Alonzo Payne, the Democratic district attorney for Colorado’s San Luis Valley, resigned Wednesday less than halfway through his term amid criticism of his office’s relationship with victims of crime and as he faced a recall election.
The 12th Judicial District, overseen by Payne, covers Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties.
Gov. Jared Polis has named Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, as acting district attorney in the 12th Judicial District. Polis is responsible for nominating a replacement for Payne’s tenure.
In a short letter to Polis, Payne said he was resigning to “save the cost and division of a recall election to overthrow the will of the voters.”
“It is obvious to me that the elite of the San Luis Valley and the legal activists among us do not want to see criminal justice reform enacted,” he wrote. “I hope they will soon realize that the incarceration of the poor and the
underprivileged is not the solution to solving the general problems of poverty and addiction that plague the San Luis Valley and the entire state.
The resignation comes a day after Weiser found Payne’s office “did not communicate regularly with victims, consult with them about plea deals or terminations, or treat them with respect and dignity.”
Weiser also announced on Tuesday a three-year agreement with Payne’s office to try to resolve the issues. The agreement would have required the retention of an external coach, the adoption and implementation of new training, and the scheduling of regular meetings with stakeholders.
“Because the District Attorney’s Office did not allow victim input and consultation during the justice process as required by law, these victims lost the opportunity to contribute to just outcomes in their cases,” Weiser said in a written statement Tuesday. “In some cases, the office may even have put the victims’ safety at risk.”
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Weiser’s office said it would work to implement the deal and turn the office around even amid Payne’s departure.
The Colorado Department of Justice began investigating the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in February after the state’s Crime Victim Services Advisory Board reviewed eight complaints and concluded that Payne and his office had violated the Victims Rights Act.
Payne faced a recall election in the coming months, backed by the Alamosa City Council, after his opponents collected signatures in an attempt to oust him from office.
Denver7 reported that Payne had until the end of the day Wednesday to step down or Polis would set a recall election date.
Payne was elected to a four-year term in 2020 after receiving the endorsement of U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders.
It is rare for an elected district attorney to resign in Colorado.