Law Enforcement

Ex-Chief Vanessa Wilson Rips Aurora, Police Union Over Firing, Lawsuit Possible

Former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson during an April 11 press conference.
Former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson during an April 11 press conference. Denver7 via Facebook
During her first public appearance since being fired last week, former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson claimed at an April 11 gathering outside the Aurora Municipal Center that her dismissal was a result of political pressure from various parties, including the Aurora Police Association. In February, Wilkinson pink-slipped the APA's leader, Officer Doug Wilkinson, after he wrote and distributed a letter that mocked a state consent decree imposed on the Aurora Police Department for its history of racial bias and portrayed Aurora as filled with criminals, scumbags and people who apparently aren't American enough for him.

Speaking generally about the tough decisions she made in the name of reforming the department, Wilson said, "What I did is not popular. I understand that. Leadership is not a popularity contest." However, she stressed that "this isn't about me. It's about making sure we have leaders in the police department in this city, in this state and across the country that are willing to stand up to unions...and are willing to fire officers who are doing it wrong."

She made it clear that a wrongful termination lawsuit against Aurora is possible. "I am exploring all options," she said, before noting that her attorney, Paula Greisen of Denver-based King Greisen LLP, was present.

Plenty of other Wilson supporters were also on hand, with many stepping up to the podium before the fired chief, including Aurora City Council members Alison Coombs, Juan Marcano and Ruben Medina; gubernatorial advisor Maisha Fields (daughter of state senator Rhonda Fields, who represents Aurora); and Aurora Police Department Sergeant Paul Poole, who shared an anonymous letter from another Wilson backer on the force while expressing his hope that he wouldn't be an on-the-job retaliation target for standing behind her.

Still, Wilson was the main attraction, and she spoke passionately about her admiration for the APD and its members: "I want the community to know that this police department right now has men and women out there answering calls for service that took this oath not because of me, but because of what is in their hearts — and the vast majority of officers in the Aurora Police Department embraced the changes that are coming, are excited about the changes that the consent decree will implement: better training, better equipment, better support in implementing directives that show best practices. So believe in those men and women, because they're out there doing it for you right now, selflessly."

However, Wilson also emphasized, "We are commissioned to serve the community. We cannot have a police department that does not do that, that does not follow that aspect. ... I'm not talking about a mistake in directives, I'm not talking about failing to fill out a piece of paper. I'm talking about abusing individuals, I'm talking about lying on police reports. I'm talking about criminal behavior." Nodding toward the Aurora Municipal Center, she stated, "It cannot and will not be in that building."

After these remarks, Wilson invited questions from the media. The first involved why Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly sent her packing on April 6. "I can only go with what the city manager told me he fired me for, which was overall leadership and overall management," she replied. "To that, I say, 'Sir, you're very wrong.'"

She added: "I have to stand up for myself. I wasn't going to go quietly into the night. I wasn't going to accept a resignation and quietly walk away when I know what this is driven by. This is a political agenda, and there should not be partisan politics in public safety."

Wilson acknowledged that the reported records backlog was a problem but maintained that "we have been dealing with this for years. This is not a revelation. This was, for lack of a better term, a convenient moment for them to disparage me, and that's the bottom line."

Twombly "knew about the issues about records," she continued. "He may not have seen the...report until March 18, but he knew that there was a situation in records. We called for a police audit in records. He actually congratulated me and gave me kudos for bringing the issue to his attention, and to other city managers."

After a pause, Wilson said, "I feel for City Manager Twombly, and I'd like to give him some grace in this. I know he's under extreme political pressure, whether he wants to admit it or not. ... I know he has stood by me at many press conferences before, and he let me do the right thing. I didn't make decisions in a vacuum. ... I feel that the timing is such that he is being pressured, but that's just my opinion."

According to Wilson, the police union took an adversarial stance against her long before she canned Wilkinson. She cited the APA's reaction to her July 2020 sacking of officers who took insensitive selfies at the site where 23-year-old Elijah McClain had been brutally attacked by Aurora cops the previous August (actions that led directly to his death days later). "They put out a statement that I was unfit," she recalled, "and I was having a hysterical and emotional response — obviously because I was a woman, of course."

Westword has reached out for comment to the Aurora Police Association and the City of Aurora. See the complete press conference below, courtesy of Denver7:
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts