Club Q victims plan to sue over El Paso County sheriff’s refusal to use red flag law

Tribune Content Agency

DENVER — Victims of the Club Q mass shooting plan to sue the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office for refusing to use the state’s red flag law to prevent the suspected shooter from legally buying or possessing guns before the attack last year, according to legal notices obtained by The Denver Post on Monday.

Eleven survivors and family members of victims who died in the November attack alerted the county to their plans to sue in May, and claimed that the mass shooting could have been prevented but for the sheriff’s blanket refusal to use extreme risk protection orders, which allow authorities to seize a person’s guns for up to a year if a judge finds that person presents an immediate threat to themselves or others.

El Paso County commissioners declared the county a “Second Amendment Preservation County” in 2019, as state lawmakers passed the red flag law, and the sheriff’s office created a policy that said deputies would not seek extreme risk protection orders except in “exigent circumstances.”

The Club Q victims argue that the sheriff’s office could have stopped the suspected shooter, Anderson Aldrich, if authorities had sought an extreme risk protection order against Aldrich after a 2021 incident. The victims are seeking more than $160 million, according to the notices of claim, which were first reported by the Colorado Springs Indy.

Notices of claim are a required legal precursor to lawsuits against government entities, and give agencies an opportunity to settle a case before any lawsuit is filed.

Aldrich, 23, is accused of killing five people and injuring another 22 in the Nov. 19 mass shooting. More than a year before the attack, Aldrich had threatened to become the “next mass killer” and faced felony charges. In that 2021 case, authorities seized a 9 mm “ghost gun” and an AR-15 from Aldrich, as well as bomb-making materials.

Those seized guns were never returned to Aldrich, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen has said. But the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office did not use the state’s red flag law to seize any of Aldrich’s other guns or to prevent the 23-year-old from legally buying or possessing additional guns.

A spokeswoman with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment Monday. After the Club Q attack, then-Sheriff Bill Elder and Allen both defended their offices’ handling of Aldrich’s prior criminal case, in which all charges were eventually dropped.

While the 2021 case was pending, Aldrich was under a mandatory protection order that prevented Aldrich from legally buying guns, and the pending felony case on its own also prevented Aldrich from legally buying guns. Those restrictions ended when the criminal case was dismissed.

Authorities nevertheless decided not to return Aldrich’s two seized guns, instead opting to keep the guns and other evidence in the case until the entirety of the statute of limitations expired.

Officials with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release after the mass shooting that they did not seek an extreme risk protection order against Aldrich after the case was dropped in July 2022 because the threats made by Aldrich in June 2021 no longer constituted a threat “in the near future” as required by Colorado’s red flag law.

Aldrich was able to legally buy guns again in July 2022, several months before the mass shooting, in which Aldrich is accused of using an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun.

The notices of claim say members of the sheriff’s office were negligent in not seeking an extreme risk protection order against Aldrich.

“…(M)embers of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office negligently and unconscionably played a role in Anderson Aldrich possessing and using firearms inside Club Q,” one notice of claim reads.

The sheriff’s handling of Aldrich’s case prompted a successful effort by state lawmakers this year to revise Colorado’s fledgling red-flag law to allow health providers, educators and prosecutors to seek extreme risk protection orders, not just law enforcement or family members.

Attorneys for the victims and family members who filed notices of claim did not return requests for comment Monday.