By BRIAN MELLEY, COLLEEN SLEVIN and BERNARD CONDON (Associated Press)
DENVER (AP) — A California woman who warned a judge last year about the danger posed by the suspect in the Colorado Springs gay nightclub shooting said Friday that the deaths could have been prevented if earlier charges against the suspect weren’t dismissed.
Jeanie Streltzoff — a relative of alleged shooter Anderson Lee Aldrich — urged Colorado Judge Robin Chittum in a letter last November to incarcerate the suspect following a 2021 standoff with SWAT teams that uncovered a stockpile of more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosive material, firearms and ammunition.
Aldrich should have been in prison at the time of the shooting and prevented from obtaining weapons, she told The Associated Press on Friday.
“Five people died,” Streltzoff said, hushing the final word. “Someone should have done something.”
Streltzoff blamed Aldrich’s grandmother and mother for dodging subpoenas that would have forced them to testify in the bomb threat case. But documents unsealed Thursday also raised questions about whether authorities were aggressive enough in their pursuit of a conviction or could have sought different charges when it became clear Aldrich’s mother, Laura Voepel, and grandparents Jonathan and Pamela Pullen wouldn’t testify.
The case was derailed because prosecutors couldn’t properly serve subpoenas to the Pullens, who had moved to Florida, and Voepel, who was still in Colorado Springs, and ran out of time under fair trial rules, according to District Attorney Michael Allen and court documents.
George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley said he found the district attorney’s explanations of why he dropped the case “incomplete” and was surprised Allen didn’t amend the charges to involve the threat to the police and community.
“This was a potential crime that didn’t just solely impact the grandparents,” Turley said. “This was a three-hour standoff. This was disruptive. The police were threatened.”
It’s rare for a criminal case to fall apart over a failure to deliver subpoenas to a couple victims or witnesses, Turley said. He also noted that police and prosecutors have enhanced abilities to access property and serve people in criminal cases.
Ian Farrell, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said he also was surprised the district attorney’s office did not amend the charges after failing to subpoena Aldrich’s grandparents, noting that prosecutors don’t require cooperation from victims to move forward with a case.
If Aldrich was threatening people or non-cooperative with the police, “then you would have the police as witnesses and that would be all they would need,” he said.
Aldrich, 22, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns according to defense attorneys, was initially charged with kidnapping and other felonies in the 2021 case.
Court documents describe how Aldrich told frightened grandparents about firearms and bomb-making material in their basement, talked of plans to become the “next mass killer,” and vowed not to let them interfere with plans to “go out in a blaze.” Aldrich livestreamed on Facebook a subsequent confrontation with SWAT teams at the house of mother Laura Voepel.
Former deputy district attorney Mark Waller, who ran against Allen in the last election, said prosecutors should have amended charges to obstruction of justice, given that Aldrich was deemed so dangerous a SWAT team and bomb squad had to be deployed and surrounding homes evacuated.
“They have that video of (Aldrich) saying he’s going to blow everything up. They could have easily charged … obstruction of justice,” said Waller. “It could have prevented this whole thing from happening.”
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, Howard Black, said “numerous” attempts were made to serve subpoenas in the case but did not provide further details.
About a week before the case was dismissed, a lawyer for Pamela Pullen asked the court to quash, or reject, a subpoena that had been left in her mailbox. It’s not clear when that subpoena had been left for her. Black said it was “just one attempt of many” to subpoena Pullen.
He dismissed the idea prosecutors could have pursued charges for the harm caused to neighbors during the bomb scare, noting that evacuations happen a lot. Prosecutors filed charges based on the evidence they had and what they ethically believed they could prove in court, Black said.
Pullen’s attorney in the bomb threat case, Aaron Gaddis, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment. Phone calls to Pamela and Jonathan Pullen have not been returned.
Jonathan Pullen is Streltzoff’s brother and Aldrich’s step-grandfather. Streltzoff said he is a “gentle soul” who had lived in fear of his grandchild for years.
In the letter Streltzoff and her older brother, Robert Pullen, wrote to the court in November 2021, they detailed multiple instances of Aldrich menacing their brother, who they said “lived in a virtual prison.”
Aldrich punched holes in the walls of the grandparents’ Colorado home and broke windows, and the grandparents “had to sleep in their bedroom with the door locked” and a bat by the bed, they wrote. They also said Pamela Pullen gave Aldrich $30,000, used to buy a 3D printer to make gun parts.
Streltzoff said Aldrich was treated with “kid gloves” by their grandmother “no matter what” they did.
During Aldrich’s teenage years in San Antonio, the letter said Aldrich attacked Jonathan Pullen and sent him to the emergency room with undisclosed injuries. Jonathan Pullen later lied to police out of fear of Aldrich, according to the letter, which also said the suspect could not get along with classmates as a youth so had been homeschooled.
Streltzoff said Friday from the doorway of her Southern California home that the letter actually underplayed how menacing Aldrich was. She said they had “terrorized my younger brother for years.”
She hasn’t seen Jonathan Pullen since 2010 and has lost touch with him since the bomb scare. He hasn’t returned her recent call and text messages and her other brother hasn’t spoken with him.
“No one knows where they are now,” Streltzoff said.
Aldrich tried to reclaim guns seized by authorities after the 2021 threat, but they were not returned, according to Allen. But soon after the charges were dropped, Aldrich boasted of having regained firearms and showed former roommate Xavier Kraus two rifles, body armor and incendiary rounds, Kraus told AP.
Aldrich was formally charged Tuesday with 305 criminal counts, including hate crimes and murder, in the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in mostly conservative Colorado Springs.
Investigators say Aldrich entered just before midnight with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and began shooting during a drag queen’s birthday celebration. Patrons stopped the killing by wrestling the suspect to the ground and beating Aldrich into submission, witnesses said.
Melley reported from Los Angeles and Condon from New York. Associated Press journalists Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont. and Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed.