Denver DA candidates discuss sexual assault prosecution

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DENVER -- The handling of sexual assault cases takes center stage in next week’s political matchup for Denver district attorney.

This week, a FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation revealed that since 2014, the office of current DA Mitch Morrissey refused or dismissed seven of 10 felony sexual assault cases.

Records show the Denver Police Department submitted 398 rape cases to Morrissey’s office for prosecution, but 278 were declined.

Morrissey is stepping down because of term limits. That leaves his job open for Democrat Beth McCann or independent Helen Morgan.

For the first time, the Denver district attorney will be a woman.

The candidates, vying to take over that office, spoke about how they would try to improve that low prosecution rate.

McCann has experience as a Colorado lawmaker, former deputy prosecutor, trial attorney, and in the civil division of the attorney general’s office.

Morgan is employed at the Denver DA’s office as a chief deputy district attorney. She said she is also a sexual assault survivor.

Beth McCann (D), district attorney candidate.

Beth McCann (D), district attorney candidate.

Question: As a woman, do you suspect you will treat sexual assault victims differently? Perhaps see the cases from a different viewpoint?

Morgan: You need to specifically sensitive in these areas to always listen first, speak later and do not judge. I think that is a way that I am personally not only this issue, but all issues.

McCann: I think at a gut level one would assume that women will view these crimes differently, but it’s hard to generalize. I think it’s a little bit harder, certainly, for a guy to put himself in the position of being a sexual assault victim than it is for a woman and the empathy with the victim may be a little greater with a woman.

Question: From August 2014 to August 2016, our exclusive research into felony sexual assaults show that the Denver police brought 398 cases to the DA for review. Only about 30 percent of the accused rapists were charged.

Morgan: There is so much victim blaming around this crime, like no other, that it’s devastating for me to hear that. It’s devastating. When you hear the raw number, it’s alarming. If we have 10 cases and only charge three of them, that’s alarming.

McCann: We have to listen to victims and provide them support and opportunity to tell us what happened. Just because there are two different stories doesn’t mean you don’t file a case. DA’s file cases when they aren’t 100 percent sure because that’s what the jury decides.

Helen Morgan (I), district attorney candidate.

Helen Morgan (I), district attorney candidate.

Question: FOX31 spoke to a sexual assault survivor named Brittany. She says detectives told her she had a good case, but then the district attorney’s office blindsided her. Decided to not file any charges.

Morgan: It is, I think troubling is an understatement when anybody who is a victim of a crime does not believe that they were believed.

McCann: I don’t mean to be critical of what’s currently going on because I don’t know the facts of those cases, but I can assure you that during my administration we will be taking sexual assaults very seriously.

Question: If you are elected, do you see any fixes or improvements you think you could make in this area?

Morgan: One of the worst things you can have as a victim, I think, is that once you have made the courageous decision to report and you’ve sat in this room with the detective and told her or him these awful intimate details of this violent crime that was perpetrated on you and the detective says to you: this is a good case. Then to have that same detective, of who you believed in, turn around and say but that’s not shared by somebody else. That’s not shared by the DA’s office. Perhaps we need to be there earlier.

McCann: I would really like to look at the system with a broader perspective. Make sure we’re putting the right people in jail. I’m interested in looking at substance abuse, mental health, and trying to find alternatives to prison.