RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Rio Grande County Commissioners listened to an update from 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne’s office manager Megan Martinez during their meeting on July 28.
Martinez said it was time to come and speak with the board and address any concerns the board may have now that Payne has been in office for about six months.
Martinez gave an update on how the office is running and that they are currently working.
“As you know when the previous DA left, the entire office staff went with him," Martinez said. "We have been working to get the office fully staffed and are now only needing to fill one prosecutorial attorney position. The rest of the staff are attending training and required classes at this time.”
Payne is under some scrutiny from some in the district since his election last fall. The DA spent his campaign assuring his constituents that he would work to lessen charges against non-violent criminals and that he would work to not overpopulate the currently packed Colorado jail system.
During his time as the 12th Judicial District Attorney, some people have expressed disappointment with Payne’s office. In their view he has lessened charges for violent criminals and other cases, including domestic violence, and let smaller, non-violent cases go with nothing more than a fine.
Commissioner John Noffsker said that the main concerns they had as a board pertained to the recent case dismissals.
“We have general concerns that need to be addressed about how cases are being handled,” stated Nofsker.
Martinez said she was present to answer any questions or concerns from the board about the office and managerial aspects and that if there were other concerns, she would pass them along to Payne.
She also attempted to alleviate some concerns from the board and said she would see about having Payne attend a meeting soon to address the other case-specific concerns from the board.
“Payne ran on a platform saying that he was going to prosecute really heavy for the higher end crimes and anybody who has already been in jail for the time we would have asked for, he was going to release. We are not going to try and bog down our jails anymore and we are doing diversion, so a lot of things are being said about he is diverting everything, but I can tell you as far as diversion goes, it's our low level traffics, misdemeanors and things that can be handled by an educational course. I have been taking low-level DUIs and treating them as if they have already been convicted and they go to substance abuse treatment,” said Martinez. “The board is welcome to come to the office at any time and speak to any one of the attorneys. We can pull cases and keep you updated as to what is happening.”
Rio Grande County Sheriff Don McDonald said he was concerned with some of the outcomes of cases.
“It is very frustrating and disheartening to victims when cases get dropped or charges lessened and then to have these perpetrators back on the street in a matter of days. I think law enforcement shares the general concerns of the Rio Grande County Commissioners and others,” said Sheriff Don McDonald.
Case in point, according to a statement released by Alamosa Police Department who shares the views of several law enforcement agencies throughout the Valley, they are growing frustrated by seeing repeat offenders released into the community in less than a day and law enforcement is having to start all over again every time the repeat offenders are back on the streets.
Although frustrated, Alamosa Police Department Chief Ken Anderson said the department would continue doing its job.
“We will continue to diligently address the drug issue in our community in partnership with the Alamosa Sheriff Office,” said Chief Anderson.
A “Recall Payne” page has been started on Facebook. It has over 400 friends. Victims of suspected crimes, some with cases pending, reached out to Valley Publishing, and said they were beginning to lose hope that anything will be done by the DA's office.
According to the Recall Payne Facebook, it would take 3,996 certified signatures to get it on the ballot.