Aurora police Sgt. Charles DeShazer in a police body-cam video screen grab. DeShazier made a racial slur and was fired. His firing was reversed by a city commission.

Sifting out troubled officers and unsuitable police recruits has become a major focus in the struggle to reform Aurora’s Police Department, guided by a comprehensive consent decree agreement between the City of Aurora and the Attorney General’s office.

Stepping up efforts to recruit diverse candidates into the mostly white, mostly male department has been one result of the agreement.

The reform process has also involved a transfer of power away from Aurora’s Civil Service Commission — a panel of five Aurora City Council appointees established in 1967 to ensure the city’s police officers and firefighters are hired, fired and disciplined fairly.

Aurora is one of just a few Colorado cities to have a civil service commission armed with the power to reduce or veto discipline against police officers and firefighters. Until recently, it also had the final say in hiring first responders.

While the group has repeatedly expressed its commitment to the consent decree, commissioners have pushed back against what they see as infringements on the role carved out for them in the City Charter, questioning the attorney general’s understanding of their job at the time the consent decree was introduced as well as the city’s authority to dismiss the commission’s attorney earlier this year.

Members of the commission have argued that an independent and autonomous commission serves as an important check on the power of the police department. When asked whether he believes the other parties to the consent decree respect the independent role of the Civil Service Commission, Chairman Desmond McNeal said, “Probably not.”

“I don’t think they’re looking at it from our standpoint of the process needing to stay independent to avoid nepotism and things like that,” he said.

The commission is one of several government entities that play a part in holding Aurora police accountable, even though it has butted heads recently with the architects of the city’s consent decree.

Despite concerns about the group’s independence coming under threat, members can only be removed by a supermajority vote of the Aurora City Council, and while they no longer have the final say in police and fire hiring, they’ve retained the power to overturn discipline imposed by the chief of police.

McNeal said he is waiting to see how the changes to the hiring process impact recruitment before judging the new process.

Public perception of Aurora’s commission has changed over time — a blow to the group’s reputation came in 2018 with its decision to reinstate a police officer, Charles DeShazer, who made racially-charged comments at the site of an officer-involved shooting.

When Denver police chased a Black man into an Aurora condominium complex in June 2017, leading to a car crash and shooting, neighbors quickly gathered around the scene of the shooting and formed what city officials would later describe as a large and unruly crowd.

It was the type of tense situation that police officers are taught to handle with care, where saying or doing the wrong things can escalate a conflict. DeShazer, then a lieutenant, was one of the Aurora police officers who responded to the complex. Police secured the shooting scene, and DeShazer began talking with a sergeant about what had happened and whether the necessary officers had been notified.

DeShazer went on to describe officers’ efforts to contain the scene.

“We’ve got the Alabama porch monkeys all contained,” he said, apparently referring to the Black residents among the crowd.

The sergeant gasped and switched off his body-worn camera.

DeShazer had been reprimanded before for making inappropriate comments on the job, including comments of a “sexually offensive” nature, city officials later said. In 2006, a disabled Black woman also accused DeShazer of using a racial slur while arresting her and her daughter. The woman later received $175,000 in a settlement with the city.

While DeShazer was allowed to keep his job after the previous incidents, once the “porch monkeys” comment was reported internally, then-chief Nick Metz decided DeShazer had to go, firing him a few months later.

In many police departments, that would have been the end of it. But under the system used by Aurora and just a few other Colorado cities, DeShazer was allowed to appeal his firing to the Aurora Civil Service Commission.

He did so, and in June 2018, the commission drew national scorn for reversing Metz’s decision, inviting DeShazer back into the department.

Critics described the group as shielding bad cops, armed with the ability to unilaterally throw out discipline against officers. Reports prepared by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and consultant 21CP Solutions in 2021 noted the decisions regarding DeShazer and other officers as a source of animosity in the community.

21CP Solutions said community members described the group’s decision to reinstate officers involved in “highly-publicized, racially charged incidents” as “an ongoing betrayal of the values and expectations of the community it serves.”

They also wrote that “many” of the community members interviewed for its report “identified the authority of the Commission to override the Chief’s disciplinary decisions as undermining the ability of the APD to effectively manage its employees.”

The DeShazer decision led to something of a reckoning for the commission that became part of the broader push for accountability among Aurora police. Progressive Councilmember Juan Marcano and other elected officials started disseminating information about how people could apply for seats on the commission not long after in an effort to recruit a more diverse group.

