Sand blows off of the dunes during raging San Luis Valley spring winds at Great Sand Dunes National Park on Thursday May 12, 2022. John McEvoy Special to The Colorado Sun.

Alonzo Payne, the Democratic district attorney in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, resigned Wednesday less than halfway through his term amid criticism of his office’s relationship with crime victims and as he faced a recall election.

The 12th Judicial District, which Payne oversaw, covers Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties.

Gov. Jared Polis appointed Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, to serve as the interim district attorney in the 12th Judicial District. Polis is responsible for appointing a replacement to serve out Payne’s term.

Alonzo Payne. (Screenshot from Facebook)

In a short letter to Polis, Payne said he was resigning to “spare the cost and divisiveness of a recall election to overturn the will of the voters.”

“It is apparent to me that the elite of the San Luis Valley and the judicial activists amongst us do not want to see criminal justice reform enacted,” he wrote. “I hope they soon realize that incarcerating the poor and
underprivileged is not the solution to address the overarching poverty and substance abuse issues that are rampant in the San Luis Valley and statewide.”

The resignation comes a day after Weiser found that Payne’s office “routinely failed to communicate with victims, consult with them about plea deals or case dismissals, or treat them with respect and dignity.”

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Weiser on Tuesday also announced a three-year agreement with Payne’s office to try to address the issues. The agreement would have required the retainment an outside monitor, adoption and implementation of new training, and the scheduling regular meetings with stakeholders.

“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,” Weiser said in a written statement Tuesday. “In some instances, the office may even have placed victims’ safety at risk.”

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Weiser’s office said he will work to implement the agreement and turn around the office even amid Payne’s departure.

The Colorado Department of Law began investigating the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in February after the state’s Crime Victim Services Advisory Board reviewed eight complaints and found Payne and his office had violated the Victims’ Rights Act.

Payne was facing a recall election in the coming months, backed by the Alamosa City Council, after his opponents gathered signatures to try to oust him from office.

Denver7 reported that Payne had until the end of the day Wednesday to resign or Polis would set a recall election date.

Payne was elected to a four-year term in 2020 after receiving an endorsement from Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

It’s rare for an elected district attorney to resign in Colorado.