Denver District Attorney Beth McCann paid $237,000 in settlement and severance payments over the past 1 ½ years to three employees who either resigned amid controversy or were fired by her.
Second-in-command Ryan Brackley resigned as assistant deputy district attorney in July after The Gazette and Colorado Politics disclosed that Brackley had bullied subordinates — and after a workplace investigator found that Brackley took “half swings” with a baseball bat at the head and shoulders of a female prosecutor and threatened in a group text to fire “the fing fat ass” of another female prosecutor if she posted crime scene photos on Facebook.
The Employers Council investigation determined that while Brackley had not intended to harm anyone, he lacked awareness of how his actions affected others.
He got $41,600 in severance pay.
McCann also signed off on $15,398 in severance pay for Michael Song, who resigned in August from his chief deputy position after The Gazette and Colorado Politics revealed that he tried to block Latinos from serving on a jury for a criminal case of a Latino defendant. Another Denver prosecutor had complained about Song, pointing out to his superiors that U.S. Supreme Court rulings bar prosecutors from dismissing jurors solely based on race. Song also had been accused of trying to block a witness in the trial from speaking to the defense lawyer, which would violate Colorado’s rules for criminal procedure.
McCann spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said both severance packages were typical for senior-level public officials who leave by mutual agreement on short notice.
“These arrangements benefit the office by providing protection from future legal action and by providing a final resolution for all involved,” Tyler said in a statement.
Mitch Morrissey, who was Denver DA for 12 years and was term-limited in 2016, said he never paid severance to prosecutors who resigned or were fired.
“Those people who take those jobs are at-will employees,” Morrissey said. “If an at-will employee gets fired or resigns, you don’t give them a severance. It’s just unheard of.”
J. Y. Kang also questioned the severance, saying he understood as an Arapahoe County prosecutor from 1993 to 1999 that he was an at-will employee who could be dismissed at any time.
“You are working at the will and pleasure of the elected district attorney, and you can be fired at any time,” said Kang, who like Song is Korean American. “That’s the way it works.”
Kang questioned McCann’s hiring of Song, saying several prosecutors in McCann’s office that they questioned why she hired Song as a chief deputy when they viewed his qualifications for the job as scant. (ED NOTE: Hearsay.
Song had been handling medical marijuana regulations at the state Attorney General’s Office when McCann tapped him to be her chief deputy. Kant said in her office. He had little experience as a trial prosecutor, which rankled other prosecutors in Denver who wondered why Song had landed a coveted chief deputy position, Kang said.
After complaints surfaced about Song’s work on the sole trial he handled, McCann kept him in the chief deputy position but reassigned him to review past cases for potential resentencing motions for leniency.
The Weekly Focus, a Korean newspaper in Denver, show that n the Democratic primary in the Denver district attorney’s election, Song, who is Korean-American, introduced members of the Korean community to McCann’s opponent, Michael Carrigan, at a Korean restaurant in Aurora and solicited campaign donations for Carrigan’s campaign from them.
After McCann defeated Carrigan and won the Democratic primary, Song quickly switched over to the McCann team and held a campaign fundraiser at the same restaurant for McCann, according to the press reports in the Weekly Focus.
Kang said Song invited him to both campaign fundraisers. Kang donated at the Carrigan fundraiser, but balked at contributing to McCann’s campaign, questioning how Song could so easily switch sides after his original preferred candidate had been defeated.
“Why is this guy Michael Song soliciting donations on behalf of the Korean community for Beth McCann, the candidate he was describing two to three months earlier as the lesser of the two candidates?” Kang recalled wondering back then. “Then, five to six months later, after the general election, I heard that Michael Song was hired by Beth McCann, and then it started to make sense. It looks like it was about supporting someone who would sort of quid pro quo give him what he wanted, which was a job apparently.”
Kang added that Song “clearly was an opportunist. He was using his connections in the Korean community as leverage for these American politicians.”
The largest payout McCann authorized — $180,000 — went to investigator Jerilyn Schofield, whom McCann fired shortly after taking office. But Schofield was a senior investigator who enjoyed career service protections, unlike the at-will prosecutors.
Morrissey had put Schofield on paid administrative leave after prosecutors in the office alleged she engaged in unprofessional and disrespectful behavior. She was unresponsive when asked to collect evidence and failed to secure weapons that were evidence for a trial, leaving them in an unlocked file drawer in her unlocked office instead of stored in a secure evidence room, they alleged.
Morrissey left office before the final disciplinary action, so McCann inherited the case. She followed a recommendation that Schofield be fired.
“The notice of dismissal was prepared by the prior administration but left for the current administration to execute,” her spokeswoman said.
Schofield appealed, arguing that she should have whistleblower protections because she had been a source in an article questioning the hiring of Morrissey's nephew as an investigator, who she contended was unqualified.
Career Service Hearing Officer Bruce Plotkin dismissed the whistleblower claim, ruling that Morrissey’s nephew was qualified. Still, Plotkin ruled largely in Schofield’s favor. He found that she should get her job back, and her discipline should be cut to five days’ suspension because the DA couldn’t back claims that she was an “unrepentant bully.”
Rather than appeal the hearing officer’s ruling or hire Schofield back, McCann settled with Schofield in March 2018 for $180,000, which covered back pay, lost benefits and $107,000 in severance pay.