On KOA's Gunny Bob, Trailhead's Philp continued distorting Ritter's record on crime

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

On September 5, KOA radio host "Gunny" Bob Newman failed to challenge several misleading statements made by Alan Philp, executive director of the Republican-backed Trailhead Group, regarding Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter's record as Denver's district attorney. As Colorado Media Matters and several media outlets -- including KUSA 9News and The Denver Post -- have reported, Trailhead attacks on Ritter's record are rife with distortions and falsehoods.

On the September 5 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Gunny Bob Show, host "Gunny" Bob Newman failed to challenge several misleading statements made by Alan Philp, executive director of the Republican-backed Trailhead Group, regarding Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter's record as Denver's district attorney. Discussing a recent anti-Ritter TV ad sponsored by Trailhead, Philp claimed Ritter was soft on crime because of Ritter's 97 percent plea bargain rate and a failure to "enforce the death penalty" while he was district attorney. Philp also stated that "Denver is now one of the most dangerous places in the Western United States," apparently because of Ritter's 12-year tenure as district attorney. But as Colorado Media Matters and several media outlets -- including KUSA 9News and The Denver Post -- have reported, Trailhead attacks on Ritter's record as Denver district attorney are rife with distortions and falsehoods.

Philp's comments on The Gunny Bob Show echoed claims made in Trailhead-sponsored radio and television ads that attack Ritter's record on crime. But at no point during the interview did Newman refer to previous criticism of those Trailhead ads by KUSA and The Denver Post.

According to a July 18 article in The Denver Post, a radio ad sponsored by the Trailhead Group "suggest[ed] that as prosecutor, Ritter was soft on crime because he plea-bargained 97 percent of his cases." Similarly, a recent television ad sponsored by Trailhead states, "While Ritter was Denver's district attorney, his office plea-bargained 97 percent of all cases."

As Colorado Media Matters previously noted, Ritter's 97 percent plea-bargain rate is similar to the national average. The most recent data from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics show that 95 percent of state court felony convictions, as well as 96 percent of federal criminal convictions, are obtained through plea agreements.

According to a September 1 KUSA 9News "Truth Test" analyzing the anti-Ritter ad, "District attorney offices throughout the [Denver] metro area reported similar plea-bargain figures, in the low-to-mid-90 percent range. The lack of courts, prosecutors and increased number of cases are to blame." The same 9News analysis also reported, "In Arapahoe County where Republican Carol Chambers is the District Attorney, the office had roughly 4,000 criminal cases filed last year and 120 went to trial. That means Chambers, who supports Ritter's opponent, Republican Bob Beauprez, also plea-bargained 97 percent of her cases."

During the same interview on The Gunny Bob Show, Philp also misleadingly stated that Ritter "plea bargained with murderers and sex offenders" and "that he did not enforce the death penalty" while serving as Denver district attorney. But as the 9News "Truth Test" points out, "Ritter, however, points to the fact that when he was District Attorney, his office sent more than 12,000 felons to prison and that just because a guilty plea was accepted for a lesser crime does not mean 'murderers and convicted sex offenders' were turned loose onto the streets immediately."

Similarly, The Denver Post reported in a September 4 article that "Trailhead has begun running ads touting the experience of Republican Attorney General John Suthers when he was district attorney of El Paso and Teller counties. But records obtained from those counties indicate Suthers -- at least during the final three years of his tenure -- sent fewer felons to prison than Ritter." The same article also stated that "Ritter's record for locking up felons exceeded the national average by nearly 3 percentage points, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice."

The claim that Ritter did not enforce the death penalty while district attorney is, according to 9News, "false." As the 9News analysis reported, "It is not up to the District Attorney's office to enforce the death penalty. In Colorado, that's now the decision of juries, and during Ritter's tenure, state law assigned that decision to both juries and three-judge panels." The same analysis also explained, "Ritter's office pursued the death penalty in seven separate murder cases during his time in office" but that "[o]n none of those occasions was his office successful in getting that sentence, but in each case, the defendant was found guilty and was given a life in prison sentence."

