Dave Young, a former Colorado district attorney whose tenure was marred by personal scandal and wide-ranging criticism over the police-involved death of Elijah McClain, is among the latest hires at the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office.
A spokesman for 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen confirmed Thursday that Young was hired Jan. 14. Allen did not respond to a request for an interview.
“We continue our development of a strong and experienced team of seasoned prosecutors and support staff,” Allen’s spokesman, Howard Black, said in a written statement. Black declined to address controversies that dogged Young’s tenure in Adams and Broomfield counties, which ended earlier this year after Young reached a two-term limit.
While serving in the 17th Judicial District, Young's office oversaw the review of McClain’s August 2019 death after a confrontation with Aurora police as he walked home from a convenience store. The case drew national scrutiny because the 23-year-old McClain, who was Black, wasn’t armed when he was restrained by police with a chokehold that was later banned — all based on an emergency call that he “looked sketchy."
Paramedics used ketamine, a powerful sedative, to subdue McClain, who died three days later. The case was chronicled by the New York Times, among many other national media outlets, and became a rallying cry for police reform during last year’s racial justice protests in Denver and beyond.
Young defended the decision not to pursue charges against the officers involved, saying “the prosecution cannot disprove the officers’ reasonable belief in the necessity to use force.”
“It’s hard to see how that belief was reasonable when no crime was alleged, McClain wasn’t armed or dangerous, and the police video shows he was calm and relatively cooperative, requesting that the police officer who had grabbed him almost immediately respect his boundaries,” a Denver Post editorial said last year. The Colorado Attorney General's Office announced earlier this month it had opened a grand jury investigation into McClain's death.
The Post editorial called Young’s office “scandal-plagued,” also highlighting allegations that Young, who was married, had an affair with a victim advocate on his staff.
After the woman died in an apparent suicide, her family expressed concerns that she had been the victim of foul play, and publicly called for Young to be “walled off” from any review into her death, the Colorado Sun reported in August 2019.
Instead, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation, and no outside prosecutor was brought in to assist detectives, the Denver Post reported.
“The alleged relationship was unethical and inappropriate, and Young should have acted quickly to bring in someone from outside his agency to assist detectives,” the Post editorial said. “We could see how Young’s behavior would strain law enforcement’s faith in their top prosecutor.”
Young could not be reached for comment about his record as DA. He will be a senior deputy district attorney in El Paso County, earning $114,005.01 a year, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Young began his career as a prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office, working under former DAs John Suthers, now Colorado Springs mayor, and Jeanne Smith. He rose to head of the homicide unit, a role in which he oversaw the prosecution of “hundreds of homicides” and personally prosecuted high-profile capital murder cases, according to an online biography.
His return to El Paso County comes as the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has become a landing pad for four former DAs.
That includes Allen’s former boss, former three-term DA Dan May, who is staying on to handle the upcoming trial of James Papol, the man accused in the 1988 rape and murder of 24-year-old Mary Lynn Vialpando. Details of his contract haven’t been finalized, Black said.
The roster also includes Thom LeDoux, who served two terms as the district attorney in Fremont, Park, Chaffee and Custer counties, elected in 2008 and 2012. LeDoux was hired in September 2019 and was promoted under Allen to senior deputy district attorney, making $114,005.01 a year.
Also joining the office is Robert Willett, who served roughly a year as the district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, spanning Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. Willett, a former El Paso County prosecutor, was appointed by Gov. Jared Polis to fill a vacancy in the southern Colorado DA’s Office in late 2019, but lost a Democratic primary against Alonzo Christopher Payne last year.
Willett returns Feb. 1 as a deputy district attorney. He will be paid $85,000 a year.
“This office handles the heaviest caseload in the state of Colorado and we are fortunate that three previous District Attorneys believe in our mission of protecting public safety,” Black said in a statement, apparently excluding May, a contract employee, from the tally. “All three of them have years of experience that will be valuable to our community.”
Allen’s early moves in office included promoting a veteran prosecutor whose family is linked to $13,000 in contributions to Allen’s successful campaign. Reggy Short was promoted to chief deputy district attorney, the office’s third-highest rank, boosting his $114,000 salary to roughly $140,000.
Allen previously called Short “supremely qualified” and denied that his financial support was a factor in the promotion.