What do we know about the bomb threat in Colorado?

DENVER (AP) – More than a year before police said Anderson Lee Aldrich killed five people and injured 17 others at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Aldrich was arrested on charges of making a bomb threat which led to the evacuation of about 10 homes.

Aldrich, who uses the pronoun them and is non-binary according to their lawyers, threatened to harm his own family with a homemade bomb, ammunition and multiple weapons, authorities said at the time. They were jailed on charges of criminal threat and kidnapping, but the case was later sealed and it is unclear what became of the charges. There are no public indications that the case has resulted in a conviction.

Officials are refusing to talk about what happened, citing the seals law, which was passed three years ago to prevent people from having their lives ruined if cases are dropped and never prosecuted. It was approved as part of a nationwide movement to address the “collateral consequences” of people’s clashes with law enforcement that often make it difficult for them to find work or housing.

Amid a barrage of questions about the incident after Aldrich was identified as the suspect in the Nov. 19 Club Q shooting, District Attorney Michael Allen said during a Nov. 21 press conference that he “was hoping in the near future” to share more about the incident, raising expectations that he wanted the information made public.

But 11 days later, Allen has still not opened up about the incident, and the documents remain sealed despite a petition to release them from a coalition of media organizations including the Associated Press.

Here’s a closer look at what is known about the crash, the documents and what has been done to make them public as a grieving community clamors for more information.

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WHY ARE THE CASE DOCUMENTS SEALED?

There have been ways to seal criminal records in Colorado for decades, but in 2019 state lawmakers changed the law to allow for automatic sealing of records when a case is dismissed and defendants go out of prosecution. Before that law passed, anyone seeking to seal their records would have had to petition the court in what was an opaque process that was difficult for many to navigate, said one of the sponsors, Democratic state representative Mike Weissman.

Weissman said he believes the Colorado law strikes the right balance with a mechanism for asking for records to be opened, but that speeding up the process for opening cases that attract intense public interest could be one possible improvement.

Law enforcement agencies are still able to access sealed documents, although they are limited in what they can share publicly. The law prevents the authorities from even acknowledging the existence of such sealed cases when someone from the public asks about them. Allen cited the 2019 law in his refusal to discuss the incident.

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CAN SEALED RECORDS BE MADE PUBLIC?

Yes, but it’s not easy. Colorado law allows anyone to ask a court to open a document if they believe the benefit outweighs the defendant’s right to privacy. But that can only be done if someone has reason to believe a record might exist, since court officials cannot disclose that information to the public.

The trial takes place behind closed doors with no record to follow. It is not even known which judge is evaluating the request. All of this makes it impossible to know when a decision might come.

David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, said it seems concerning that the public is unable to follow the petition required to open the documents.

“It’s kind of a black box of who the judge is. We don’t normally have secret judges, we don’t normally have secret courts, for very important reasons,” he said.

Gaining access to the records is important to learning the details of cases and whether the justice system functioned as it should, including whether a red flag order to remove any firearms should have been pursued, said Jeff Roberts, who heads the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition,

“You don’t really know the circumstances until you can see what law enforcement wrote about what happened,” he said.

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WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE BOMB THREAT INCIDENT?

Most of what is known about the June 18, 2021 incident in Colorado Springs comes from a press release issued that night by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

In it, the office said a woman calling from the street where Aldrich’s grandparents lived reported that “her son” was threatening to harm her with a homemade bomb, plus guns and ammunition. Aldrich was later found at the home about a mile (1.6 kilometers) away, on the block where his mother lived. The release noted that no explosives were found, but did not mention whether any other weapons were found.

Doorbell video obtained by the AP shows Aldrich arriving at his mother’s front door with a large black bag, telling her the police were nearby and adding, “Here’s where I am. Today I die.

Two police cars and what appears to be a bomb squad vehicle later approach the house, and a barefoot Aldrich emerges with his hands raised.

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WHAT HAPPENED AFTER ALDRICH’S ARREST IN 2021?

It is not clear why the files are sealed. What is known is that in August, Aldrich told a reporter for The Gazette in Colorado Springs that he spent two months in prison following his 2021 arrest, although it is not known whether that is true. The reporter called Aldrich in response to a voicemail Aldrich had left with the paper requesting that his previous story about the bomb threat be removed or updated, stating that the case had been dropped.

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SHOULD THE COLORADO RED FLAG LAW BE USED?

It’s hard to say, largely due to a lack of public details about what happened after Aldrich’s arrest and what other evidence authorities might have gathered. And it’s unclear when Aldrich acquired the semi-automatic rifle and handgun that investigators recovered at the scene of last month’s shooting.

The law allows law enforcement or family members to ask a court to order someone to surrender their firearms if they pose a significant risk to themselves or others.

If a red flag order had been issued against Aldrich, any firearms they had at the time would have been taken away and he would have been barred from purchasing additional guns from an arms dealer required to perform background checks.

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Associated Press writer Jesse Bedayn contributed to this report. Bedayn is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places reporters on local newsrooms to report on hidden issues.

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