San Luis Valley DA Alonzo Payne resigns with recall looming

AG Phil Weiser announced independent monitor oversight for judicial district on Tuesday
Alonzo Payne.jpg
Posted at 4:44 PM, Jul 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-13 20:21:58-04

DENVER – Embattled 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne submitted his resignation on Wednesday, according to an email received by victims and Payne’s resignation letter, which were both obtained by Denver7 Investigates on Wednesday afternoon.

The resignation of Payne, the district attorney for the San Luis Valley, on Wednesday comes one day after Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced an agreement between his office and the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to bring in an independent monitor to ensure the DA’s Office is complying with the VRA following a multi-month investigation into complaints that it was not.

In the resignation letter submitted to Gov. Jared Polis Wednesday, Payne wrote his resignation would take effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

“This is in an effort to permit the Governor to appoint a steward to my position until the next general election in 2024 and spare the cost and divisiveness of a Recall Election to overturn the will of the voters,” Payne wrote in the letter, which was obtained from a source with knowledge of the matter.

He went on to claim in the letter that the “elite of the San Luis Valley and the judicial activists amongst us” do not want to see criminal justice reform happen.

“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,” he added. “In the future, it is my genuine hope that the limited resources and taxpayer dollars of the San Luis Valley will be utilized to serve those most in need in a more effective manner and not for political purposes.”

Additionally, an attorney with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office sent an email to victims whose rights were violated confirming Payne’s resignation, which was also obtained by Denver7 Investigates.

Payne did not respond to a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order appointing Weiser as the interim district attorney in the 12th Judicial District starting Thursday. Applicants for the seat can click here to apply for the job.

“The people of the San Luis Valley deserve a fresh start with a new district attorney. Our investigation into violations of the Victim Rights Act revealed systemic problems in the office. We expect new leadership will improve the important work of the office. Our focus has been to ensure that the DA’s office in the 12th Judicial District complies with the law and treats crime victims with respect and dignity. Our action required DA Payne to do just that. Even with a new district attorney, those requirements will continue to apply," Weiser said in a statement.

“The Governor has asked my office to fulfill the responsibilities of the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office until he appoints a new DA," Weiser continued. "Our office is committed to serving the people of the San Luis Valley in this interim role as effectively as possible, and our aim is to help put a new DA on a path to success. We thank the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council and district attorneys across the state for being willing to help support the Valley, advance public safety, and protect victims during this transition.”

A spokesperson for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office said Tuesday that Payne could resign by the end of the day Wednesday, otherwise Polis would set a recall election date over the next 24 hours after the Secretary of State’s Office deemed a recall petition initiated by the city of Alamosa valid.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said the city was surprised that Payne resigned.

"Officials appreciate the district attorney's willingness to save the taxpayers the cost of a special election resalizing what the most probable outcome would be — a successful vote by the people to recall," Brooks said.

Because of Payne’s resignation, instead of the minimum of three years the independent monitor would oversee the judicial district’s compliance with the VRA, the monitor will be in place for six months from when a new district attorney takes office.

“This was a systemic failure to follow the law and systemic violations of the law,” Weiser said.

Several of the victims who filed complaints have spoken with Denver7 Investigates over the past several months, alleging that the DA and his office were not telling them about plea deals in cases they or their family members were involved in, or were providing questionable plea agreements. The attorney general said Tuesday some victims even had their safety put at risk.

This is a developing news story and will be updated.