Membership on the commission has since turned over completely, and today, half of the commissioners are people of color. The attorney general’s office wrote in September 2021 that the effort appeared to have improved the public’s confidence in the group.

“Community members expressed optimism about the Commission’s efforts to diversify its membership,” the office said, “but shared concern that those efforts would be insufficient to create actual change.”

In one notable example of the commission upholding consequences imposed by the chief of police, the commission voted last year to sustain the firing of former police union president Doug Wilkinson, who was dismissed for sending an email criticizing the department’s diversity policies in a way that commissioners said “denigrated and showed hostility toward women and minorities.”

Aurora’s police unions have expressed skepticism about the approach to reform outlined in the consent decree, particularly as it was undertaken by former police chief Vanessa Wilson.

Former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson at a rally supporting her after her ouster as chief last week. Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Wilson was fired last year following a 2021 vote of no confidence by members of the Aurora Police Association and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 49 and months of criticism by council conservatives.

Former commission chairperson Jim Weeks, who joined the group after the DeShazer decision, described the rejection of Wilkinson’s appeal as “entirely consistent with the philosophy of the commission,” arguing at the time that the commission had not lost the faith of the community or infrequently sustained discipline brought by the chief.

Weeks acknowledged the current commission for “carrying the torch forward.” But as it’s done so, the commission’s role has changed, spurred on by the reforms included in the consent decree.

Part of the decree directs the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue to take over more of the hiring process. Prior to April, the commission made the final determination of whether to hire a police candidate. Today, commissioners are in the minority on the oral interview panel that also includes agency representatives, a “citizen assessor,” and a city human resources employee available to break tie votes.

While the architects of the consent decree have said the change means police and firefighters will get the chance to meet and interact with candidates before extending a job offer, commissioners say police and fire reps sat in on interviews in the past and reached the same conclusions about candidates as commissioners.

McNeal described the place of the commission in the new process as an “oversight” role and said he welcomed the greater level of involvement from the police department.

“We’ve never kept them out of the process. But now that they own it, it’s like they’re more committed to it, which is good. They’re gonna get increased numbers that way, and that’s a good thing. That’s what everybody wants,” he said.

The power struggle between Aurora’s commission, police, the city and the firm hired to monitor the city’s compliance with the consent decree flared up earlier this year when the city decided to transfer background investigations out of the commission’s budget and dismiss its attorney.

Scotty Krob served in the role of the commission’s attorney during disciplinary hearings for  decades, until around April, when he was directed by the City Attorney’s Office to cease work for the commission.

The city says Krob was ultimately accountable to the City Attorney’s Office and that the dismissal had to do with a disagreement over the scope of Krob’s work.

Commissioners have questioned this version of events, saying they were given inconsistent explanations by the city and that the city attorney needed to remove himself from the process to preserve the integrity of disciplinary hearings.

McNeal said the commission is still exploring its options to push back on the firing of Krob.

“If you were to ask the commissioners, we would tell you that we don’t think the city attorney has the right to fire the commission’s legal counsel,” he said. “That process has to remain independent.”

Join the Conversation


  1. While I have disagreed away times with the Civil Service Commission’s decisions, I realize something that is never addressed by the media. The Commission is vital to preventing a closed system full of nepotism and dishonesty. I used to think that a fair and honest press was our protection against wrongs. A fair and impartial press went away long ago. We need an impartial press back.

    Working many years under many chiefs, I came to the realization that the chiefs were the problem. As sociopaths who gave no ethical guidance and did not train and supervise, they created most of our problems. During my time, I tried to train, lead, and supervise in an ethical way with concerns for all of the public and their property. At every step, I had to fight the police administration. Without Civil Service, I would have been terminated long ago. Civil Service is the protection for officers who stand up against evil within the department. The sociopath chiefs constantly strive to be all powerful. There is a real danger to that. All of the wrong things being done within the department will be unopposed when the chief is all powerful. If you really want an ethical, fair, and effective department, then the officers need to be able to question decisions made by the chiefs. If everyone is afraid to talk, the wrongs done by the chief erode the whole department. I was approached by an officer while eating with my wife. He told me that I was his lieutenant and that no one has had the courage to stand up since I left.

