Colorado’s missing Indigenous office director resigns after less than a year on the job

Matt Bloom/CPR News
Arron Julian is Colorado’s first-ever Liaison for Missing or Murdered Indigenous Relatives. “We have cases reported to our office right now dating back to 2002,” he tells Colorado Matters.

The director of a new state office focused on solving more missing and murdered Indigenous people's cases has resigned.

Arron Julian, the first person appointed to lead the Office of the Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, left his post on Sept. 26, according to a statement from the Department of Public Safety. The department said Julian left for personal reasons. 

“Mr. Julian decided to take a different career path that would allow him to spend more time with his family,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Colorado formed the first-of-its-kind state office in 2022 to respond to a decades-long crisis of high missing persons and murder rates in the Indigenous community. The state also launched a special type of missing person’s alert as a part of the effort. Indigenous people go missing at far higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups in Colorado and across the country, according to state and federal research.

Julian, who took charge of the office in Dec. 2022, came from a law enforcement background. He previously served as the Chief of Police for the Bishop Paiute Tribe and was a member of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe, according to CDPS.

His state email and cell phone number were turned off when contacted Tuesday, and CPR was unable to reach Julian for comment about his departure. 

In a Dec. 2022 interview with CPR, Julian said he hoped to connect Indigenous families with law enforcement agencies during their searches for loved ones. He said he also wanted to develop new sensitivity training for law enforcement agencies across the state, among other goals. 

“I'm doing the best I can to make this program a success,” he told CPR. 

But throughout his tenure, Native advocates criticized his performance. 

Julian was often unreachable by families or advocates when on-the-ground searches for missing people would take place and his direction for the office was often unclear, said Raven Payment, an organizer with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado. 

“We need a disruptor, someone who is going to center the Native community and make these agencies work for them as opposed to making families parade around agencies when they have loved ones missing,” Payment said. 

Democratic legislators created the new office and alert during the 2022 legislative session, allocating roughly $500,000 toward the effort. The idea received some pushback from state law enforcement officials and Gov. Jared Polis’ administration. 

The legislation creating the office requires it to help with investigations, review cold cases and suspicious deaths, create partnerships with tribal communities, and develop policies for keeping and analyzing data about MMIR. 

Earlier this year, legislators passed another round of legislation with specific directives for the office and an additional $500,000 to help sharpen its focus and organizational structure. 

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has issued at least 35 alerts for missing Indigenous people this year, making it the second most-used statewide alert after Silver Alerts for senior citizens. 

Julian’s departure doesn’t mean the effort is a failure, said Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat and key sponsor of the bill creating the office. 

“I know that there are a lot of very qualified and talented, skilled and experienced people, across the country and right here in Colorado, who would be excellent for the position,” Danielson said. “A strong leader would mean a lot for this office and what it could accomplish for the native community.”

Amid Julian’s vacancy, CDPS has appointed Dr. Matthew Lunn, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, as acting director of the MMIR office. The agency has also begun the hiring process to replace Julian. 

“DCJ has taken this short time to engage with stakeholders, legislative sponsors, partners and collaborative agencies across Colorado,” a spokesperson for the agency said. “After feedback is evaluated, a nationwide search begins.”