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State attorney general requires reforms in southern Colorado DA's office for victims' rights violations

12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne's office violated the state's Victim Rights Act by its failure to treat victims with respect, AG Phil Weiser said.

DENVER — The Colorado attorney general will require reforms in the office of the top prosecutor in the San Luis Valley after finding the office disrespected crime victims to the point that it was a violation of the state's Victim Rights Act (VRA).

It's the first time in the VRA's 30-year history that an attorney general has had to enforce compliance with the law, according to State Attorney General Phil Weiser.

He announced the action Tuesday as part of his office's investigation into reports that 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne and his staff yelled at crime victims, showed up late to meet with them and didn't follow up with them about plea deals or case dismissals, as required by law.

> The video above aired in February when the 12th Judicial DA's Office was under investigation.

"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 in a news release. "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."

The 12th Judicial District includes Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties in southern Colorado. 

The state's Crime Victim Services Advisory Board earlier this year reviewed eight complaints and found that Payne's office had violated the Victim Rights Act.

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The advisory board referred the complaints to the governor’s office, and the governor referred them to the attorney general as required by law, Weiser's office said in a news release.

Under the compliance agreement, the 12th Judicial DA's Office will be required to:

  • Retain an outside monitor, chosen by the state and funded by the DA’s office. The DA’s office will provide the monitor with full access to its documents and personnel.
  • Review and revise its VRA policy and create procedures for contacting victims in a timely manner.
  • Adopt and implement mandatory training for employees.
  • Revise the office’s website, create informational materials and notify victims of their VRA rights.
  • Conduct quarterly meetings with staff and stakeholders, including law enforcement partners, to improve communication about VRA compliance and office operations relating to VRA cases.

The oversight will last for at least three years if Payne remains as district attorney, or for six months after a new district attorney succeeds him.

“Today’s agreement cannot right past wrongs," Weiser said. "It does, however, put in place a framework to ensure that the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office — subject to independent, enforceable oversight — honors the needs of crime victims and ensures their rights are protected.” 

If the 12th Judicial DA's Office violates the agreement repeatedly, the state could require that its VRA cases be transferred to prosecutors outside of its office.

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