Prosecutors ordered to review cases after Aurora office failed to provide defendants with knowledge of discredited cops

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Division 5 courtroom on Monday Dec. 12, 2016 at Aurora City Municipal Court.
Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | For more than two years, the Aurora public defender’s office hasn’t known how many police officers with questionable credibility have been involved in cases that they’ve handled, because that information hasn’t been provided to them by prosecutors.

As a result, municipal Presiding Judge Shawn Day has ordered the city attorney’s office — which is required by law to supply that information to the defendant and his or her lawyers — to review every case since the beginning of 2020 that involves an officer with a so-called “Brady letter” and notify the defendant and their counsel the information wasn’t properly supplied.

It’s unclear how many that could be, but an attorney from the city told Day Thursday during a hearing on the matter that it was “a ton.” A more precise number may be available next month when the office is required to brief Day on the progress of case reviews.

Brady letters, born out of a 1963 Supreme Court decision, are provided by a police department to prosecution when an officer’s credibility has been called into question by either a criminal or administrative investigation. That could be for actions such as lying or showing some form of unlawful bias.

There is no uniform policy in how that information is to be distributed among attorneys, said University of Denver Law Professor Ian Farrell. But if not shared with the defense, it is considered a violation of due process.

The Aurora City Attorney’s office claimed the failure to share Brady letters was due to the lack of procedure by court information technology. In all, attorneys said public defenders have not received 13 Brady letters since Jan. 1, 2020 — just before the current chief defender started with the agency.

“Do you understand that you can’t rely upon and use an excuse as to the fact that you don’t have an automated system?” Day asked assistant city attorneys Andrea Wood and Megan Platt. “Shouldn’t it be the attorney’s responsibility? They get a case. They get a hard file hitting their desk. They read it all. There’s everybody listed that was involved in the investigation of this case. It falls into the hands and onto the shoulders of the attorney, not some sort of electronic system.”

Chief Defender Doug Wilson requested the hearing after realizing his office wasn’t notified of an officer with a Brady letter. The officer, Josiah Coe, had been fired and arrested for distributing meth in May 2021. Since that letter was issued, Coe has been tied to several cases the defender’s office is involved in, Wilson said.

Wilson said he obtained the Brady letter for Coe through an outside district attorney’s office. Per routine, those prosecutors received the letter from the Aurora Police Department, which authorizes the letter and sends it to prosecutors, including the city attorney’s office.

The letter was addressed to district attorneys in the 17th Judicial District, 18th Judicial District and Julie Heckman, deputy city attorney and head of the office’s criminal justice division.

The two assistant attorneys said that none of the 13 officers with Brady letters have been called as witnesses in a case. Day pointed out that Brady material is not only a trial issue, but information that’s constitutionally mandated to be shared during discovery. It’s also required in state court procedure rules.

Wilson said Thursday that he felt the city attorney’s office should be held in contempt of court and should be investigated by the state for the misstep. He also requested that the city attorney’s office hand over Brady material once it’s received from the police department. 

In his decision, Day only required the office to review the cases. He said that because the rule to share the information is mandated, the agency should comply.

“It’s absolutely more than disturbing that what could be hundreds of cases affected and impacted for what is clearly, clearly required and a clear obligation and duty on behalf of the prosecution to provide this information to the defendant and his or her attorney. It’s disturbing,” he said.

The city attorney’s office, which has a criminal and civil division, said in a statement Friday that once the office “became aware of the issues in our previous process for Brady notifications, we began taking steps to make sure notifications are timely made moving forward. We are also quickly working to review past cases that may have been affected by this issue.”

Platt, the assistant city attorney, said during the hearing the office did keep a spreadsheet of officers.

Brady violations aren’t all that uncommon across the criminal justice system, Farrell said.

“For every Brady violation that is discovered and there are a lot, there must be, I imagine, many more that are not discovered,” he said, describing the process as a sort of “police policing police” scenario.

It’s possible that the cases affected by the absent Brady letters in Aurora municipal court are re-opened and receive a new trial. 

Farrell said retrial is really the only remedy in Brady violations.

“(The Brady process) is commonly criticized by academics and the defense bar because there are no sanctions against the individuals for Brady violations,” Farrell said. “If you’re a DA who regularly violates Brady, the conviction (may) get overturned, but it’s not like you get disbarred or an ethical sanction. You face no consequences at all. If you’re willing to simply re-try the case all the time, you can just do that. Especially if there is a likelihood that you will not be fined. You can see how the incentive rolls out.”

The city attorney’s office is expected to provide Day an update on complying with the court order to notify former defendants on April 25.

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Publius
Publius
10 months ago

Shameful dereliction of duty. Inexcusable. Then to try to shift blame to the Information Technology Department, even more shameful. Where is the ownership of responsibility expected from leaders? City Prosecution has been unprofessional for years.

