Alonzo Payne was an unlikely district attorney candidate in rural southern Colorado. His campaign featured vows that had swept in a wave of progressive prosecutors nationwide — no more cash bail, no more trying minor offenses and no more “criminalization of poverty.” The impoverished San Luis Valley, with the state’s highest incarceration rates and stubborn drug-related crime, proved fertile terrain for his message, and Payne won handily. Eighteen months later, Payne is struggling to keep his job, reports the Washington Post. His radical approach — coupled with limited resources and, critics say, mismanagement — has led to plea deals and dismissals for violent and other serious crimes. Dozens of narcotics distribution and animal cruelty cases have gone untried and accused murderers have been allowed to walk free.
Payne is under investigation by Colorado’s attorney general for violating victims’ rights. He has been cited for contempt of court in one county, where a judge said he lied that a domestic-violence victim was unwilling to testify. Volunteers are collecting signatures for a recall election initiated by crime victims and backed by the city of Alamosa, which has devoted council meetings and a section of its website to what it sees as Payne’s failings. The turmoil in the 12th Judicial District reflects the nationwide reckoning over criminal justice and echoes the backlash against progressive prosecutors in places such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, where liberal district attorneys are facing recalls amid rising crime. While Payne says he is fighting the same opposition to change, critics say the problem is not his philosophy. It’s that he’s taken it much too far.