The person accused of opening deadly fire in an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub in Colorado last month had earlier felony charges dropped because family members who the authorities say had been threatened with weapons, ammunition and a homemade bomb would not cooperate with prosecutors, the chief prosecutor in Colorado Springs said on Thursday.
District Attorney Michael J. Allen said that the mother and grandparents of Anderson Lee Aldrich, now 22, who was charged this week with murder and hate crimes in the deaths of five people and wounding of 17 others at Club Q, told law enforcement officers that the defendant terrorized them in June 2021, claiming to want to be a mass shooter.
SWAT teams raced to the neighborhood, evacuated nearby houses and eventually arrested the defendant, who was charged with felony menacing and kidnapping. But prosecutors were then unsuccessful in serving subpoenas to the defendant’s mother and grandparents to testify at trial. Without victim testimony, a trial could not move forward, Mr. Allen said. A judge dismissed the case in July of this year, 383 days after the charges were filed, Mr. Allen said.
“We prosecuted it until we couldn’t prosecute it any longer,” Mr. Allen said at a news conference. Unless the defendant had been convicted and received a long sentence, he added, the case “would not have prevented the Club Q shooting.”
Two weapons seized from the defendant last year — a pistol and a rifle — were never returned, even after the defendant sought to get them back, Mr. Allen added. He declined to say how the defendant acquired the weapons that the authorities say were used in the Club Q rampage.
The prosecutor and local sheriff’s office have faced repeated questions since the Nov. 19 shooting about whether law enforcement or the defendant’s family could have intervened after the 2021 bomb threat to prevent the Club Q attack. Colorado’s red-flag law allows authorities to seize weapons from a person deemed to be dangerous.
But Mr. Allen argued on Thursday that filing the 2021 felony charges and removing the defendant’s pistol and rifle had achieved the same effect as a red-flag order. It might even have been more successful, he suggested, because a red-flag order would have likely required the same uncooperative family members to work with law enforcement.
Asked if a red-flag order last year could have prevented the defendant from legally buying more weapons, Mr. Allen noted that an initial, temporary order lasts only 14 days. Securing a yearlong order requires meeting a higher burden of proof.
“I don’t think based on the conduct of the witnesses in this case that they would have been successful on that,” he said.
The 9-millimeter pistol seized by sheriff’s deputies in 2021 was a “ghost” gun, Mr. Allen said, without any serial number, make or model.
Mr. Allen discussed the dropped 2021 bomb threat case in detail for the first time on Thursday after Judge Robin L. Chittum of El Paso County ordered the case unsealed, over the objections of the defendant’s lawyers and mother, ruling that the public interest outweighed the defendant’s privacy rights. The records in that case were sealed in August, Mr. Allen said, at the defendant’s request.
News organizations including The New York Times had sought to make the documents public. The documents were first obtained by KKTV, a television station in Colorado Springs, and then verified as authentic by The Associated Press. The court had not yet released the documents online as of Thursday evening.
The public defender in the case argued unsealing the records would hurt his client’s right to a fair trial.
“This will make sure there is no presumption of innocence,” Joseph Archambault, the public defender, said during the hearing, according to The Associated Press.
Mr. Allen called on Colorado state lawmakers to allow for the swift unsealing of records if a defendant later commits a serious crime, to prevent a “false narrative” from further hurting a community in mourning.
The defendant, who remains in jail without bond and has not yet entered a plea, faces a potential sentence of life in prison. Defense lawyers say that the defendant identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns they and them.
Interviews and public records have shown that the defendant had a troubled childhood. Their mother and father divorced before the defendant was 2 years old. Each parent had problems with substance abuse and run-ins with the law.
It is not unusual for family members to recant, minimize or refuse to repeat statements made against their loved ones in criminal cases, Mr. Allen and a victims’ advocate said at the news conference.
After sheriff’s deputies arrested the defendant in the June 18, 2021, bomb threat case, Mr. Allen said, a judge set bond at $1 million. They remained in jail until at least August. That month, their mother and grandparents urged in court for the bond to be reduced so the defendant could be released from custody, according to Mr. Allen.
He said the defendant’s mother described them as loving and passionate. The grandmother described them as sweet, Mr. Allen added, and the grandfather said the defendant was someone who would take advantage of being given a second chance.