August 2, 2012
A judge could rule Friday whether to appoint a special prosecutor in the case of Sydney Rose Huffman, a former Colorado Springs police officer accused of fabricating claims that led to jail time and back-to-back trials against an ex-boyfriend.
Attorneys for Huffman, 25, argue that the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office should be barred from prosecuting her because of conflicts-of-interest among prosecutors involved.
The District Attorney’s Office, they say, sided with Huffman’s abuser after two failed trials and charged her in April 2011 for reporting the allegations.
Huffman faces six felony counts of attempting to influence a public official, all felonies. She is free on $20,000 bond.
District Judge Jann P. DuBois is expected to issue a ruling on the defense request for a special prosecutor at the conclusion of a Friday afternoon hearing.
Huffman’s ex-boyfriend Jarrott Martinez — then a Manitou Springs police officer — was acquitted by a jury of assault charges in October 2010 and again in February 2011, and prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue additional claims by Huffman that Martinez sexually assaulted her.
If convicted of rape, Martinez would have faced life in prison.
Martinez, who has accused Huffman of mounting a “campaign of personal destruction” against him in the wake of a failed relationship, lost his job as an officer and was repeatedly jailed while charges were pending.
In January, the city of Colorado Springs agreed to pay $480,000 to settle claims from a lawsuit he filed in U.S. District Court.
Police placed Huffman on paid leave for nearly a year after her arrest. Police spokeswoman Barbara Miller told The Gazette that Huffman was taken off the city’s payroll in May. Police didn’t announce her departure at the time.
At a July 27 court hearing, Huffman’s defense team called District Attorney Dan May and several prosecutors to the stand in an effort to find out who participated in the decision to charge Huffman and on what basis.
Prosecutor Amy Fitch, the lead attorney on the case, argued that some of the information they sought was confidential “work product.” She downplayed the novelty of prosecutors’ decision to charge Huffman, arguing that in domestic violence cases, victims and accusers often change roles.
Fitch also cited the example of a prosecution involving multiple defendants. Prosecutors may be forced to rely on one defendant as a witness against his accomplices, only to turn around and prosecute the person for his role.
“That is our daily life,” Fitch said, dismissing the arguments as “first-year law stuff.”
Huffman attorney Karen Steinhauser, of Denver, countered that she had been a prosecutor for 20 years and hadn’t heard of a case in Colorado in which prosecutors decided to charge an accuser based on facts she was asked to provide.
Steinhauser peppered prosecution witnesses, including May, with questions over whether the office has a screening process in place to flag potential prosecution for conflicts-of-interest.
May acknowledged there is no written policy. He said prosecutors are expected to learn through training and experience how to report to a supervisor if they believe there may be the appearance of a conflict.
Deputy District Attorney Sharon Flaherty was asked if she told a local defense attorney that she didn’t agree with the decision to charge Huffman and wouldn’t participate in her prosecution. Flaherty said she didn’t recall making the statements, and likely would have told the attorney, Shimon Kohn, it would be “impolitic” to comment. Kohn represented Huffman during a police internal affairs investigation.
In another wrinkle, testimony at the hearing revealed that the case against Huffman involves dueling victim’s advocates.
Although the District Attorney’s Office came to the conclusion that Huffman was lying, TESSA, a nonprofit that advocates for victims of rape and domestic abuse, apparently did not. The organization has sent a victim’s advocate to support Huffman during numerous court appearances — even as a District Attorney’s Office advocate is present on behalf of Martinez, who wasn’t present at her most recent hearings.
Huffman’s advocate, Nancy Duke, testified that during a meeting with TESSA representatives in June, May asked why Duke was appearing in court, saying: “Can we talk about the elephant in the room?’”
May said he recalled asking if TESSA representatives wanted to talk about the Huffman case, but didn’t complain about the victim’s advocate or refer to Huffman as the “elephant in the room.”
His version was supported by Chief Deputy District Attorney Kim Kitchen, who also was in attendance.
A TESSA representative did not return a phone call Thursday asking for comment.
Judge DuBois will hear from at least two more witnesses on Friday, including then-detective Michael Jelmo, who investigated Huffman’s claims.
Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel
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