Photo Credit: Colorado Springs Utilities
During the May 14th Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, El Paso County Commissioners unanimously approved a variance request to allow El Paso County restaurant dining rooms to re-open under new El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) department rules. That variance request will now head to the Governor’s office for review.
We, along with the rest of the community, anxiously await the Governor’s decision.
One portion of the BOCC meeting caught our attention; a very important detail had not been ironed out. District Attorney (DA) Dan May stopped by to clarify how his office intends to handle public health violations. It appears DA May doesn’t intend to treat business owners who violate health department orders as criminals. DA Dan May had in hand a portion of an email from County Attorney Diana May, that asks DA Dan May for assurances that the DA’s office will prosecute violations of the public health orders, that are supported by probable cause. This email from County Attorney May was placed on the overhead projector, and is visible in the clip found below.
Note: To our knowledge, there is no relation between the two attorneys who both have the same last name.
From: Diana May
Sent: Monday, May 11, 2020 6:19 pm
To: Daniel May; Jeffrey Lindsey
Subject: Re: Calhan
We are seeking assurances that the DA’s office will prosecute violations of public health orders that are supported by probable cause and meet the criminal elements as previously agreed upon by your office as a last resort. Your office during the meeting on developing an enforcement process, did commit to prosecuting violations supported by probable cause. You also confirmed this commitment at a BOCC meeting. We have been told today that you personally have indicated your office will not now prosecute violations. On behalf of EPCPH, we do not want to assume rumors or hearsay statements by you are true, and wanted to confirm directly with you your position. Please let me know your position.
So, what is “probable cause”? According to dictionary.law.com, it is defined as, “sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime. Probable cause must exist for a law enforcement officer to make an arrest without a warrant, search without a warrant, or seize property in the belief the items were evidence of a crime.”
It appears the purpose of DA Dan May’s visit was to describe to the BOCC why he would not be pursuing prosecutions based on probable cause. DA May left little doubt that his office would be highly unlikely to pursue criminal charges against businesses. He expressed that education between public health and restaurant owners was the best route vs. escalating violations into criminal matters. Escalating violations to the court system has not gone well for other cities.
Watch the entire 18-minute clip here. It is worth the time, as many communities have made national headlines for their poor handling of health department violations. We’re pleased to hear that DA May has no intention of pursuing probable cause criminal charges against restaurant owners or other businesses. Most businesses are in survival mode.
We’ll continue to watch how El Paso County handles violations. We’re on the side of the business owners, and are rooting for them. We’ll keep looking out for you, El Paso County.