpoena process is a lengthy process that requires us to work with authorities in a separate state to achieve service on witnesses that we are trying to get service on," Allen said. "That process, though we had been working it, had not been effective, meaning that the out-of-state service process had not actually served the grandmother and grandfather."
A motion filed on June 30 said that Aldrich's grandmother requested the court squash her subpoena.
The case was set for trial on July 5, 2022. At that time, prosecutors said they had been unable to serve the witnesses and asked for a continuance.
“Possessing guns is not illegal. You have to have witnesses that are listed victims to come into the courtroom and testify as to why they are a victim, what happened to them, what was said to them, what they saw,” Allen said. “Without those witnesses getting on the stand, there is no way to get a conviction on those charges.”
With a deadline of July 26 for a speedy trial, the defense objected to the continuance and moved to dismiss the case.
"We have a constitutional requirement set out in statute that we have six months from the time of arraignment to get to trial, "Allen said. "If we can't get to trial because witnesses are not cooperating or not appearing in court, it's not uncommon for a case to get dismissed no matter how many charges there are."
The judge ultimately agreed with the defense and dismissed the case. It was formally sealed on Aug. 11, 2022, at the request of the defendant.
At the same, the judge dismissed the protection order, which restored Aldrich’s legal ability to possess firearms.
The next day, according to the Sheriff’s Office, Aldrich called the evidence facility seeking the release of all items. That request was denied.
On the same day of that request, a neighbor said Aldrich's mother sent him several videos showing her and Aldrich at a gun range.
El Paso County Sheriff's Office said in the 2021 case there was never a point in time the agency needed to file an Extreme Risk Protection Order because the MPO was to remain in effect until the case reached a final disposition.
An Extreme Risk Protection Order lets families and law enforcement petition to remove guns from someone who is considered dangerous. That can be used even when there's not a criminal conviction.
"Ultimately, without an ERPO (for which the government no longer had grounds to request due to the case being sealed in August of 2022 and the age of the information against him having negated its lawful usefulness) or a Felony conviction on his record (because the case was dropped), there was no legal mechanism that even existed that would have prevented Aldrich from lawfully acquiring more firearms following the dismissal of the government’s case against him and the removal of the MPO," said a statement from the Sheriff's Office.
Judge unseals documents in 2021 case
After taking the bench at Thursday morning's court hearing, the judge, Chittum, called it "one of the strangest hearings I think I have ever had," noting that because the case was sealed it did not exist under Colorado law.
"But here we are," she said.
The suspect’s wrists were cuffed to a belly chain. Aldrich wore a lime green jail shirt, dark pants and orange slippers. The suspected shooter stared straight ahead throughout the hearing and did not speak.
Joseph Archambault, a public defender representing Aldrich, asked the judge to close the courtroom. She refused. Archambault then filed a motion seeking a contempt charge against El Paso County Sheriff's officials, arguing that documents in the case had been leaked – and requested that any decision about unsealing the record be put off until that motion was considered.
Again, the judge refused. And then Archambault argued that the Club Q suspect's right to a fair trial would be imperiled if the documents in the 2021 case are made public.
"If this is unsealed, Mx. Aldrich will lose any hope of a fair trial in this jurisdiction," Archambault said. "If the court unseals this, that is gone."
But Chittum said the law that allows sealed criminal records to be unsealed appeared to be designed for just such a case.
"I think that is written for the type of a scenario that something huge comes out of the woodwork that is of the public's interest," she said.
She called the public interest "profound" in judging the actions of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the local district attorney, and the courts during that 2021 incident and the ensuing criminal case.
At that point, she ordered the records unsealed.
Archambault then asked for a stay so he could appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, but the judge refused.
"As the court noted, the public interest is profound," Chittum said. "To be able to have that transparency to see what occurred is foundational."
According to the affidavit for the Club Q shooting case, the shooter arrived at the club around 11:55 p.m. Surveillance video shows that person getting out of a gold Toyota Highlander wearing a ballistic vest and carrying an AR-15 assault-style rifle.
Aldrich is charged with 305 counts related to the Club Q shooting which includes first-degree murder, bias-motived crime, attempted murder and assault in connection to the deadly shooting.
Five people -- Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance -- were killed in the shooting.
Seventeen others were injured by gunshots, police said. Five others were injured, but not by gunshots.
Investigators are still working to determine the motive behind the shooting.
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