ALAMOSA — Surrounded by state elected officials, county commissioners and members of law enforcement agencies in the San Luis Valley, Governor Jared Polis announced his appointment of Anne Kelly, deputy district attorney for Boulder County, to serve as the new district attorney for the 12th Judicial District, which encompasses the San Luis Valley.
The announcement was made Monday morning, Aug. 29, in person in front of the Alamosa County Courthouse.
Polis described Kelly’s 20-year legal experience as “extensive.” During that time, she’s worked in both the private and public sector and under both Republican and Democratic district attorneys, allowing her to see different aspects of prosecution and work with different teams.
“She’s seen what’s involved here firsthand when she spent two weeks in the valley prosecuting cases,” Polis said.
Prior to starting as the new DA in the 12th Judicial District, Kelly told the Valley Courier she was working in the Boulder DA’s office under Chief Trial Prosecutor Fred Johnson, special prosecutor assigned to the 12th district for prosecution of the four defendants accused of multiple murders in what is known as the “Los Sauces” case.
Polis described the process that led up to Kelly’s appointment, which included creation of an ad hoc panel comprised of former district attorneys who selected the finalists for the governor’s consideration. Former DA for the 12th district Eugene Farish was included on that panel.
In addition to expressing gratitude for the assistance provided by prosecutors from district attorney’s offices in five different districts in the state, plus the AG’s office and Colorado District Attorney’s Council, Polis also acknowledged the staff at the DA’s office in Alamosa who continued to serve throughout the previous months.
“What you’ve been through is hard, and I want to thank you,” he said.
Then, addressing the situation at large, Polis said, “Colorado is about the opportunity to have voices heard and that’s exactly what people of the San Luis Valley did when they felt they were not being treated with respect. Responsible government takes concerns of the people and addresses them through problem solving. That’s what we’ve done here today.”
When Kelly took the podium, she echoed Polis’ acknowledgement of all who have helped in the transition, describing the cadre of prosecutors as “an army assembled by the Colorado District Attorney’s Council.”
“Prosecutors came from across the state to the San Luis Valley to make sure victims were heard, cases were filed, and justice was done,” Kelly said. “Prosecutors came here, some staying for several weeks while they handled cases, handled difficult investigations and made sure the victims of the valley were heard. It is a true testament to the passion of the state’s prosecutors.”
Kelly also thanked the AG’s office for “stepping in and being willing to lead during this hard transition.”
Kelly then specifically addressed the people who have been directly involved in both the challenges and victories of the last eighteen months.
“The Valley has endured a crisis of trust,” she said. “But what is most extraordinary is what this valley did about it. You didn’t just sit back and say, ‘well, that’s the way things go.’ You came together. Your voices were loud and clear that you wanted change and weren’t going to put up with what was going.
“I want you to know your resilience and courage to change what was going on is what inspired me to come and work with you to make that change and to be a leader in that change.”
Kelly described the Valley as deserving of a professional prosecutor who cares about the community, justice, victims and fills the office with professional attorneys who “know what they’re doing.”
“It’s going to take time,” she said, “but I’m committed to that effort.”
Kelley described dignity and respect for victims as a “deeply held personal belief”, adding that the Valley deserves a leader who will prioritize public safety and prosecution of public offenders but also has the wisdom, skill and experience to differentiate between those who need help and those who deserve to be held accountable.
“I have that experience,” she said.
Kelly also addressed opioid addiction and drug related offenses, both of which are significant problems in the region.
“This Valley has been devastated by effects of addiction and prevalence and availability of dangerous narcotics,” Kelly said. “I’m committed to using the resources that we have and to find new resources to address the needs of addiction and don’t criminalize addiction. At the same time, I’m equally committed to seeking out and aggressively prosecuting the individuals in this community who are providing position to our most vulnerable people.”
She then issued a challenge: “If you are someone who is providing poison to our citizens, we are coming after you.”
Kelly added she was committed to rebuilding the trust of the commissioners, which had been damaged under the former DA, and pledged her deep respect for and commitment to supporting “the brave men and women” in law enforcement, adding that she looks forward to working with them, asking for their feedback on what their priorities are for prosecution and an ongoing “open door policy” to those in law enforcement.
During the former DA’s time in office, law enforcement was especially impacted in significant ways by some of the dynamics, practices and decisions that were ongoing.
When asked for comment on DA Kelly’s appointment, Alamosa County Sheriff Jackson said, “We’re very happy to have her here and have been very impressed in our conversations with her.”
“This is a great day for the Valley, law enforcement and the whole community,” Monte Vista Police Department Chief George Dingfelder said. “She’s an experienced prosecutor who has the full support of law enforcement.”
Dingfelder added that a group of law enforcement officers met with Kelly two weeks ago and “everyone was impressed with her passion for fair prosecution and taking care of victims. We think she’ll be exceptional.”
Staff at the DA’s office was also under enormous stress for a long stretch of time. Megan Martinez, one of the most tenured staff with the 12th district who has, in the past, been a cornerstone of its most successful programs, told the Courier,
“I’m very excited,” Martinez said. “This is a very progressive move. I’m very proud of our support staff holding us all together.”
At the close of the announcement, the Valley Courier asked Polis about the amount of support the DA’s office will continue to receive. Polis acknowledged that Kelly will have to recruit new attorneys, but he pledges whatever assistance is needed until that happens.
Kelly’s closing remarks summed up her approach to her new position.
“I have no illusions this will be an easy job, but I look forward to working with, for and beside you,” she said. “This is a new day in the Valley, and I can hardly wait to get started.”