17th Judicial District Attorney: Mason vs McCormack for DA cover primarily Adams County

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Tim McCormack, left and Brian Mason, right

Aurora voters living north of East Colfax Avenue will get a new district attorney for the first time in eight years following this November’s election.

Residents of the 17th judicial district, which encompasses Adams and Broomfield Counties, will choose between Republican candidate Tim McCormack and Democrat Brian Mason.

Both have extensive experience working in the office under outgoing Democrat Dave Young, though McCormack left the north Aurora jurisdiction in 2017 for a role with 1st Judicial District DA’s office overseeing Jefferson and Gilpin Counties. He had been in the Adams County jurisdiction under multiple head DA’s since 1999, eventually serving as chief trial deputy.

Mason, who has been with the office since former DA Don Quick’s tenure in 2006, is currently in McCormack’s former trial manager role, overseeing all of the office’s felony cases.

Both live in the area and have longtime ties to the state: Mason graduated from Heritage High School in Littleton and McCormack finished high school in Grand Junction. The former received his law degree at the University of Colorado School of Law, and the latter graduated from the Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska.

The two candidates have pointed to their respective decade-plus of experience in the jurisdiction that has been roiled with outrage following Young’s decision not to levy criminal charges against the Aurora Police Department officers who detained 23-year-old Elijah McClain days before he died last year.

Neither candidate overtly agreed to re-investigate the case of Elijah McClain, and generally cited the slate of ongoing federal, state and local investigations into the case as the reason for their inability to comment further.

Still, McCormack said he would take another look at the case if presented with new evidence, a notion that Young has repeated for nearly a year.

“If newly discovered information or evidence were to come to light that warrant reopening the investigation, I would take that into consideration in any determination in re-examining or re-opening the investigation,” McCormack wrote in a questionnaire issued by The Sentinel.

Young last fall issued a letter explaining that he would not pursue criminal charges against any of the officers who detained McClain and later applied a now-banned chokehold to the arteries on the sides of hie neck. He said that he did not have the evidence to win a conviction at trial, primarily pointing to a coroner’s report that found McClain’s cause of death to be “undetermined” as a primary factor in his decision.

The pair of candidates vying for Young’s seat both said they would look at significantly revamping the organization of the office, which has been the center of controversies outside of the McClain case in recent years. Last year, the family of a local victim services manager called for Young to be barred from investigating her death because of a previous “romantic relationship” between the two, local media reported.

“Over the past years, the Office of the 17th Judicial District Attorney has been the center of controversy, misfeasance, lack of transparency and historic employee turnover,” McCormack wrote.

He said he would elect not to retain Young as an employee in the office if he were to be elected, and promised to combat rising violence in the area by working with local schools and expanding diversion programs.

Mason, too, said he would look at rejiggering the office’s focus.

“Upon election, I will perform a top-to-bottom review of our office, our structure and our practices,” he wrote. “I will work collaboratively with our community and with our staff to write a new mission statement for the District Attorney’s Office and will outline a vision and goals for achieving that mission.”

Like McCormack, he said he favors further investing in diversion programs and hiring a more diverse pool of employees.

In an extensive election guide compiled by a new social welfare arm of Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, the two candidates agreed to discuss further reforms to the system of cash bail in the state, a topic that has been the center of attention at the state legislature in recent years.

Mason was more broad in his support for such reform, while McCormack said he would not support entirely eliminating cash bail in the jurisdiction and favors further consideration from the court and parties to cases to set monetary figures for liberation.

“Appropriate factors to consider for bail should include the seriousness of the case, an offender’s criminal history and the presence of past failures to appear for court proceedings,” McCormack wrote. “Providing more discretion and common sense in applying bail is needed.”

Mason has walloped McCormack in terms of total fundraising, though McCormack had still spent more on his campaign than his opponent as of Sept. 21, the most recent campaign finance deadline available at press time.

Mason has netted north of $100,000 in contributions, dwarfing McCormack’s roughly $41,000 total. The former has only spent $15,000 and the latter has tallied $26,000 in expenses so far.

Meet Republican Tim McCormack

Tim McCormack

Republican Tim McCormack

Republican Tim McCormack worked in the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office from 1999 until 2017, when he took a role with the local prosecutor’s in Jefferson and Gilpin Counties. He began his prosecutorial career in Wyoming, and graduated from the Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska.

Tim McCormack policy questions

Would you consider re-examining evidence or re-opening your office’s investigation into the death of Elijah McClain?

There is a great deal of outrage, pain and concern about recent incidents throughout our country, including Elijah McClain’s case, that occurred in the jurisdiction in which I am running for District Attorney. I share in that grief.