Among the Defense Bar it is well known that cases are won when taken to jury as City Prosecution is reluctant to try cases and will cut a deal to avoid trial or will lose at trial, or as here, upon appeal.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
10 months ago

APD and it’s powerful union is mainly brutal, racist, and corrupt. Keep the Chief of POlice that GOP Council members trying to push out without open meetings and smear, but need better recruiting and training for APD, and discredited cops need to go and be prosecuted.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
10 months ago

Hey, Debra, you seem to not have a real feel for this situation. I know it is tough when things don’t seem to go your way.

john wilson
john wilson
10 months ago

You miss the root problem. Vanessa is an empty suit, she was never bright, so no surprise. The command officers who have always run this department just run it behind her puppet image. you have to clean out the corruption, they never do, never have. I knew a lieutenant who told the former chief his first month there exactly that and he didn’t listen, look what happened to him and the department since then.

john wilson
john wilson
10 months ago

You miss the root problem. Vanessa is an empty suit, so no surprise. The command officers who have always run this department just run it behind her puppet image. you have to clean out the corruption, they never do, never have. I knew a lieutenant who told the former chief his first month there exactly that and he didn’t listen, look what happened to him and the department since then.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
10 months ago

I think I have this right. The citizens of Aurora will have convicted criminals back on the street over a legal technicality or will pay for a new trial for the once convicted criminal. You just got to love lawyers.

YooShinae55
YooShinae55
10 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

You call “constitutionally mandated” a legal technicality? Sounds like you would make fine lawyer yourself!

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago
Reply to  YooShinae55

He most likely doesn’t care about the Constitution. It’s just a pesky thing that gets in the way of conservatives.

Bat Manuel
Bat Manuel
10 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

You don’t care about due process and fair trials? Just letting your fascist flag fly these days aren’t you, Dick? Thanks for taking the mask off for all to see.

Last edited 10 months ago by Bat Manuel
Moore Dick
Moore Dick
10 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Shouldnt you be more concerned that the citizens of Aurora have been without BASIC LEGAL SAFEGUARDS for these apparent 2+ years? 

That the money you pay to support the Aurora Municipal Court has been being used to deny people of a constitutional right, and keep cops that sell meth while on duty AT A HOSPITAL so they can trespass homeless people?

No, I guess you wouldn’t be livid that the City Attorney’s Office, who are specially mandated to pursue justice, tried to blame the IT department.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago
Reply to  Moore Dick

There is no doubt that the legal system is broken.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

You gotta love bad cops.

Doug King
Doug King
10 months ago

hey, instead of taking shots at each other ? How about suggesting to city council that they consider action to replace the city attorney with one who is competent? Wouldn’t that be a solution?

YooShinae55
YooShinae55
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug King

You’re right, thanks Doug. I appreciate the solution-based approach.

Then again, I don’t think Council can replace the attorney as the attorney is City staff. So we’d need to appeal to the City manager for that. It’s the same thing Council Member Jurinsky got in trouble for with the police chief…

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug King

Arguing and blaming always solves the problems, Doug.

Justacitizen
Justacitizen
9 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

The City Attorney is a council appointee and can be removed by council at any time for any reason. They are not under the City Manager.

Ricardo
Ricardo
10 months ago

That’s true a lot of prisioners for this police in aurora they should check all cases

john wilson
john wilson
10 months ago

To clean up this department, there needs to be a clean sweep of ALL above Captains and put ethical and moral people in charge. They keep the same people in charge and wonder why it never gets better. You can’t fix anything with the same corrupt former SWAT members still running the department, then this problem at the prosecutors office becomes moot.

Don Black
Don Black
10 months ago

How could any of this be happening with Chief Wilson in charge?

Publius
Publius
10 months ago
Reply to  Kara Mason

So, will you be investigating the prosecutor’s office? Seems a systemic problem in training and accountability. All prosecutors have an obligation, individually, but when the office dies this systemically that falls on the chief prosecutor and her management staff. Who are they? What are their qualifications? What sort of job have they been doing? Is the office professional, ethical, competent, respected? What are the views on this from the judges, the defense bar, the police, the defendants, witnesses, court staff?

Last edited 10 months ago by Publius
Justacitizen
Justacitizen
9 months ago
Reply to  Publius

There is systemic failure at the aurora prosecutors office and it has a terrible reputation metro-wide. City council doesnt have a clue whats going on there and doesnt seem to care. An investigation of this office could fill a whole newspaper.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

This is a problem that has been going on for MANY years, and she is doing her best to change the system and get the good old boys’ club under control. Simple-minded people think that long-standing problems are always the result of the person now in charge, but people need to dig deeper. And the problems we have here are endemic across the Country, where there are other chiefs-of-police.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago

And if those officers had acted properly, we wouldn’t find ourselves in this position.

Justacitizen
Justacitizen
9 months ago

Dont blame the police department, this is the City Attorney’s Office , prosecution division, and practices like this have been common there for years and years. They even file charges on people when the police tell them they dont have a case. Police have their own problems but this is not on them.