    I started the Police Area Representative program long ago to address crime problems in your neighborhoods. I understood all of the holes in policing and the fact that there was no one to care about your car being stolen, your mail being stolen, your car being vandalized, reckless driving and a variety of crimes that were considered low priority. I have been a detective, detective supervisor, crime prevention specialist (running neighborhood watch), and I have worked in all off the special units like SWAT, DART, gang unit, foot patrol and patrol. I realize the importance of real meaningful contact and relationships with the community. The program was meant to develop real relationships with the public while dealing with all of the crime problems in your neighborhoods and businesses. The chiefs have looked at the PAR program as a baby kissing unit where we just make nice in talking with the community to make them feel good. That is how they understand community policing. When I showed the plan for the PAR program and its gradual expansion to the City Auditor long ago, he said that it was the only long range plan ever presented by the department. I managed to get enough citizen support and the approval of Council to start the program. I also started the volunteer program within the department. My point here is that the chief and his cronies opposed the program and the Division Chief told me that they were going to teach me a lesson and make sure that the program did not work. The Division Chief told me that they were going to make the areas too big. So much for ethical conduct and concern for the citizens. The areas remain big and the program did not expand in a way to deal with crime in a meaningful way while reducing the need for overtime.

    My point is that if you want fair, honest, and effective policing, you need to open the department up and listen to the people who do the job. The last thing you want to do is to close the department off by severely limiting Civil Service. The worst people I have ever met in policing were those in charge. They were motivated only by self interest while putting on that caring face to the public. I have had them demonstrate such a lack of ethics and concern for the officers and the public that you would not begin to believe. You cannot give them more power. They are the problem. The people in the department know who is a racist and who should not be an officer. The bad eggs are protected by an atmosphere of fear and favoritism that is fostered by the all powerful chief. The officers cannot speak and tell you about the problems within the Department. You need to change that. There are ways. But you must not believe that killing the Civil Service is a good idea.

  2. I am the former CSC chairperson referenced in Mr. Levy’s article. Toward the end of my 3 year term there was a zoom call with the attorneys appointed by the State AG as the consent decree mandate went into effect. They had no interest in putting it on the record that the CSC after the DeShazer decision upheld 6 terminations for cause and several suspensions that were appealed to the CSC after the chief took disciplinary action. Look it up….the Decision Orders signed by me as chairperson are all available. There is factual truth and emotional truth. Weiser’s people chose the latter course at the expense of the former. The hard facts did not fit their agenda to neutralize the CSC….it’s as simple at that.

    1. Jim, with your information and input to the story I attempted to look at the records the city provides on line. As the title in the headliner says the “Aurora Civil Service Commission is the problem” The only records available on line within the city site regarding the cases the commission reviewed go back to 2022. There are only three folders listed. Acuti, Oviedo, and Wilkinson. No fire cases listed. Are these sealed for some reason after a year by the city? You can’t see anything more than the city has listed?

    2. Jim. You are entirely accurate with your comment about the Attorney General and his pursuit of emotional truth. The City has allowed itself to buy into that and as such has painted itself into a corner.

      One thing that has been continually overlooked in the past is the reason that Civil Service had to overturn the Chief’s discipline. Both the Police Assn and Civil Service could not ignore grievous violations of Department and City Rules. In many cases, the Department made it apparent that it was a vendetta where all of the rules were violated to “get” the officer. Often, the Assn would say that they agreed that the officer was guilty but all the rules had been violated to get the officer. As such, they were forced to defend the officer. My experience was that Internal Affairs was often used to get those they disliked and used to defend those in favor. I had friends who worked in IAU who told me that if the investigation cleared someone the Chief didn’t like, they were told to come up with a different conclusion.

  3. All cases were heard before CSC between 2/19 and 2/22. Media always had access to the Decision Orders and several were discussed on air….Huffine, Rosen, and the 3 officers involved in the infamous McLain photo shoot. I am sorry you can’t get the documents and am unaware of city policy on retention/disposition of those records. If I had a point of contact for you I would provide it but I don’t know who that person would be.

  4. Mr. DeShazer’s disgusting and racist comments were obvious and have no place in APD. And neither do the people that protected him in his career.

    Gee Max, were you inquisitive enough to find out why the 2006 incident in the King Soopers parking lot was n”NOT presented to the CSC by the City attorney? You certainly cited the incident in your article, right? Would that be a good question. “Hey City Attorney why didn’t you present that to CSC?”

    Gee Max, did you bother to find out if Mr. DeShazer went before a hand picked internal review board in the King Soopers incident; and that this board was formed and under the thumb of “King Dan Oates”.
    Gee Max, if he did go before that board, what was their findings?

