The phrase ‘It takes a Village’ has been used in different settings when referring to taking a multifaceted approach to solving a problem. When applying this proverb to the increased crime in Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln counties, one can quickly devise that there is no quick fix to the issue. Since 2013, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kellner of the 18th Judicial District has used his ‘village’ to steadily implement a complex plan of action to keep our communities safe.
Kellner is no stranger to understanding the importance of upholding the law for his country. He gained military experience in the U.S. Marine Corps, being deployed to places like Afghanistan where he worked with local prosecutors in Helmand province. After serving on active duty for 5 years, Kellner joined the Reserves. “When I finished active duty and returned home to Colorado, I knew I wasn’t ready to retire my boots. I’m now a Lieutenant Colonel in the Reserve and judge advocate with U.S. Northern Command,” stated Kellner.
During his early years in the Marines, he pursued a degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder Law School and met his wife. “Not long after leaving active duty, I accepted a job with the District Attorney’s Office in Boulder,” he said. “I tried a cold case there – a previously unsolved 1994 murder – that got some statewide attention.”
The case got the attention of a fellow servicemember, George Brauchler. “When George took on his position as District Attorney of the 18th Judicial District, he asked me to join the team,” he added. “I was one of George Brauchler’s Day One hires.”
Under the wing of the DA, known for prosecuting the defendant of the ‘Aurora Theater Shootings’, Kellner was thrown into working to uncover new evidence in cold cases. “My first 4 years in the office, that was my main experience and challenge” Kellner stated. “Our Unit was very successful and focused mainly to reexamine a backlog of unsolved homicide cases.” He then went on to supervise a team of prosecutors that handled roughly a third of the felony cases in Arapahoe.
More recently his expertise has allowed him to assume a bigger role. Five months ago, Kellner took on a position that oversees a sizeable portion of the district’s prosecutions. “I now supervise a team of prosecutors that handle all of the cases in Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties,” he said.
Managing cases in Arapahoe, and the surrounding counties of his jurisdiction have helped him gain an understanding of what the unique driving factors of criminal activity are in each area. For instance, some areas have significant gang problems. In those places, he knows that relationships with local law enforcement task forces are important.
“But the scenario might be different in another part of our jurisdiction,” he added. “There may be a ring of retail theft or auto theft…knowing the channels to use to find who is behind that crime is what I bring to the table.”
But batting the opioid epidemic is one thing that has remained constant throughout the jurisdiction. Kellner has made it a goal to continue to organize grand jury cases that target the manufacturers and people who have made it a business to distribute opioids and designer drugs.
“I understand how the law works and you need to go after the top of the food chain, not just the user, to have a real impact,” he said. “We also need to work to get people out of the addiction world, with the community rallying around them, with resources for counseling and treatment.”
In 2014, he was able to bring a new prosecution model into practice and see success when Kellner joined a team operating the Veteran’s Treatment Court, or VTC. Its mission was to support veterans charged with a crime who were struggling with mental health conditions, substance abuse, or brain trauma connected to their military service.
Kellner beamed, “A few dedicated people, along with the court, public defenders and treatment providers got together to tackle the problem of veterans in our justice system who suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injury – something related to the military service that has caused them to get into a life of drugs or crime.” And with only 1 percent of VTC graduates falling back into the system, he knows the program is working.
Along with veteran well-being, school safety is high on his list. With two children in the district’s elementary schools, he wants to push for more DA involvement when threats are made. “When a juvenile does something in school that is perceived as a threat, there’s a process that happens,” he continued, “I think the DA should be heavily involved in that assessment because we see things across the school districts and we know more about what trends are happening when it comes to school safety.”
He hopes to apply his knowledge and training to continue to further improve the legal system and promote safety in our communities. In 2020, with Brauchler terming out, the 18th Judicial District will have an open seat and Kellner, a Republican, has entered the race.
“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished under DA Brauchler, and I intend to build on that if I am elected as the next District Attorney of the 18th Judicial District. I will always prioritize keeping our neighborhoods and kids safe by seeking justice for victims and holding violent and dangerous offenders accountable while working to rehabilitate those who deserve a second chance.”