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El Paso County considering $75,000 payout in First Amendment case

January 5, 2018 Updated: January 6, 2018 at 10:56 am
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Charging a man with a felony for threatening to embarrass a prosecutor could end up costing El Paso County $75,000.

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday will consider the payout to settle Mark Alba's claim that he was charged as punishment for telling 4th Judicial District prosecutor Sharon Flaherty he would expose her to the media for "trying to convict an innocent man."

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in November, Alba's attorney said he spent five days in jail and nearly a year with the possibility of a six-year prison sentence hanging over his head after he was charged with attempting to influence a public official following the conversation with Flaherty. A District Court judge dismissed the charge in January, citing First Amendment rights.

Dave Rose, a spokesman for the county, said the county attorney recommended the payout to avoid what would likely be an expensive legal battle that would "far exceed" the settlement.

Because the case involves claims against several District Attorney's Office employees, including Flaherty, and the alleged offenses occurred while they were on the job, the county would have likely had to hire outside legal counsel "to avoid conflict of interests in representation," Rose said.

Also named as defendants are chief deputy investigator David Guest, who is accused of participating in the investigation against Alba, and District Attorney Dan May.

"This settlement shows that the El Paso County District Attorney's Office and the El Paso County Board of Commissioners realizes the mistakes their prosecutors made and that they need to correct them," Alba's attorney, Adam Frank of Denver, said Friday. "This was a very significant case of egregious action by these district attorney employees."

District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Lee Richards declined to comment on the settlement, referring inquiries to the county.

El Paso County provides most of the funding for the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office, which also receives some financial support from Teller County.

The settlement is on Tuesday's consent agenda, a list of items that county commissioners typically approve with little debate during their regular meetings. Settlements exceeding $25,000 are always placed on the consent agenda, usually after the county attorney has briefed commissioners on the case in an executive session, Rose said.

It will be paid by the county's risk management fund, a self-insurance fund.

The county has used taxpayer money to foot the bill for at least one other settlement in the past month.

On Dec. 13, the county agreed to pay $15,000 to a woman who claimed she that was nearly strangled to death by a "mentally unstable person" whom sheriff's deputies had placed in her courthouse holding cell.

The county also paid out $68,000 last summer to settle an employment complaint made by a female Sheriff's Office employee who claimed she faced retaliation after reporting sexual harassment.

Alba, 47, of Colorado Springs, made the remarks to Flaherty in a February 2016 phone call while representing himself on separate charges stemming from allegations that he had filed a false police report. During the conversation, which Flaherty recorded without his knowledge, he maintained his innocence and said he would tell his congressman and the media if she did not dismiss the charges within 24 hours, according to the lawsuit.

He denied he was threatening Flaherty and told her he had the right "to get the public to know exactly what's going on with the dirty goings on inside the city of Colorado Springs," the complaint states.

Replied Flaherty: "But you're talking about destroying my career."

The charge of attempting to influence a public official was filed about a month later.

Alba was acquitted of the false reporting charges in April, court records show.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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