Susan Holmes managed to offend both supporters and detractors of Colorado's controversial new red flag law, which creates a framework for temporarily taking guns away from those considered a danger to themselves and others, when she used it against Phil Morris, the CSU Police corporal who fatally shot her nineteen-year-old son, Jeremy Holmes, near the university's campus on July 1, 2017.
This morning, Holmes's request for what's technically known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO, was dismissed by Eighth Judicial District Chief Judge Stephen E. Howard, as she knew it would be. After all, on Jeremy Holmes Justice, a website she created to expose what she sees as the various iniquities committed by legal and judicial agencies in her son's case, a section labeled "Public Corruption" includes several entries castigating Howard by name for the way he handled her unsuccessful lawsuit in the case; she took action after authorities refused to share body-camera footage from a second officer on the shooting scene that she sees as a key to proving that the shooting should never have taken place.
Holmes filed a motion to ask that Howard recuse himself from the ERPO hearing because of what she describes as "his enormous prejudice against my open-records case. When I found out he was assigned to this, I immediately knew he needed to be recused if I was to have a fair and impartial hearing."
Marijuana Deals Near You
Then, "at the last minute," she goes on, "I found out that the Colorado Attorney General's Office had filed a response to the recusal and an affidavit from Officer Morris. They entered it last night."
There's nothing unusual about the role of the AG in the case, maintains Lawrence Pacheco, the office's director of communications. Via email, he notes that "attorneys in the State Services Section of the Attorney General’s office represent Colorado State University, so that is why the state attorneys represented Corporal Morris in today’s hearing."
Nonetheless, Holmes says she felt blindsided by this development, as she made clear in remarks made to press before the hearing. Here's a video of her comments:
Susan Holmes made a statement concerning her red flag petition before her court appearance pic.twitter.com/9TcF15n0qe— Brooklyn Dance (@hibrookIyn) January 16, 2020
In light of the documents from the AG's office, Holmes hoped to get a little extra preparation time. "What I wanted to do was add another filing, an affidavit for the recusal, so I would need to ask for a continuance. But when I went up to the attorney from the attorney general's office and asked if she would allow a continuance, she said, 'No.' I said, 'Why not?' And she was like, 'We're just not going to agree to that.'"
Moments later, Judge Howard entered the courtroom. At the beginning, she recalls, "he went on and on about my recusal, and in the end, he said he would deny the motion to recuse. That's when I asked him — and this is important to me — if he would have accepted it if I'd had an affidavit. He said he still would have denied it, which told me he was going to deny basically anything I submitted."
At that point, Howard moved on to the ERPO, whose petition form limits its use to law enforcement officers and a "family or household member to the respondent." Holmes isn't related to Morris, but in her ERPO, she checked the box that reads, "I have a child in common with the respondent. (Regardless of marriage or whether you have lived with the respondent at any time.)"
Of course, the child in question is Jeremy, whom Holmes bore and raised and Morris killed. But Howard didn't accept this interpretation. According to Holmes, "He said there was no evidence I had any standing, which I'm not surprised by, because I didn't present any evidence. I had evidence, I had arguments ready. But I said I wasn't going to present them as long as he was the judge. Every time there was an opportunity to say something, I just kept restating that."
The one exception she made was during her final statement: "I said I was appalled and outraged and disgusted that the attorney general's office would step in and represent a violent police officer."
At the conclusion of the brief hearing, Holmes came face to face with a scrum of reporters who were hoping she'd explain her line of thinking. But she declined. "I can appeal the case — the judge stated that — and based on the possibility of me doing that, I can't discuss any of my positions. But I can say I consulted two attorneys about that language before filing the ERPO — and one of them was a law professor. So I actually got legal advice before checking that box."
The journalists, meanwhile, "just kept hammering at me about, 'Do you feel like you perjured yourself?' They wanted me to respond that way. But I don't feel like I perjured myself. I don't."
Neither does she voice any regrets about taking on Morris with the ERPO — but she'd like to see "an amendment added to it, allowing any Colorado citizen to file one against a violent and threatening law-enforcement officer. That's one of my drivers for doing this."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Along the way, Holmes has made her share of enemies. "Believe me, I've gotten a lot of hate mail from both sides, not just one side" of the red flag law issue. Proponents of the measure insisted that her action gave ammunition to opponents, while critics of the rule "are pissed off because they think I'm supporting it."
Still, Holmes has what she considers to be a higher mission: "I want to expose the corruption in Jeremy's case."
Meanwhile, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has issued this statement about the judge's ruling: "The extreme risk protection order law allows law enforcement and family or household members to ask a judge to temporarily remove a firearm from a person who poses a significant risk to themselves or others. The law is designed to save lives. In this case, where a Larimer County resident, Ms. Susan Holmes, filed a petition for an ERPO against a Colorado State University police officer, the judge properly ruled against granting the petition. Ms. Holmes is neither law enforcement nor a family or household member. What the hearing today demonstrated is that there are protections in the ERPO law to prevent people from abusing it. Abuse of this important law undermines the very fabric of its critical purpose, which is to protect public safety."
Click to read Susan Holmes's judge recusal motion.