Currently, there are active investigations into the circumstances surrounding Mr. McClain’s death that include the City of Aurora, the Colorado State Attorney General’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. The Rules of Ethics/Professional Responsibility prevent me from commenting on cases where pending investigations are ongoing.  

However, as in any case, if newly discovered information or evidence were to come to light that warrant reopening the investigation, I would take that into consideration in any determination in re-examining or re-opening the investigation.

 

How would you run the office differently or similarly to the current district attorney?

Concerned citizens and those that have endorsed our campaign agree that there is a 

dire need for change in the District Attorney’s Office for Adams an Broomfield counties.  Over the past years, the Office of the 17th Judicial District Attorney has been the center of controversy, misfeasance, lack of transparency and historic employee turnover.  

I will:

*not retain the current, term-limited district attorney or his assistant;

*restore public trust and lead the office with integrity;

*return Public Safety as a top priority;

*aggressively prosecute violent and serious crime;

*re-establish a strong collaborative working relationship with the criminal justice system, community leaders and law enforcement;

*work with schools to stem gang violence and prevent crime to keep our youth out of the criminal justice system;

*pursue more community involvement and greater transparency; 

*recruit and hire employees more reflective of the communities we serve;

*return institutional knowledge for better efficiency and productivity; 

*review existing diversion programs to expand and increase participation.

These changes will proactively work towards decreasing the significant increase in crime throughout the district, particularly violent crime like homicides and property crime like burglaries and auto thefts.  Further, these strong relationships will allow for much needed improvements in the criminal justice system without jeopardizing public safety. 

 

Briefly explain the circumstances and outcome of a case in which you served as a prosecutor that you believe best exemplifies your fitness to serve as the head district attorney.

The vast experience of cases I have prosecuted and tried over the last 28 years best exemplifies my fitness and well-rounded ability to serve as the next District Attorney. No single case best exemplifies ones fitness to serve as an elected District Attorney. It is a culmination of 28 years (and counting) of evaluating and trying cases of every level, supervising attorney’s and staff, practicing integrity, ethics and taking on hard decisions and a career founded on distinguishing between good people who have made mistakes and criminals who prey upon our communities. 

Over my career as a prosecutor, I have been assigned and prosecuted several thousands of cases and tried over 200 jury trials. One such case involved an individual with a significant criminal history as a result of addiction. I worked with them and their attorney to provide them the opportunity to get needed treatment and was humbled watching them graduate from Drug Court and go on to lead a law abiding life free of addiction.  Another case involved an individual who committed crimes due to mental health issues.  I watched them successfully complete Mental Health court and treatment and be reunited with their loved ones.  Many times I have sat with families of homicide victims and victims of violent crimes. I have witnessed first hand their pain, grief and anger and guided them through the criminal justice process delivering justice and closure.  I have been fortunate to maintain close relationships over the years with many of these families and victims.  

Not only do I have 28 years of experience, but in those 28 years, I was a former Chief Trial Deputy in the 17th Judicial District where I was responsible for the mentoring and training of over 100 attorneys, involved in the daily management operations of the office and held a supervisory role in every division. I have practiced and taught prosecutors whom I have worked with, supervised and mentored over my career that there is a difference between human frailty and genuine evil and to act accordingly in the disposition of their cases.  

A District Attorney play’s a pivotal role in the criminal justice system, making decisions and exercising discretion about whether to prosecute, whom to prosecute, and how to prosecute.  A District Attorney has to be able to work with the police and other community partners to improve the community relationships and to build trust in the criminal justice system. My experience speaks to this.

 

Amid increased calls for overall criminal justice reform, what new policies, if any, would you implement to make this judicial district more equitable for minority populations?

There is no place for racial disparity in our country, especially in the criminal justice system. As your District Attorney, I would mandate that any decisions made be based on the seriousness of the crime, facts of the case, amount of evidence available to prove guilt and the prior criminal record of the offender regardless of race or gender. The implementation of education and a resolute focus on training attorneys, staff and law enforcement to identify racial disparity and once identified, exclude it from consideration in filing decisions, charges, plea dispositions and sentencing recommendations to the courts.  I am also open to tracking and publicly releasing race/ethnicity data and reviewing statistical data to better identify areas of the criminal justice system that need improvement.

 

What new policies, if any, would you implement to bolster the impartiality or your office when reviewing lethal incidents involving local law enforcement agencies, such as when local police injure or kill suspects or bystanders?

In the 17th Judicial District, there is a long-standing multi-agency law enforcement investigative team designated as the 17th Judicial District Critical Incident Investigation Team (CIIT). The CIIT works under the direction of the District Attorney’s Office and will assist any law enforcement agency within the 17th Judicial District in the investigation of officer-involved shootings or officer-involved critical incidents. This eliminates the officer-involved agency from the responsibility to conduct the investigation on its own officer. The goal of the CIIT is to promote transparency, objectivity, eliminate biases, and strengthen the public’s confidence through an independent fact finding investigative team. Upon completion of the investigation, a thorough review by the District Attorney’s Office will ensue.  

As your next District Attorney, I will swiftly and thoroughly investigate these types of cases to determine if criminal charges are warranted. If charges are not filed, I will make the investigation and findings publicly available. I will strongly advocate for the Aurora Police Department to commit to participating in, and being a part of, the CIIT.

 

Do you believe the state’s recently passed criminal justice reform measure, Senate Bill 217, went too far, didn’t go far enough or provided an accurate update to the state’s law enforcement policies?

With the recent passage of SB217, Colorado’s Law Enforcement Integrity Act, Colorado Legislators have already revised the dictates on how and when police officers can be charged with crimes for use of force.  The Law Enforcement Integrity Act produced a far-reaching and comprehensive police accountability and reform law which received bi-partisan support as well as support from the Colorado District Attorney’s Council. This law affects almost every aspect of policing in Colorado in an effort for greater transparency. Of note, even before this bill was passed, law enforcement could be charged for crimes just like any other citizen.

 

The lighter side of Tim McCormack

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Invulnerability

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it? 

The original Tremors film starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Either an attorney, over the road truck driver or rancher

What talent do you have that most people don’t know about?

Baking chocolate chip cookies and chocolate chip banana bread

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call it?

“The Wild, Wild West:  True Stories of a Career Prosecutor”

What’s your favorite curbside guilty pleasure?

M&M’s (plain, peanut and peanut butter)

What was the last book you read?

“Fortitude:  American Resilience in the Era of Outrage” by Dan Crenshaw

Have you found any unexpected upsides to wearing a facemask during the pandemic? 

The inability of others to see your facial expressions

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Christmas stocking “stuffers”

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

This Side Up

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

Amarillo by Morning by George Strait

Which reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

Storm Chasers

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

Transporter

Meet Brian Mason

Brian Mason

Democrat Brian Mason has worked in the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office since 2006 and currently serves as the chief trial deputy, a position formerly held by his opponent tasked with overseeing the office’s felony cases. Before graduating from the University of Colorado School of Law, he worked as a White House aide in former President Bill Clinton’s second term.

Brian Mason Policy Questions

BRIAN MASON: POLICY QUESTIONS

Would you consider re-examining evidence or re-opening your office’s investigation into the death of Elijah McClain?

Elijah McClain did not deserve to die. He was a young man with a bright future and the outrage over his death is understandable and justified. Elijah’s life mattered. Black Lives Matter. I believe this to my core.

There are several pending investigations into Elijah McClain’s death, including one by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.  Given that, I cannot comment specifically on a pending case.

As the next DA in Colorado’s 17th Judicial District, I will review any and all cases that come before me where someone has died during a police encounter. Such cases must be investigated thoroughly, independently and with integrity. We must be transparent about how we conduct these investigations and, when appropriate, utilize the independent body of the grand jury to review them. This will be a top priority of mine if elected District Attorney.

The national conversation following the murder of George Floyd is critically important in addressing how our criminal justice system treats people of color. We must do better. I’m committed to engaging in this conversation, to listening, to learning and to finding ways to address injustices in the criminal justice system.

How would you run the office differently or similarly to the current district attorney?

Effectively running and managing the District Attorney’s Office is a top priority for me.  The criminal justice system is under scrutiny as never before and we must rise to meet this moment.  In order to do so, we must thoroughly examine the role of the District Attorney’s Office within our system and our community.  That is precisely what I intend to do.

Upon election, I will perform a top-to-bottom review of our office, our structure and our practices.  I will work collaboratively with our community and with our staff to write a new mission statement for the District Attorney’s Office and will outline a vision and goals for achieving that mission.

I will create units within the District Attorney’s Office to support our responsibility of fighting for the vulnerable and supporting victims of crime, while also working to make the criminal justice system better.  I will hire, retain, and mentor the finest employees and will hold my prosecutors and staff to the highest standards of professionalism and ethics.

Briefly explain the circumstances and outcome of a case in which you served as a prosecutor that you believe best exemplifies your fitness to serve as the head district attorney.

The most important quality in a prosecutor is integrity.  My mantra as the next District Attorney is this:  “Do the right thing.  At all times.  In every case.”  In order to do the right thing, a prosecutor must have the integrity – and wisdom -- to know the difference between a defendant who poses a significant risk to society and someone who has made a mistake and needs a second chance.  Some of my proudest moments as a prosecutor have been dismissing cases – because it was the right thing to do.  I’m also proud of the cases where my work made a real, substantive difference in the lives of others.  In one such case, my work helped save a young woman’s life.  I’ll briefly summarize that case here.

