Let’s cut to the chase on El Paso County officials and the case of the Club Q killer, who had been arrested in 2021 on kidnapping and felony menacing charges.
As you must know, the 2021 case had been sealed — but then leaked to a Colorado Springs TV station — before El Paso County District Judge Robin Chittum finally lifted the seal earlier this week, noting that the public had a “profound” interest in knowing more.
“Profound” is a good word. I’d have gone with “vital” myself. But lifting the seal, as requested by the district attorney, The Colorado Sun and other news organizations, did allow El Paso County officials to legally discuss the previous case.
And maybe the 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael J. Allen was right when he told us in his Thursday news conference that there was nothing more he could have done in prosecuting the Club Q killer in that case — the one in which Anderson Lee Aldrich threatened to not only blow up the family home but also, all too presciently, to become the “next mass killer.”
It is reasonable to believe DA Allen’s explanation for why the 2021 case against Aldrich was dismissed. According to Allen, his office had tried repeatedly to subpoena relatives who were the victims and key witnesses in the case, including Aldrich’s mother and grandparents, who refused to cooperate by testifying against Aldrich.
Want early access to
Subscribe to get an
exclusive first look at
his columns twice a week.
That often happens in such cases. And without witnesses, the judge ruled the case couldn’t proceed.
And maybe the El Paso County sheriff’s explanation as to why he couldn’t invoke the red flag law has some small, if dubious, merit. According to Sheriff Bill Elder, once the case was sealed, so was the evidence he would have needed to pursue an extreme risk protection order. And since the family wouldn’t pursue an order, that left him with no options.
Since the case was nearly a year old by the time it was dismissed, Elder said he couldn’t argue, given El Paso County’s rules on requesting a risk order, that Aldrich was an imminent danger.
Elder didn’t mention in his lengthy statement that he has never brought a red flag order before a judge or that he believes the law is unconstitutional or that he has done his best to see that the red flag was never waved in El Paso County.
But here are the facts. El Paso County officials knew last year that Aldrich threatened to become a “mass killer” — a threat that the red flag law, which prohibits the purchase or possession of guns for a set amount of time, was designed to address.
El Paso County officials knew Aldrich not only had guns, including a legally possessed AR-15 assault-style weapon, but that he also had a 3-D printer with which he could make so-called ghost guns. They knew Aldrich had these guns because they had confiscated them and, in fact, never returned them, even when Aldrich requested their return.
El Paso County officials knew Aldrich had threatened family members and very possibly unnamed others.
El Paso County officials had received a letter from an Aldrich great uncle — the grandfather’s brother — saying Aldrich, if released, would likely “hurt or kill my brother and his wife.”
In short, El Paso County officials had every reason to believe that Aldrich was a dangerous person and, with that knowledge, they did, well, nothing. Meaning Aldrich could legally purchase weapons like those he used in the Club Q shooting. Officials have not yet revealed how Aldrich acquired his guns.
Once we know that officials knew Aldrich was clearly dangerous, we also know they needed to have done more. And it’s not just the El Paso officials who bear potential responsibility. There are many counties across the state in which sheriffs say they will not enforce the red flag law, just as there are many counties, including El Paso, which call themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.”
There’s much we still need to know, starting with why you must be 21 to buy a handgun, but only 18 to buy an assault-style rifle. It’s an issue that, of course, Congress refuses to deal with — as it refuses to do in nearly all cases of gun safety — even though Joe Biden has called for Congress to ban assault rifles altogether.
Presumably, though, that’s an issue that will be brought up again in the upcoming Colorado legislative session, which doesn’t mean, though, that it will become law.
And we need to discuss, again, why so-called ghost guns — made from 3-D printers — are legal in Colorado, except in Denver, which passed its own law banning them. The Biden administration did recently take steps to limit how ghost guns could be sold, including a requirement that the seller must be licensed. We’ll see how the regulations hold up once they’re challenged in court.
And once we see that the Club Q massacre could possibly have been prevented, we need to look a lot more closely at why an extreme risk protection order was not requested.
As the law reads today, a family member, a household member or law enforcement can request that a judge issue a protective order against those who are seen as a risk to themselves or others. There is a right to appeal after 14 days. If the repeal is rejected, the judge can make the order good for one year. After a year, it can be renewed.
☀ MORE MIKE LITTWIN COLUMNS
But the DA said that without the family requesting an order, it was unlikely a judge would have upheld a request from anyone, including the sheriff. The sheriff said that once the case was sealed, his hands were tied. And both pointed to the fact that when the case was still being prosecuted there was a mandatory protection order in place, which didn’t expire until the case was dismissed.
As state Rep. Tom Sullivan, the sponsor of the red flag law who lost his son, Alex, in the Aurora theater killing, told me, “When we were writing the law, who would have thought there’d be a situation that neither the family or law enforcement would request a risk protection order?”
That’s a good question. Do you have others? Of course you do. It was Aldrich who requested the case be sealed. Couldn’t the DA or the sheriff have asked the judge not to seal the case until a red flag request could be brought before a judge? Sheriff Elder said that by that time, it would have been difficult to argue that there was any threat “in the near future.” Really?
After all, according to the affidavit, the judge set a higher bond when deputies, after searching Aldrich’s grandparents’ house, cited “homicidal statements, actions, possessions of firearms and bomb-/making materials.”
Could the fact — released Thursday night by the sheriff’s office — that law enforcement had been called before the 2021 arrest concerning Aldrich have been the basis for use of the red flag law? Still not enough?
I think we already know the answers, but consider these questions: Did El Paso officials ever even discuss bringing a red flag request to a judge? And if not, why not?
The judge did say, though, that she would look into a request for a contempt order against whoever leaked the sealed affidavit to KKTV, the Colorado Springs TV station that first reported the contents, and to The Associated Press, which also obtained a copy and confirmed KKTV’s reporting.
In other words, El Paso officials might go after the person who leaked the sealed documents because that person recognized, given the Club Q murders, that the public had the right know what El Paso law enforcement did or didn’t do in the earlier case.
The judge rightly said the public had a “profound” right to know. I’d say we should thank the person, or persons, who risked so much in leaking the document to make that profound right possible.
The leaks didn’t kill people. But the Club Q shooter — an obvious danger to himself and others — did.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)