Denver District Attorney Beth McCann paid $237,000 in settlement and severance payments over the last year and a half to three employees who either resigned in controversy from her office or were fired by her.
The amounts include $41,600 in severance pay to her former second-in-command Ryan Brackley, who resigned from his position as assistant deputy district attorney in July after The Gazette and Colorado Politics disclosed Brackley had bullied subordinates.
Brackley’s resignation followed a workplace investigator’s findings that Brackley took “half swings” with a baseball bat at the head and shoulders of a female prosecutor during an office dispute and threatened in a group text to fire “the fing fat ass” of another female prosecutor if she posted crime scene photos on Facebook. The Employers Council investigation determined that while Brackley had not intended to physically harm anyone, he lacked awareness of how his actions affected others.
McCann also signed off on a $15,398 severance for another prosecutor, Michael Song, who resigned in August from his chief deputy position after The Gazette and Colorado Politics revealed Song tried to block Latinos from serving on a jury for a criminal case of a Latino defendant. Another Denver prosecutor had complained about Song, pointing out to his superiors that U.S. Supreme Court rulings bar prosecutors from dismissing jurors solely based on race. Song also had been accused of trying to block a witness in the trial from speaking to the defense lawyer, which would violate Colorado’s rules for criminal procedure.
McCann’s spokesperson, Carolyn Tyler, said the severance packages authorized by McCann were typical for senior-level public officials when they separate by mutual agreement on short notice.
“These arrangements benefit the office by providing protection from future legal action and by providing a final resolution for all involved,” Tyler said in a statement.
But Mitch Morrissey, who served as Denver DA for 12 years and was term-limited and therefore unable to run for reelection in 2016, said he never paid severance during his tenure to prosecutors in his office who resigned or were fired.
“Those people who take those jobs are at-will employees,” Morrissey said. “If an at-will employee gets fired or resigns you don’t give them a severance. It’s just unheard of.”
Another lawyer and former prosecutor, J. Y. Kang, also questioned the severance payments, noting that he understood during his time as a prosecutor in Arapahoe County from 1993 to1999 that he was an at-will employee who could be dismissed at any time.
“You are working at the will and pleasure of the elected district attorney, and you can be fired at any time,” said Kang. “That’s the way it works.”
Kang questioned McCann’s initial hiring of Song, saying that he heard from several prosecutors in McCann’s office that they questioned why she hired Song as a chief deputy when they viewed his qualifications for the job as scant.
McCann hired Song several months into her tenure after she won election in 2016 to become Denver district attorney. Song had been handling medical marijuana regulations at the state Attorney General’s Office when McCann tapped him to become a chief deputy in her office. He had little experience as a trial prosecutor, which rankled other prosecutors in Denver who wondered why Song had landed a coveted chief deputy position, Kang said.
After complaints surfaced over Song’s work on the sole trial case he handled, McCann found a new role for Song, one that allowed him to remain a chief deputy. She tasked him with reviewing past cases for potential resentencing motions for leniency.
Press reports in the Weekly Focus, a local Korean newspaper, show that in the Democratic primary in the Denver district attorney’s election, Song, who is Korean-American, introduced members of the Korean community to McCann’s opponent, Michael Carrigan, at a Korean restaurant in Aurora and solicited campaign donations for Carrigan’s campaign from them.
After McCann defeated Carrigan and won the Democratic primary, Song quickly switched over to the McCann team and held a campaign fundraiser at the same restaurant for McCann, according to the press reports in the Weekly Focus.
Kang said Song invited him to both campaign fundraisers. Kang donated at the Carrigan fundraiser, but balked at contributing to McCann’s campaign, questioning how Song could so easily switch sides after his original preferred candidate had been defeated.
“Why is this guy Michael Song soliciting donations on behalf of the Korean community for Beth McCann, the candidate he was describing two to three months earlier as the lesser of the two candidates?” Kang recalled wondering back then. “Then, five to six months later, after the general election, I heard that Michael Song was hired by Beth McCann, and then it started to make sense. It looks like it was about supporting someone who would sort of quid pro quo give him what he wanted, which was a job apparently.”
Kang added that Song “clearly was an opportunist. He was using his connections in the Korean community as leverage for these American politicians.”
The largest payout McCann authorized went to a former investigator McCann fired shortly after taking office in 2017. That person, Jerilyn Schofield, received $180,000. Schofield was a senior investigator in the Denver District Attorney’s Office who enjoyed career service protections, unlike prosecutors, who are considered at-will.
Schofield was put on paid administrative leave when Morrissey was the district attorney after prosecutors in the office alleged she engaged in unprofessional and disrespectful behavior and complained that she was unresponsive when they asked her to collect evidence and failed to secure evidence used during a trial. The allegations included that Schofield left weapons considered evidence in upcoming trials in an unlocked file drawer in her unlocked office instead of stored in a secure evidence room.
Morrissey left office before the final disciplinary action, which meant that when McCann came into office, she inherited Schofield’s discipline case. McCann followed a recommendation that Schofield be fired.
“The notice of dismissal was prepared by the prior administration, but left for the current administration to execute,” said Tyler, McCann’s spokeswoman.
Schofield appealed her firing, arguing that she should enjoy whistleblower protections because she had been a source of an article questioning the hiring of an investigator she contended was unqualified who was Morrissey’s nephew.
Career Service Hearing Officer Bruce Plotkin dismissed the whistleblower claim, ruling that Morrissey’s nephew was qualified for the job. Still, Plotkin largely ruled in Schofield’s favor. He found that Schofield should get her job back, and that her discipline should be knocked down to just five day’s suspension because the district attorney couldn’t back up claims that Schofield was an “unrepentant bully.”
Rather than appeal the hearing officer’s ruling or hire Schofield back, McCann decided to settle with Schofield in March 2018 for $180,000, which covered back pay, lost benefits and $107,000 in severance pay.