Judge denies sanctions bid over leak in shooting case

DENVER (AP) — A judge on Wednesday denied an attempt to punish authorities after the media obtained documents showing detailed allegations about the suspect in the Colorado gay nightclub shooting previously plotting to be “the next mass killer" in an old case that was sealed at the time.

Lawyers for Anderson Aldrich, who is charged with killing five people and wounding 17 others at Club Q in Colorado Springs in November, accused the El Paso County Sheriff's Office of leaking documents in the old case to the media. They asked Judge Robin Chittum to hold the office in contempt and order it to pay $10,000 in fines and train staff on the records sealing law.

But Chittum, siding with lawyers for the sheriff's office, said the defense had not presented facts that showed that the sheriff's office was the source of the information.

“It is just speculation. I can't make an assumption that it was,” she said.

She noted that a Dec. 6 Associated Press story cited by the defense about the documents, which were obtained earlier by Colorado Springs television station KKTV, said the documents had been confirmed as authentic to the AP by a law enforcement official who was granted anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the sealed case. Chittum said that could have been done by members of a number of local or national law enforcement agencies.

In 2021, Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns according to court filings, was arrested after their grandparents told authorities that Aldrich threatened to kill them after becoming upset about their plans to move and get in the way of Aldrich's alleged plan to stockpile guns, ammunition, body armor and a homemade bomb.

“You guys die today and I’m taking you with me,” they quoted Aldrich as saying. “I’m loaded and ready.”

The charges filed against Aldrich in the 2021 case were dropped after the grandparents refused to cooperate with prosecutors and testify. The court file was sealed under a state law aimed at preventing people from having their lives ruined if cases are dismissed and never prosecuted.

One day after the AP story ran that illustrated how the dropped case was one of most glaring missed warnings in America’s long line of mass violence, Chittum unsealed the 2021 case at the request of the sheriff’s office, district attorney’s office and a coalition of media outlets including the AP. She said the “profound” public interest in the case outweighed Aldrich’s privacy rights.