District attorney talks bail reform, reelection at Craig Press event
Editor’s note: This report has been updated to reflect additional statements from District Attorney Matt Karzen.
CRAIG — The local 14th Judicial District Attorney doesn’t like the way Colorado’s bail and bond system has manifested itself in Northwest Colorado and wants the State Legislature to do something about it.
At the Craig Press’ monthly Coffee and a Newspaper on Wednesday, Aug. 4., Matt Karzen acknowledged the good intentions of some lawmakers not to jail poor suspects before they’ve been convicted of crimes, but he said the actual effect on Moffat County and Northwest Colorado has been a vicious cycle of repeat felony offenders obtaining public recognizance bonds and release.
“We in the DA’s Office have been extremely frustrated particularly in Moffat County … with what seems to be a revolving door,” Karzen said.
Karzen added that the system is having affecting the morale of police departments locally and across the state.
“The system is just letting them (offenders) back out without any real regard for the morale of agencies like the Craig Police Department,” Karzen said.
In an email, Karzen said police while police morale is important, it shouldn’t be the primary concern.
“While this is a concern, it is by no means the primary concern, and it’s really more of an ‘internal’ concern as it can discourage good officers from staying on the job due to an understandable sense of futility,” Karzen said Wednesday. “… Public safety, community quality of life and a general sense of exasperation in the citizenry, are the priorities, and simply saying, ‘no more monetary bonds,’ without adopting a well thought-out, functional alternative, is both naïve and ultimately dangerous.”
Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong said his officers often are frustrated with repeat offenders securing their release soon after being arrested.
“I think it’s frustration on the officers part doing the best job they can do, and these folks are getting released via PR (public recognizance) bond or however they’re released, somewhat quickly,” DeLong said. “…The people we deal with over and over, there’s no accountability at this time. We arrest them, and they’re released from jail. We do that quite a bit.”
Many of those who are arrested and released are facing repeat drug charges, so addiction to drugs is almost always connected to crime in Moffat County, Karzen said.
“The majority of our caseload … is related to narcotics, methamphetamine or heroin,” Karzan said. “It’s gotta be 75% to 90% of the crimes we deal with.”
Karzen suggested most of those suspects should be released on a case-by-case basis.
“Ninety percent of the arrestees we see should be released pending disposition of their case without paying any money — we cannot incarcerate people for not being rich and call ourselves civilized,” Karzen said in an email. “But, there are some offenders and some circumstances that clearly require, with regular judicial review to determine if it remains appropriate, pre-trial detention or a robust pretrial supervision program.”
Karzen suggested adopting pretrial services aimed at keeping drug addicts from reoffending and having compassionate responses to those who do relapse. Karzen lauded the efforts of Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume’s medication-assisted jail treatment program that helps wean addicted persons in the Moffat County Jail off drugs, but Karzen said his agency doesn’t have the resources for such services.
“Right now, we don’t have any pretrial services in this jurisdiction,” Karzen said.
But that might change once Karzen collects several data sets related to the demographics of crime in Northwest Colorado. Once he does, Karzen plans on making the rounds to those with the power to do something about it.
“I don’t want to go to the legislature asking for funds until I have the data,” Karzen said.
The district attorney also touched on other subjects, such as Colorado’s new red flag law and whether or not he’ll seek reelection in November 2020.
“To be clear, the red flag law is not really in my wheelhouse as a DA – the proceedings are civil and do not involve the DA’s Office,” Karzen said.
But Karzen did questioned the way Colorado’s new red flag law will be implemented.
“Yes, we should keep firearms out of the hands of people that are dangerously mentally ill, but how do we do that?” Karzan asked.
Karzen said the legislation is a good start, but more needs to be done in a meaningful way.
“While the new legislation is a good start, that’s all it is,” Karzen said in an email. “So far, the state has not provided meaningful support to counties to enable them to help their addicted and mentally ill population and so I do think in the next couple of years we will need to face the reality that without significant state funding, local communities will have to consider allocating their own limited resources more aggressively if we expect to apply the new laws in a way that makes any real positive difference.”
He said while there hasn’t been a red flag confiscation of any kind in Moffat County, he’s confident anyone facing a red flag order will need an attorney as the gun owner bears the burden of proving he or she is mentally stable enough to possess firearms.
“If you want to succeed, you’re going to need a lawyer,” Karzen said.
As for his reelection, Karzen said he’d make that decision in the next three weeks.