Gov. Jared Polis has asked Attorney General Phil Weiser to launch an investigation into an Eastern Plains district attorney after complaints to the sheriff’s office that she improperly obtained opioids.
Polis issued an executive order Aug. 15 appointing Weiser as a special prosecutor to probe “potential criminal activity involving” 13th Judicial District DA Brittny Lewton.
CPR News has learned from a source with knowledge of the investigation that the allegations are connected to Lewton using her position as a prosecutor to improperly obtain prescription opioids.
“The governor is aware of allegations of misconduct and potential criminal activity involving the elected district attorney for the 13th Judicial District,” the executive order said. “The conduct of elected officials is a matter of statewide importance, as is the integrity of the offices of the twenty-two elected district attorneys responsible for prosecuting crimes in our state. The governor therefore finds that it is necessary for the attorney general to act as the state’s prosecutor and investigate and, where the evidence permits, prosecute potential criminal activity.”
Polis’ office said they had no further comment. Weiser confirmed his office was looking into the matter, but a spokesman said the office could not discuss an active investigation.
Lewton’s attorney, Stan Garnett, a former Boulder County district attorney now working as a defense lawyer, said he was doing what he could to ensure Lewton could continue doing her job as lead prosecutor in the judicial district serving six northeast Colorado counties, including Morgan, Logan and Yuma, and the cities Sterling and Fort Morgan.
“She has to continue her constitutional obligation to run the DA’s office,” Garnett said, speaking on Lewton’s behalf. “Brittny is proud of what she’s accomplished in her nearly seven years as district attorney, she’s been elected twice by overwhelming margins and she’s innocent of any suggestion of wrongdoing.”
The investigation started in July with employees inside Lewton’s office who raised concerns to local law enforcement about Lewton’s behavior. Sheriff’s deputies, in conjunction with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, conducted an investigation, said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.
Once evidence materialized, state officials consulted with Raynes about how to proceed since Lewton is in charge of the judicial district where the reported incidents took place. Raynes asked the district attorney in Routt County, who works on the opposite side of the state, is fairly new on the job and didn’t know Lewton, for that office to play an advisory role by reviewing the law enforcement investigation.
Routt deputy district attorney Matt Karzen confirmed his role but declined to talk about the nature of the potential allegations against Lewton.
Raynes said Karzen looked at the evidence and thought the case merited further investigation and so Karzen met with Polis’ office and representatives in Weiser’s office where the decision was reached to appoint a special prosecutor, Raynes said.
Brittny Lewton, a Republican, was first elected district attorney in 2012 and has worked in the office since she was an intern in 2005, according to her biography on the office’s website.
She wrote an email to employees earlier this week asking them to cooperate with the pending investigation. She also told them to seek outside counsel, like she did, if they felt it necessary.
“I am doing fine. Thank you to those of you who have reached out to me to check on my well-being,” the email said. “I have not been removed from office, unseated or replaced as DA, or had any other action taken against me. The only thing that has changed is that the order was issued. Thus, I intend to continue to show up to the office every day, carry out the obligations and duties that I swore to fulfill as a lawyer and as an elected district attorney.”
The bar is high to remove a district attorney from office. State law requires a recall by voters or impeachment by the state legislature.
Lewton is currently prosecuting convicted serial killer Scott Kimball, who is incarcerated in Sterling and is accused of plotting a prison escape and murder last year.
The Eastern Plains have been disproportionately affected by the state’s opioid crisis, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Sixteen rural counties recorded 93 deaths between 2014 and 2016 — up 158 percent from 36 in the three-year period between 2002 and 2004.
Weiser’s office had no timeline on how long an investigation by his office would take.