Criminal Justice, Denver, Legal

DA Morrissey's hire of nephew spurs accusation of nepotism

The Denver District Attorney’s office hired a nephew of DA Mitch Morrissey for a case investigator opening this past summer, despite the fact that the nephew, Joe Lucas, had no law enforcement experience, which is a commonly desired trait for the position. At least one person inside that office believes the hire was tinged by nepotism.

Mitch Morrissey - via Denver District Attorney's Office
Mitch Morrissey – via Denver District Attorney’s Office

Despite Lucas’ lack of law enforcement experience, the DA’s office says he has worked on “investigative tasks” over a three year period — something they say makes him qualified for the promotion.

Complete Colorado obtained the final job application for all other criminal investigators currently employed by the DA’s office. Our own subjective analysis of those applications estimates that Lucas is in the bottom fifteen percent of all the investigators in the office with regards to quality and length of work experience leading up to the hire.

Although the hire of Lucas as an investigator did not directly violate any policies of the City of Denver’s ethics code, a source in the DA’s office who spoke to Complete Colorado on the condition of anonymity said they believe Lucas was not and is not qualified, and thus was elevated to the investigator role because of his family connections to Morrissey. The employee asked to remain anonymous because of fears of career retaliation.

The source’s claims have reasonable amounts of subjective evidence to back up the theory. The source claims that Lucas’ five years as administrative assistant in the DA’s office was not adequate preparation for the job, and asserts that a telling indicator is the fact that Lucas has since been sent to the Denver Police Department to gain “street level” experience even after he was hired as an investigator. However, the job requirements do not specify that law enforcement experience is required.

The minimum requirement for the job is, “At least three (3) years of experience conducting comprehensive investigations of complex criminal and civil cases.” Whether or not Lucas meets that threshold is an “eye of the beholder” question. We have reprinted Lucas’ own statement of his bona fides in his job application at the end of this article.

Because the investigator position involves duties such as interviewing suspects, interviewing associates and friends of subjects, dealing with subjects who may be armed, and even occasionally serving warrants and making arrests, most investigators are hired with many years of street level law enforcement or corrections experience on their resumes.

Of the 29 investigators employed by the DA’s office other than Mr. Lucas, 23 had previous law enforcement experience as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy or higher, one had military experience, and two others did not have sufficient information available through the records to determine their previous experience. Only three current investigators had no law enforcement experience at all.

The job was not posted publicly, but was instead a “department only recruitment” job posting intended to promote someone who was currently employed in the DA’s office in some other capacity.

File photo: Todd Shepherd
File photo: Todd Shepherd

A few weeks after Lucas’ hire, the DA’s office assigned him to the Denver Police Department to do a month’s worth of “ride alongs” with beat cops from DPD’s 6th district. The DA’s office confirmed these were “training” ride alongs, therefore different from the citizen “ride alongs” most people are familiar with.

Before taking the investigator position, Lucas worked five and a half years as an administrative assistant for the DA’s office. He obtained his “Peace Officer Standards and Training” certification – also known as POST certification – one month before applying for the position. Nearly all other investigators hired in the DA’s office had their POST certification for years prior to being hired as an investigator.

Lynn Kimbrough, spokesperson for the DA’s office said by email:

“…Mr. Lucas started in an entry level position in the office, worked hard and did a good job, and then pursued his POST certification on his own time because that has been a longtime interest and passion. He worked hard to earn that, with no guarantee of a position here or anywhere else.  To suggest he unfairly benefited in some way by being Mitch’s nephew does a great disservice to a young man who worked hard to become qualified for the job he was hired for, who continues to work hard each day, and has the highest level of integrity.”

The source inside the DA’s office said the fact that Lucas was sent to DPD for ride along experience is a telling sign of his inexperience.

“At times we do have to make arrests and he has no experience doing this,” the source said.

“Other investigators have to help him do his job, which puts a burden on those investigators. While he is gone doing ride alongs his work has to be done by other investigators.  If he was qualified for the job this wouldn’t be happening,” the source said.

The following is Lucas’ answer to the job application question asking for a statement explaining the job history that fulfills the minimum requirement of three years experience conducting “comprehensive investigations of complex criminal and civil cases”:

I have worked at the Denver District Attorney’s Office since 2012 on criminal cases that have come into the office. During this time I worked with administration and the Special Programs Unit as the program coordinator. My experience comes from working with criminal investigators, attorneys, and victim advocates. I was responsible for handling property viewings, affidavits, search warrants, and locating/interviewing witnesses and victims. I have handled evidence at property viewings at the Denver Police Department for both the prosecution and defense teams. I am responsible for pulling the evidence from property and displaying it on the property table for individuals to view. It is during this time that the investigators will take pictures of the property. When finished, I have to seal it back up in the evidence package and log it back into the property bureau. This process continues until all pieces of property have been viewed. I then have to fill out a Property Bureau Evidence Log Form detailing the process and who was at the viewing. I have prepared several affidavits for arrest warrants, search warrants, and subpoenas. They allow me to obtain evidence needed by our prosecution team. If one of our attorney’s requests for (sic) additional information relating to the case, I am responsible for writing affidavits and warrants should they be needed. I have also worked with the grand jury in solving a case involving a gang operating in Denver. I worked with the Denver Police Department in gathering police reports, victim witness statements, video camera footage and photographic lineups. Most of my experience comes from working in conjunction with the Denver Police Department and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

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