DA Barkey responds to questions, criticisms
GRANBY — Brett Barkey, 14th Judicial District Attorney, faced a litany of questions and criticisms during a question and answer session organized by the Grand County Democrats on Wednesday evening, Aug. 26.
Barkey, who was appointed to his position in August 2012 before running unopposed later that year, addressed questions about his office’s handling of the Lucas Ackerman and Brigid Irish cases, as well as his plans to run for re-election.
Barkey started the session by explaining the operation of his three offices in Grand, Moffat and Routt counties.
The 14th Judical District Attorney’s Office employs 23 people, including 10 attorneys, 10 full-time administrative support staff and three part-time administrative support staff, with offices in Craig, Steamboat Springs and Hot Sulphur Springs.
The Grand County office currently has two attorneys and full-time administrative staff and one part-time administrative position, and Barkey said he tries to visit each office at least once each week.
It’s part of Barkey’s philosophy of “leadership while walking around,” a concept he says he picked up from his years as a military prosecutor.
“Sometimes by just being present you can create a situation where problems are avoided in the first place,” Barkey said.
But being omnipresent in a district that covers 6,800 square miles can make for some rather long commutes. His offices in Hot Sulphur Springs and Craig are about 110 miles apart.
“There’ll be days when we’re working in Winter Park and there’ll be days when we’re working in Dinosaur,” Barkey said.
Barkey added that he also tries to visit police departments and sheriff’s offices in the counties frequently.
“One of the most important functions that I think I have is to maintain strong relationships with the law enforcement leaders in all of our three counties,” Barkey said.
The statement prompted questions about Barkey’s endorsement of former Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson during the 2014 election.
Johnson, the incumbent, eventually lost the primary to Brett Schroetlin before joining former Undersheriff John Stein’s losing write-in ticket.
Barkey said his open endorsement of Schroetlin’s opponent hadn’t affected his office’s relationship with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
“I reached out to Sheriff-elect Schroetlin immediately and began to make my office available and myself available for whatever he needed in his transition,” Barkey said. “I’ve very much enjoyed working with him, Undersheriff (Wayne) Schaeffer and his new leadership team. I think we have continued to maintain with that agency a strong working relationship.”
Barkey briefly touched on the departure of Assistant District Attorney Han Ng from his Grand County office.
Ng left the district abruptly in July, and Barkey’s office has declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his resignation.
“He will be replaced very soon as a matter of fact,” Barkey said.
Barkey also revealed that he plans to run for re-election next year.
Grand County caseload
The Grand County office generally sees less than 100 felony cases each year, Barkey said.
The county’s misdemeanor and traffic docket, which includes DUIs and domestic violence cases, runs between 800 and 1,000 cases each year, which is about the same in all three counties, Barkey said.
Moffat County is leading the district in felony cases.
“Our load is not anywhere near what it would be in the big Front Range districts,” he said. “I think we can be thankful for that. We live in a relatively safe community.”
Barkey tries three or four cases himself each year.
“This last year I haven’t had any major felonies that I’ve done, but I’ve tried a DUI case, for instance, with my two newest deputies,” Barkey said. “I think that’s an important part of our mentoring process, and I learned a lot myself.”
Hot Sulphur Springs Shooting
The 2013 Hot Sulphur Springs shooting involving a sheriff’s lieutenant and a deputy district attorney was a recurring topic during the session.
Former Undersheriff John Stein and Deputy District Attorney Heather Stein were cleared of any wrongdoing in the April 1 shooting death of Joshua Stevens.
Stevens entered the Steins’ home in Hot Sulphur Springs and was shot by both in an ensuing scuffle outside the home, according to testimony given to investigators.
The Steins claimed Stevens had gone for John Stein’s handgun.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation examined the incident and the 1st Judicial District provided legal support.
During the session, some expressed frustration with the investigation and questioned its integrity, citing what they said was conflicting information about the incident.
Barkey defended CBI’s investigation, stating that community members could be assured “that nothing was hidden” during the investigation.
“I would argue that if any of us would have been attacked and that attack ended up in our home where you’re fighting for your life in front of your children how would the results have been different?” Barkey said. “And I would argue that most of us would have killed the guy, so I don’t have any qualms about that outcome whatsoever.”
Ackerman plea deal
Barkey was also taken to task on his office’s handling of two major cases involving plea deals.
Lucas Ackerman struck Greg Westley and four of his family members on July 4, 2013, while returning home from a fireworks show in Grand Lake.
Ackerman’s blood alcohol level was .156, according to court documents. He was charged with one felony count of vehicular homicide and three felony counts of vehicular assault.
Eventually, those felony charges were dropped, and Ackerman pleaded guilty to his second DUI.
“I was convinced the minute we were trying to load Greg Westley into the back of the coroners wagon, I was convinced we had a vehicular homicide, and I changed my mind,” Barkey said.
After it was revealed that Ackerman was driving below the speed limit and that Westley and his family may have cause the accident, Barkey said it “wasn’t fair” to pursue felony charges against Ackerman.
“Again, a very difficult decision and a lot of folks may disagree, but it’s the decision I get paid to make,” Barkey said.
Ackerman, who had a previous DUI conviction, was sentenced to one year in jail and two years of supervised probation.
Irish plea deal
Similar concerns were raised with a recent plea deal in the Brigid Irish case.
Irish has been charged with more than 900 felony counts including embezzlement and attempting to influence a public servant regarding allegations that she misappropriated more than $500,000 in funds from the Grand County Building Department.
Barkey’s office recently offered Irish a plea deal that included completing 32 years of probation and paying $431,000 in restitution and serving up to 18 months in county jail, which District Court Judge Mary Hoak rejected.
“Our thinking was in the county jail with good time calculations she would actually serve 12 to 15 months of actual behind bars time,” Barkey said.
Barkey said his office uses the 2013 sentencing of David Torroni as a benchmark for the maximum sentence that Hoak will deliver in a “serious case.”
Hoak sentenced Torroni to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault.
“There’s no way in my view Ms. Irish would get any more than five years at the extreme,” Barkey said.
Barkey said that, if Irish is sentenced to prison, she could quickly be transferred to a correctional alternative center in Craig.
“I would prefer to send her to the county jail for a time I could actually calculate,” Barkey said. “I don’t need a slide rule the way I do with the Department of Corrections to figure out where somebody’s going to go and how long they’re going to serve.”
Barkey added that, if Irish violated probation, she could be sentenced again.
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US Forest Service officials have closed Willow Creek Reservoir in Grand County because of a potential blue-green algae bloom.