A year after a violent road-rage clash that could have landed him in prison, a former Green Beret has sidestepped his criminal charges — because an El Paso County court was too busy to preside over his trial.
The rare dismissal came Sept. 3, roughly three weeks before Dave Connor’s speedy-trial clock was to expire, court records show.
His charges — including first-degree assault punishable by up to 16 years in prison — cannot be refiled.
“I think it’s an injustice to the people of Colorado Springs,” said alleged victim Randy Cottey, 56, who suffered a broken eye socket among other injuries, allegedly the result of being knocked out and punched repeatedly in the head during an October clash with Connor, 50, at a residential intersection in the Meridian Ranch subdivision.
Cottey said Connor flew into a rage over sloppy driving by his daughter, who at 24 was a student driver with a learner’s permit. Connor pursued them for a mile before driving around them and blocking them in their lane with his pickup, he said.
They came to blows after Connor got out of his truck and angrily approached Cottey, who said he stepped out to protect his daughter.
Connor, a former Army master sergeant and 30-year veteran of the Special Forces, claims Cottey’s account is exaggerated, and intended to argue self-defense at trial.
He said Cottey shoved and punched him first, and accused Cottey or his supporters of trying to poison the well against him and his family on social media, including disclosing details of his military past and new job as a civilian contractor.
“It’s not worth my energy to get on my laptop and get into a war of words with these keyboard warriors,” Connor said. “I was looking forward to the trial.”
Connor’s personnel papers verified details of his service record, including repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a high-ranking enlisted member of the Green Berets, including tours with Fort Carson’s 10th Special Forces Group.
The fight came after he put in for retirement, and the Army elected to allow him to retire, he said.
He and his family had intended to settle in Colorado Springs after a career that forced them to move every couple of years, his wife said.
A lawsuit filed last week by Randy Cottey and his daughter all but ensures their feud will continue.
In a 6-page complaint filed Wednesday in District Court in Colorado Springs, the father and daughter allege assault, battery, negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The suit also names Dave Connor’s wife, Michelle, as defendant, accusing her of joining in the assault on Cottey. It seeks compensation for medical bills, lost wages and the infliction of emotional and physical pain.
During an interview with The Gazette, Michelle Connor denied getting involved in a physical fight.
Dave Connor’s attorney, Tiffany Drahota of Denver, has scoffed at the Cotteys’ allegations, focusing on changing accounts by Cottey and his supporters and raising questions about $10,000 in donations they gathered on GoFundMe to defray medical expenses.
Alyssa Cottey is quoted in an arrest affidavit saying her father was “dragged” out of his vehicle and beaten, although Randy Cottey acknowledges he got out on his own, Drahota pointed out.
She says Cottey walked back his account in June, when he told a District Attorney’s investigator that he pushed and punched Connor first. An investigative document obtained by the newspaper affirms that an investigator said Cottey told him he struck first.
Defense medical experts were prepared to testify that broken bones on one of Cottey’s hands were the result of offensive injuries, Drahota said.
“If I was one of those (donors), I’d want a refund,” Drahota said.
In an interview with The Gazette, Cottey denied telling anyone that he started the fight, saying he dodged a swing by Connor before pushing and punching him in self-defense, a claim not found in the affidavit or a report by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
Cottey said the injuries to his hands were from shielding his head from continuing blows by Connor.
Alyssa Cottey did not attend the scheduled interview with her father. Their attorney, Kimberly Everette, chalked up differing statements to the trauma of the assault, and to Randy Cottey’s diminished health afterward.
Under El Paso County District court procedure, a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial means that a trial must be held within six months of an arraignment.
For Connor, that date was set for Sept. 21.
In approving the dismissal, District Judge Robin Chittum ruled that the court “cannot fit (trial) into docket before speedy trial,” according to a court record by a clerk in attendance.
It’s unclear whether Chittum attempted to find alternative arrangements, including asking a fellow judge to fill in, or requesting a senior judge to preside.
Longtime court watchers described the dismissal as “rare,” even in El Paso County, one of the busiest districts in the state when it comes to criminal and civil filings and trials held.
“It’s Alice-in-Wonderland curious, especially if no prejudice has been shown,” said attorney Ed Farry of Colorado Springs, who isn’t tied to the case.
Colorado Springs attorney Shimon Kohn, also unaffiliated, agreed such dismissals are uncommon, but said judges are increasingly struggling to accommodate the cases before them as case filings in El Paso County continue to rise, jamming their schedules.
It’s often hard to find a substitute, and senior judges can’t be brought in at a moment’s notice, Kohn added.
“The more congested the dockets become the more this is going to happen,” he predicted.
Kohn said “some divisions are worse than others,” given their mix of criminal, domestic and civil case dockets.
Scheduling a trial beyond a defendant’s speedy-trial clock requires a judge to find good cause, such as a witness who is otherwise unavailable despite the prosecution’s best efforts.
“That’s where things get hard-fought,” said Phil Dubois, another longtime Colorado Springs attorney who agreed to discuss the case.
Dubois said a judge is more likely to flex on speedy trial deadlines if the defense was responsible for delays.
In the Connor case, the prosecutor, Michael Fisher, and defense announced they were ready for trial.
Reached by phone, Fisher declined to comment, referring questions to District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Lee Richards, who didn’t respond.
Fourth Judicial District Judge William Bain said Friday he intended to draft a statement, but one wasn’t received by deadline at 6 p.m.
It’s unclear how many cases are dismissed because of crowded dockets. The state court system tracks case dismissals, but not the reasons for the dismissals, said Jon Sarche, a spokesman for the Colorado courts.
The dismissal comes amid efforts to bolster capacity and ease crowded dockets in the El Paso County District courts.
This year, two new judgeships were added by the Colorado Judicial Branch, boosting the number of felony courtrooms to 24.
“It’ll definitely take some of the congestion off the criminal dockets,” Kohn said.