Alerts on gay club shooter raise questions about old case

DENVER – A California woman who alerted a judge last year to the danger posed by the suspect in the shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs said on Friday that the deaths could have been prevented if previous charges against the suspect had not been discarded.

Jeanie Streltzoff — a relative of alleged Anderson shooter Lee Aldrich — urged Colorado judge Robin Chittum in a letter last November to arrest the suspect following a 2021 standoff with SWAT teams that discovered a stash of more than 100 pounds (45 kg) explosive material, firearms and ammunition.

Aldrich was supposed to be in jail at the time of the shooting and barred from obtaining weapons, she told the Associated Press on Friday.

“Five people died,” said Streltzoff, silencing 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 the documents unveiled on Thursday also raised questions about whether authorities were aggressive enough in their pursuit of a conviction or could have pursued different charges when it became clear that Aldrich’s mother, Laura Voepel, and grandparents Jonathan and Pamela Pullen would not testify.

The case was derailed because prosecutors could not send proper subpoenas to Pullens, who 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 the 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 that Allen did not alter the charges to involve the threat to police and the community.

“This was a potential crime that didn’t just affect grandparents,” Turley said. “It was a three-hour standoff. That was upsetting. The police were threatened.”

It’s rare for a criminal case to fail for failing to serve subpoenas to some victims or witnesses, Turley said. He also noted that police and prosecutors have improved their skills in accessing property and assisting people in criminal cases.

Ian Farrell, an associate professor at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, said he was also surprised that the district attorney’s office did not amend the charges after failing to subpoena Aldrich’s grandparents, noting that prosecutors do not require cooperation. victims to move forward. with a case.

If Aldrich was threatening people or not cooperating with the police, “then you would have the police as a witness and that would be all they would need,” he said.

Aldrich, 22, who is non-binary and uses they/they pronouns according to defense lawyers, was initially charged with kidnapping and other crimes in the 2021 case.

Court documents describe how Aldrich told his frightened grandparents about firearms and bomb-making material in his basement, talked about plans to become the “next mass murderer” and swore not to let them interfere with plans to “go out in a fire”. Aldrich streamed live on Facebook a subsequent confrontation with SWAT teams at mother Laura Voepel’s home.

Former Deputy District Attorney Mark Waller, who ran against Allen in the last election, said prosecutors should have changed the charges to obstruction of justice, as Aldrich was deemed so dangerous that a SWAT team and bomb squad had to mobilized and neighboring houses evacuated.

“They have that video of (Aldrich) saying he’s going to blow everything up. They could have easily charged… obstruction of justice,” Waller said. “That could have prevented all of this from happening.”

A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office, Howard Black, said “numerous” attempts had been made to serve subpoenas in the case, but did not provide further details.

About a week before the case was dismissed, an attorney for Pamela Pullen asked the court to overturn or dismiss a subpoena that had been left in her mailbox. It is not clear when this subpoena was left for her. Black said it was “just one attempt of many” to subpoena Pullen.

He dismissed the idea that prosecutors could have brought charges for damage done to neighbors during the bomb scare, noting that evacuations happen frequently. Prosecutors brought charges based on the evidence they had and what they ethically believed they could prove in court, Black said.

Pullen’s lawyer in the bomb threat case, Aaron Gaddis, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment. Phone calls to Pamela and Jonathan Pullen were not returned.

Jonathan Pullen is Streltzoff’s brother and Aldrich’s grandfather. Streltzoff said he is a “gentle soul” who has lived in fear of his grandson for years.

In the letter Streltzoff and his older brother Robert Pullen wrote to the court in November 2021, they detailed multiple instances of Aldrich threatening his brother, who they said “lives in a virtual prison”.

Aldrich punched holes in the walls of the grandparents’ Colorado home and smashed windows, and the grandparents “had to sleep in their bedroom with the door locked” and a bat by their bed, they wrote. They also said that Pamela Pullen gave Aldrich $30,000, which was used to buy a 3D printer to make weapon parts.

Streltzoff said Aldrich was treated with “kids gloves” by his grandmother “no matter what” they did.

During Aldrich’s teenage years in San Antonio, the letter said that 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 that the suspect did not get along with peers as a youth, so he was homeschooled.

Streltzoff said Friday from the doorstep of his Southern California home that the letter actually downplayed how menacing Aldrich was. She said they “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 calls and text messages and her other brother hasn’t spoken to him.

“Nobody knows where they are now,” Streltzoff said.

Aldrich tried to retrieve the weapons seized by authorities after the 2021 threat, but they were not returned, according to Allen. But shortly after the charges were dropped, Aldrich boasted that he recovered the firearms and showed former roommate Xavier Kraus two rifles, bulletproof vests and incendiary ammunition, Kraus told the AP.

Aldrich was formally charged Tuesday with 305 criminal charges, 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 shortly before midnight with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and began firing during a drag queen’s birthday celebration. Patrons stopped the murder by throwing the suspect to the ground and beating Aldrich into submission, witnesses said.

Melley reported from Los Angeles and Condon from New York. Associated Press journalist Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont. and Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed.