Judge Mark Thompson pleads guilty after threatening stepson with rifle

Thompson will serve 1 year of unsupervised probation for the reduced misdemeanor charge

Kelli Duncan
Vail Daily
Judge Mark Thompson, then chief judge of the 5th Judicial District, presides over a hearing at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge on April 28, 2021.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

Fifth Judicial District Judge Mark Thompson pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a Class 2 misdemeanor, on Friday, Jan. 14, after he threatened his stepson with an “AR-15 style rifle” last summer.

Thompson accepted a plea deal negotiated between his defense attorney and Brian Hassing, a special prosecutor from the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which lowered his original charge from felony menacing to disorderly conduct.

As a result, Thompson was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation given his lack of a criminal history, Judge Sean P. Finn of the 17th Judicial District said Friday. Thompson will also be required to forfeit the firearm involved in the crime.

The joint plea and sentencing hearings held Friday gave more information into the July 25, 2021, incident that led the charge to be brought against Thompson.

It all began when Thompson got into a “very heated verbal confrontation” with his 22-year-old stepson, Finn said.

The argument started in the street in front of Thompson’s home in Summit County and continued inside of the residence. It was at this point that Thompson “recklessly displayed a firearm,” causing his stepson to flee the home.

Thompson’s stepson called 911 a few minutes later and conveyed that the incident had put him in “fear of imminent serious bodily injury by use of a deadly weapon,” as noted in a criminal complaint released to the public in October.

After entering his guilty plea, Thompson was given the opportunity to speak before Finn prior to the judge handing down his sentence.

“I’m not here to offer excuses or explanations,” Thompson said. “I behaved badly and am accountable for that as reflected in my plea today. I am humiliated and embarrassed.”

“As a husband, father, stepfather, lawyer and judge, I have long believed in certain values including self-discipline and tolerance, and I fell short of my commitment to those last July,” he added.

Thompson first apologized to his family, “especially my stepson.”

“I let them down,” he said. “To their everlasting credit, they have responded with grace, forgiveness, love and support. … The last several months have been incredibly difficult but have also proven to be an opportunity for my family to heal and to grow.”

Defense attorney Abraham Hutt said Thompson’s stepson had agreed to vacate a protection order he had filed against Thompson following the incident.

Thompson’s stepson did not attend Friday’s hearing, but Senior Deputy District Attorney Hassing said the stepson had an entirely different outlook on the situation in their most recent conversation.

“Basically, he told me that this is a new year, that this is all about forgiveness,” Hassing said. “He said that his mom, the defendant and he had a sit-down conversation fairly recently, that everybody in the family is excited to move forward as a family unit and reconcile.”

Hutt thanked Hassing for working with him and his client to come to a plea agreement that they felt was appropriate given the entirety of the situation, “including some very intense stressors that Judge Thompson and his family were under at the time of this.”

Later in his statement, Thompson addressed the elephant in the room — the responsibility he bears in representing the 5th Judicial District, formerly as the district’s chief judge and currently as a judge on paid leave.

“I know that this entire situation puts everyone in the justice system in a very uncomfortable position,” he said. “I am sorry and very grateful for the professionalism that everyone has shown.”

Finn thanked Thompson for taking responsibility for his actions and for the impact they may have on public trust in the local criminal justice system.

In the facts of the case read aloud by Finn during Friday’s hearing, it was noted that the 911 call and initial investigation of the incident was handled by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

“After that department determined that Mark Thompson was the chief judge for their judicial district and that further investigation was required, it recused itself and had the case assigned to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation,” Finn said.

The 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and 5th Judicial District judges also recused themselves, arranging for the appointment of a special prosecutor (Hassing) and judge (Finn) to handle the case.

Court records were initially suppressed in the case at the request of 5th Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum, who argued in her motion that the “release at this time of any of the documents of record in this matter could … jeopardize the ongoing investigation and/or interfere with the rights of the defendant, including irreversible harm to reputation, and the defendant’s and the people’s right to a fair trial.”

The records were unsealed “immediately upon the assignment of the special judge” and released Oct. 20.

As a condition of his probation, Thompson will be required to continue with the anger management treatment he has been undergoing since the July incident. Thompson’s progress in completing this treatment will be communicated with his therapist, with special prosecutor Hassing and with the court.

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