Skip to contents
Crime and Courts

“You can’t unsee anything”: What Michael Dougherty, Boulder’s district attorney, faces as he investigates the King Soopers shooting

Dougherty was appointed to his position in 2018 and then elected to the post. Before that, he served as the No. 2 prosecutor in Jefferson County and worked at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty briefs reporters after a mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers in south Boulder where 10 people, including a Boulder Police officer, were killed on March 22, 2021. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty is embarking on what’s likely the most difficult period of his long career as a prosecutor this week as he leads the investigation into Monday’s mass shooting at a King Soopers store

Dougherty, a 49-year-old New York native, was first appointed to his job as Boulder’s top prosecutor by former Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2018 and then elected to the post. Before that, he served as the No. 2 prosecutor in Jefferson County for several years and before that he worked at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

Before arriving in Colorado, he worked as a local prosecutor in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Recommended

Suspect bought gun days before shooting at Boulder King Soopers, is accused of 10 counts of murder

But while he has prosecuted homicides and high-profile cases before, this will be the first time he is taking such a lead role in an investigation into a shooting as large as the one Boulder is reeling from. Ten people were killed, including a Boulder Police Department officer. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“This is a tragedy and a nightmare for Boulder County,” Dougherty said at a news conference on Monday evening.

The alleged gunman was identified as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, a 21-year-old Arvada man. He was injured in the shooting but is in stable condition. No motive has been released.

The suspect faces 10 counts of first-degree murder.

“We’re going to ensure that justice is done,” Dougherty vowed. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty briefs reporters after a mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers in south Boulder where 10 people, including a Boulder Police officer, were killed on March 22, 2021. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

George Brauchler, who led the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and oversaw the investigations into and subsequent prosecutions surrounding several mass shootings during his tenure, says Dougherty is in for a rough few days.

FULL COVERAGE

See all of The Sun’s coverage of the Boulder King Soopers shooting.

“Dougherty is going through what will be, I think, the toughest thing a DA Is asked to do,” Bruachler said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Michael is the right person for this job. He is a major league prosecutor with major league chops.”

Brauchler was a lower-level Jefferson County prosecutor when the 1999 Columbine High School massacre happened. He helped investigate that case. 

Then, when he took over as 18th Judicial District Attorney in 2013, he led the prosecution of the Aurora theater shooting gunman. His office also handled the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting, the 2018 attack on Douglas County sheriff’s deputies and the 2019 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting.

Brauchler said Dougherty likely has been in the King Soopers crime scene, which is one of the toughest parts of prosecuting a mass shooting.

Dougherty said he visited the Aurora theater shooting crime scene while he was working for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, though he wasn’t the lead prosecutor on the case. For that shooting, Dougherty helped determine if the case would be prosecuted by local or federal authorities.

“He can’t just see the victims anymore,” Brauchler said. “He can’t just see the carnage. He has to look at it from the standpoint of ‘how am i going to tell this standpoint in court?’”

Recommended

Eric Talley, the Boulder police officer killed in the King Soopers shooting, left behind 7 children

Brauchler says he’s reached out to Dougherty offering advice over text message but they haven’t spoken over the phone. He thinks it’s likely Dougherty will prosecute the case himself.

“A case that affects the community like this,” Brauchler said, “you don’t delegate it.”

Police outside a King Soopers grocery store where a shooting took place Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Brauchler says nothing can prepare Dougherty for what he’s going to see in the King Soopers.

“You just aren’t prepared to turn the corner around some bookshelves and see an 18-year-old kid that put a shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger,” Brauchler said, recounting his experience during the Arapahoe High School shooting. “That stays with you forever. You can’t unsee anything in this job. And Michael will remember forever what he saw in that King Soopers, as well as the conversations with victims. Those things will haunt him.”


The Colorado Sun has no paywall, meaning readers do not have to pay to access stories. We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable.

This reporting depends on support from readers like you. For just $5/month, you can invest in an informed community.