    Gee Max, did you bother looking into the past performance reviews of Mr. DeShazer? And while you are at it you might want to look at past comparable disciplinary practices for other officers.

    Here’s an “A hah” moment for you Max. Maybe you should look into how the city attorney prosecuted this case. You know, like what was excluded and why?

    And maybe just maybe then will the ignorant socialist Marcano and others of his political bent have a true understanding as to what happened.

    No Max. I would submit to you the real story here and the beginning of the end started with the police brass that protected and rewarded people like DeShazer and a city attorney’s office that acquiesced in buying the bullshit of the “protectionists”, and then prosecuting the case based on a “house of cards.” DO YOUR HOMEWORK Max.

    1. I worked with the 4 Commissioners who heard the DeShazer case and they were victimized and frustrated by an inept case put on by the city attorneys. They knew about the King Soopers racially charged parking lot incident and the subsequent cover ups by APD to protect DeShazer. However, the city never introduced any of his prior bad racist behavior to the CSC. They could not legally or ethically take that information into account, just as a juror cannot consider information not presented in court by attorneys when deliberating guilt or innocence. Mr. Levy did not do his homework on DeShazer or the multitude of racism cases that subsequently came before the CSC after DeShazer where the chief’s termination disciplinary actions wer upheld. Mr. Levy also appears to have had a politically biased agenda and it is a troubling one like the way the State AG disregarded factual truth. Man Up is right on point.

      1. Oh I’m so sorry for being remiss and forgetting to mention how some of the “then City Council” members weighed in on the DeShazer decision without knowing any of the facts mentioned previously. Just like you Max.

        Really the only difference is that they may have violated the city charter by interfering with a CSC charter that establishes it as an independent body at arms length from the City Council. Ironically, the CSC’s independence really was set up to shield City Council from being blamed for CSC’s decision making process. Instead the then Mayor LeGare and other cowards on the City Council joined in the outcry of the decision not understanding a damn thing as to why the decision was made. Again Max, just like you.

  5. Max Levy, your continued fixation on blaming the CSC for hiring and discipline problems with APD is boring and tiresome. I was on CSC for 6 years and during that time, CSC worked closely with the police and fire departments to increase the number of candidates and increase diversity. As gender and ethnicity was not shared during the hiring process, this was a complex problem but always a priority. To ensure that the Departments played a role in hiring basic recruits, the Chiefs chose representatives from their departments to review candidate applications with the CSC.
    As for DeShazer, the CSC found his statement absolutely reprehensible and imposed the most severe discipline that had ever been imposed against an Aurora police officer for offensive language. He was demoted and suspended without pay for one year. Previous incidents which were as or more disgusting and inappropriate had occurred under Chief Oates and Chief Metz and had resulted in written reprimands or 3 or 4 week suspensions. Had the City Attorney included the information about the King Sooper’s incident, the CSC would have been able to make very different decision.
    The CSC, an independent panel of Aurora citizens, was established to ensure fairness in selection, hiring, and discipline in Civil Service members. CSC was designed to be fair and impartial. That is more than I can say about you, Matt Levy.

    1. Journalistic integrity 101….maybe Mr. Levy needs to take that course again. How hard would it have been to put this paragraph. or one like it, in his op ed if he had done his homework:
      “The DeShazer case was an aberration because the deciding Commissioners were not given the damning evidence they needed that told the full story of DeShazer’s behavior. This was in 2018. Since that time the city attorneys have done a much better job of case preparation. A review of the numerous disciplinary cases since then, 9 0r 10 in number, demonstrate that without exception the Commissioners have upheld the chief every time. The chief was the star witness every time and provided persuasive testimony. The DeShazer Commissioners may have never had that opportunity. The State AG was remiss and biased in not fact checking. As the saying goes for biased reporters….don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,

  6. Over many years at APD I saw numerous bad cops kept and some good cops discarded. It always came down to the Chief and their “close circle” Swamp group, this group changes with chiefs, but the worst one began under Metz and continues to run this department today, like the Swamp that runs the Federal Government. Chiefs come and go, but the officers know who really runs this department and they have to be careful as the group will be there well after the chief leaves. Civil Service protects officers not just from the Chief, but from this Swamp group, as they are a very vicious group with petty vengeful motives. Only civil service can protect, as many times the associations that exist at APD have Swamp members leading them. This always happens in tight Government agencies and no good change will ever happen until this Swamp Group is broken up. The last 4 chiefs fed this beast…..

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