In addition to his distortions of Ritter's plea-bargain death penalty record, Philp also partially blamed Ritter for a purported rise in violent crime rates in Denver "over the last 12 to 15 years." According to Philp:

Denver is now one of the most dangerous places in the Western United States. The murder rate, the violent crime rates are all much higher here than, for example, in New York City and the nation as a whole. And one of the things that society and the United States should be most excited about over the last 20 years, one of our biggest public policy successes as a nation, has been tackling crime. Violent crime rates have been coming down. But Denver has not, over the last 12 to 15 years, really enjoyed in that success.

These claims are consistent with ones made in Trailhead's attack ad, which claims, "While crime rates across the country declined while Ritter was District Attorney, Denver's murder rate increased." But, according to 9News' "Truth Test," Trailhead, in this instance, is "comparing apples to oranges. Crime rates, even violent crime rates, are more broad than murder rates."

Using figures from the Department of Justice, 9News reported on September 1 that while "the [Denver] homicide rate was slightly higher in 2004 (15.4/100,000 people) when Ritter left office than in 1993 (14.8/100,000 people) when Ritter took over . . . what the [Trailhead] commercial does not point out is that federal crime statistics showed the murder rate went dramatically down to (5.8/100,000 people) in 2000 before sharply climbing again. The exact figures show Denver had 81 homicides in 1994 and 1995, 32 homicides in 2000 and 87 homicides in 2004." As far as violent crime rates are concerned, 9News stated, "It is important to note, the number of violent crimes in Denver declined from 1993 (5,252) to 2004 (4,490)."

From the September 5 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Gunny Bob Show :

NEWMAN: OK, now tell us about the ad -- it's a 30-second TV spot. Tell us what you say in the ad that has got the goat of Bill Ritter and the Colorado Democratic Party.

PHILP: Well, it mentions several things, Gunny. First, it mentions that he plea-bargained about 97 percent of all cases.

NEWMAN: Which he did do, because I have Bill Ritter's response right here and he says it was 97 percent.

PHILP: Yeah, in fact it might have been a little higher, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

NEWMAN: OK.

PHILP: It mentions that he plea-bargained with murderers and sex offenders, which he does not dispute. And it mentions that he did not enforce the death penalty. Um, our, and, apparently he takes issue with that, or the Democratic Party takes issue with that. Um, our documentation for that is quite simple. Um, he pursued the death penalty seven times in eleven-and-a-half years. Over that time period there were hundreds and hundreds of murders in Denver, so at best it's a one or two percent -- he pursued the death penalty in one or two percent of all murder cases.

NEWMAN: And those seven murders were Jon Morris, Jacques Richardson, Nathan Thill -- infamous name there -- Omar Ramirez, Cong Van Phan, Donta Paige, and Abe Habos. And those are the seven right there.

PHILP: Yeah, that's right, seven -- and I would also note that none of those were after 1999, in his last five years in office, no -- he didn't seek the death penalty once in his last five years --

NEWMAN: Why not?

PHILP: And he never successfully was able to get a death-penalty conviction.

NEWMAN: So he's batting zero for the seven times that he went for it?

PHILP: That's correct.

NEWMAN: And why -- any idea why, according to Trailhead Group, that he stopped going for the death penalty after '99?

PHILP: Well, we don't know the answer to that, there could be a relationship between the fact that he didn't seek the death penalty those five years and perhaps an overall bent towards plea bargains during that period that somehow contributed to the fact that crime rates suddenly soared in Denver during his last term. If you look at it, you know, you would never guess it, but in Denver -- Denver is now one of the most dangerous places in the Western United States. The murder rate, the violent crime rates, are all much higher here than, for example, in New York City and the nation as a whole. And one of the things that society and the United States should be most excited about over the last 20 years, one of our biggest public policy successes as a nation, has been tackling crime. Violent crime rates have been coming down. But Denver has not, over the last 12 to 15 years, really enjoyed in that success. And what we would ask Bill Ritter is, "why?" Is he solely responsible for that trend in Denver that counters the nation as a whole? No. But is he an innocent bystander? No. Should he explain why he thinks violent crimes have been going up in Denver over the last several years? Yes. And that's the point we're trying to make here.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.