In 2015, a young couple – who I will call David and Jamie – moved to Colorado to start their married life together.   David was abusive to Jamie, even while Jamie worked three jobs to support them.  One evening, David became enraged because Jamie had not made dinner.  David tied Jamie to a chair, then heated up a butcher knife on the stove and branded Jamie all over her body.  Jamie suffered third degree burns – in the shape of a butcher knife – from head to toe.

I was assigned David and Jamie’s case and immediately recognized it as one of the most horrific acts of torture I had ever seen.  Unfortunately, due to a common, well known cycle among domestic violence victims, Jamie refused to cooperate with our prosecution and supported David.  In fact, she moved out of state and hid with her husband’s family in order to avoid service.  Meanwhile, David’s attorneys told me I couldn’t win the case and asked for a minimum plea bargain.  I refused.  David’s behavior had all the warnings of lethality – indeed, he had threatened to kill Jamie in a phone call after he was charged.  I knew we had to do everything possible to protect Jamie, even when she could not protect herself.  So I contacted law enforcement in the state where Jamie was hiding and convinced them to go find and serve her, which they did.  I then vigorously prosecuted the case in court and held a firm line with the defendant and his attorneys, even when the case seemed hopeless.  In the end, we convicted David of the top charge and he’s now serving a 32 year prison sentence.  And Jamie is alive and well.

This case reflects the kind of prosecutor and leader that I will be.  I will fight for the vulnerable, protect the community, and do the right thing in every case.

Amid increased calls for overall criminal justice reform, what new policies, if any, would you implement to make this judicial district more equitable for minority populations?

Racism, discrimination and social injustice have plagued our country since its founding, and they are perpetuated in our criminal justice system.  Addressing racial disparities is, therefore, one of my top priorities.

As the next District Attorney, I will:

Work towards ending the school to prison pipeline

Invest in diversion programs and specialty courts as alternatives to incarceration

Mandate annual implicit and explicit bias training

• Evaluate our charging decisions to eliminate any racial discrimination

• Vigorously investigate and prosecute incidents of police brutality

• Hire a diverse workforce that reflects the community we serve

• Create a civilian review board to increase transparency

• Invest in schools, senior centers and other community partners to prevent crime and reduce recidivism

In addition to the above, I will also work with community leaders and organizations to address underlying problems of racism and discrimination in our society as a whole.  We must tackle problems such as affordable housing, job creation and education in order to address the roots of this historic crisis.

What new policies, if any, would you implement to bolster the impartiality or your office when reviewing lethal incidents involving local law enforcement agencies, such as when local police injure or kill suspects or bystanders?

Thoroughly investigating and reviewing all cases where a police officer is involved in a lethal encounter  is a top priority of mine.  Such cases must be investigated thoroughly, independently and with integrity. This means using a multi-agency, independent team to investigate and review all such incidents.  I will insist that the Aurora Police Department, for example, submits such cases to this kind of independent review.

I will create and utilize a civilian review board to provide greater transparency to the work that we do, including cases involving lethal incidents with police officers.  We must be very transparent about how we conduct these investigations and, when appropriate, utilize the independent body of the grand jury to review and, where appropriate, make charging decisions.

We must rebuild trust with the community – especially the community of  Aurora – and bringing greater transparency and impartiality to cases such as these is an important and necessary step in doing so.

Do you believe the state’s recently passed criminal justice reform measure, Senate Bill 217, went too far, didn’t go far enough or provided an accurate update to the state’s law enforcement policies?

I supported Senate Bill 217 and still do.  It rightfully mandates that all officers use body-worn cameras.  This provision alone will increase transparency and, in my view, be good for police and civilians alike.  The bill also bans the use of chokeholds and carotid control holds, which was long overdue.  The bill makes it a crime for an officer to fail to intervene when another officer is using excessive force and also makes it significantly harder for a fired officer to get work at another police department.  Finally, the bill requires important data tracking to increase transparency.  I support all of these provisions and will uphold them as the next District Attorney.

The lighter side of Brian Mason

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Flying

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

The Godfather

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A fireman or a famous symphony conductor

What talent do you have that most people don’t know about?

Singing.  I once performed at Carnegie Hall.

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call it?

A Colorado Life

What’s your favorite curbside guilty pleasure?

Mint chocolate chip ice cream

What was the last book you read?

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

Have you found any unexpected upsides to wearing a facemask during the pandemic?

Yes. I frequently eat salad for lunch and the greens get stuck in my teeth without me realizing it. With a mask on, no one else realizes it either.

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Decorating the Christmas Tree with my wife and kids.

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

Serenity

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

Appalachian Spring, by Aaron Copeland

Which reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

I’d be terrible at all of them, but I’d love to appear on Chopped!

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

A safe and effective vaccine to COVID-19.