Denver District Attorney Beth McCann “created an atmosphere of fear” when she let another prosecutor get away with misconduct long before her second-in-command bullied staffers, according to investigative documents and interviews.
A whistleblower, in a statement to an external investigator, portrayed McCann as a lax chief executive who let problems in the office fester without a swift response.
McCann set an earlier precedent of leniency with Michael Song, a chief deputy in her office who was accused of making inappropriate racial remarks during a jury trial, making sexist and inappropriate comments in office banter and ordering a witness to refrain from talking to the defense counsel, the whistle-blower claimed.
McCann’s lenient treatment of Song left the office fearing she would do nothing about Assistant District Attorney Ryan Brackley pretending to swing a wooden baseball bat at the head of a prosecutor during an office dispute and acting crassly to other employees, says the whistleblower’s account.
Because Song “suffered no consequences for his behavior, no one at the office believed Beth would do anything about” Brackley, Chief Deputy District Attorney Adrienne Greene said in her statement to an investigator with the Employers Council.
“This created an atmosphere of fear regarding reporting any incidences,” Greene wrote.
Greene and Song are still employed by the Denver District Attorney’s Office. Brackley resigned after The Gazette publicized details of the workplace investigation report, obtained through an open records request.
McCann refused to make public any earlier internal review of Song’s alleged actions. She took the stance, through a letter written by spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler, that since Song’s actions only had warranted “counseling,” she had decided privacy interests outweighed public disclosure.
“In her recent statement against Ryan Brackley, a supervisor included some hearsay allegations about comments made by another male employee that were disputed,” Tyler said, referring to Greene’s references about Song. “The DA addressed those allegations nearly two years ago. She met with and counseled the employee, and no disciplinary action was warranted. She has never received a formal complaint about this employee.”
Song declined to comment.
McCann decided to have the Denver-based Employers Council investigate her office after Greene formally complained to her about Brackley. Greene told her in a March 4 letter that Brackley took “half swings” with the baseball bat at her head in her office during a Jan. 14 dispute over a letter of recommendation that Greene wrote for DA investigator Tim Garner.
Greene elaborated further in her statement for the Employers Council investigation, pointing to Brackley’s other alleged conflicts with DA staffers and complaints about Song, the other prosecutor. Greene stressed that the conflict with Brackley had so shaken her that she was sobbing as she described it later to two friends who are lawyers.
After winning the election in 2016 to be Denver district attorney, McCann hired Song from the state Attorney General’s Office, where he worked on medical marijuana regulations. She hired him to handle elder abuse cases though he had no experience in that area, Greene said in her statement to Employers Council investigator Michele Sturgell.
Greene told Sturgell that Song bungled his work, made inappropriate racial comments during a jury trial and made unethical comments to a witness about speaking to the defense counsel.
In addition, a Denver police detective told the District Attorney’s Office that Song made sexist comments about a female prosecutor, asking the detective “wouldn’t he like to take her out for a ride,” Greene wrote. Maro Casparian, a staffer in the DA’s elder abuse section, also complained to administrators of “inappropriate comments” Song made in front of her, Greene further detailed in her statement.
Three people familiar with the internal review said another prosecutor had reported to the district attorney’s administrative staff that Song acted inappropriately during a jury trial they were trying together. That prosecutor, Brian Dunn, reportedly alleged that Song wanted to block any Latinos from serving on a criminal jury in that case because the defendant was Latino. Doing so would run afoul of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky, which bars prosecutors from dismissing jurors solely based on race.
Song also was accused of ordering a witness in that case to refrain from speaking to the defense lawyers, which would violate Colorado’s rules for criminal procedure, according to the three people familiar with the internal review.
They asked The Gazette not to reveal their names for fear of retribution. Dunn declined to comment.
Sturgell, the Employers Council investigator, did not probe the validity of Greene’s account about Song’s actions or whether McCann had properly handled Song.
Sturgell instead concentrated on accusations against Brackley, who also was accused of sending a group text that threatened to fire the “f---ing fat ass” of another prosecutor if she posted crime scene photos on Facebook and of belittling another employee during a staff meeting and publicly accusing that staffer of pouting.
The names were redacted in the Employers Council report, but The Gazette determined the identities through the three people familiar with the matters and because unredacted material in the report made the identities apparent.
Song no longer prosecutes elder abuse. He now reviews past cases for potential resentencing for McCann, part of the district attorney’s criminal justice reform efforts. Tyler said Song’s reassignment was not tied to any discipline but was done in the normal course of business.
The Employers Council investigator found it likely that Brackley bullied three staffers and had swung the baseball bat at Greene but had not done so to harm or frighten her. Still, Brackley “lacks an awareness of how actions are perceived and how he may make others feel as a result,” the investigator found.
McCann initially disciplined Brackley for the bullying by ordering him to take further executive training, at his own cost, while keeping him as her second-in-command.
After talk radio shows blasted her decision as too lenient, McCann reversed course and announced that, after further reflection, Brackley would resign.
When his resignation became public, Brackley issued a statement: “In order for the office to achieve DA McCann’s goals of enhancing public safety and achieving meaningful criminal justice reform, I think it is best for me to move on.”
“The DA addressed those allegations nearly two years ago. She met with and counseled the employee, and no disciplinary action was warranted. She has never received a formal complaint about this employee.” Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for Denver District Attorney’s Office