After nixing police union rep, Aurora lawmakers create new task force scrutinizing cops

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Protestors gathered outside of the Mango House, June 6, 2020, to protest the treatment PJ Parmar received from Aurora Police during an encounter with APD in March. A new committee is focusing on potential Aurora police reforms. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A citywide task force assigned to look at police and community interactions in Aurora is officially set. Thirteen members were appointed to the recommending body during a special city council meeting Monday.

In a last minute move, city council members decided to remove the a representative from the police labor union from the task force. Marc Sears, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, was set to represent the union. Sears, an Aurora police officer, was reinstated in 2011 by the city’s civil service commission after being fired for being twice arrested on DUI charges.

Details on when the panel will meet are forthcoming, officials said.

Council member Nicole Johnston, who initiated the task force, said she asked the labor organization to replace Sears for the task force, but the request was denied. Council members Dave Gruber, Marsha Berzins and Francoise Bergan voted against removing the union representation. 

“As far as I’m concerned, they (FOP) removed themselves from this task force,” council member Allison Hiltz said during the meeting. Others echoed that view, highlighting that enough trust between the police department and community has been eroded.

Another amendment to the proposal added a member, which will be decided next week, and added a non-voting member. The council agreed to fill that spot with Police Area Representative Officer Virgil Majors, who is a member of both local law enforcement unions: the Aurora Police Association and the local FOP.

Sears was one of seven recommended task force members slated to represent a specific organization. Majors, his replacement will join the following organization representatives:

– Kevin Cox, a member of the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education.

– Thomas Mayes, pastor at Living Water Christian Center.

– Topazz McBride, a pastor at Recreation Christian Fellowship and former contracted treatment provider with county probation offices.

– Omar Montgomery, former mayoral candidate and current president of the Aurora chapter of the Aurora NAACP.

– Jessica Price, longtime teacher in the Cherry Creek School District.

– Jamie Ray, czar of civic engagement and community corrections liaison at the Second Chance Center, which provides housing for formerly incarcerated people on East 16th Avenue.

The task force will meet for the next six months and deliver recommendations to the council in January.

City staffers ranked the applicants before making a final recommendation to council members, according to city documents.

More than 50 people applied for the positions. 

On top of the seven task force representatives directly representing organizations across the city, council approved six individual appointees to the new panel.

The individuals include several members with previous or current ties to law enforcement, including multiple representatives from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, and several people who work with young people in various capacities across the metroplex. 

The individual appointees include:

-Robert Chase, a longtime sergeant with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and member of the group’s primary labor union.

-Lindsay Minter, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement staffer who currently coaches track and field in Denver and Aurora.

-Jeanette Rodriguez, a deputy with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office for the past 11 years and an associate pastor at the Mosaic Church of Aurora on Dayton Street. She was born in Venezuela.

-Jason McBride, a program assistant and education specialist with the Gang Rescue and Support Project, which works to strip people away from gangs across the metroplex.

-Kristen Pough, a 25-year-old member of the Aurora chapter of the NAACP who has been heavily involved in improving police and community relations for years. She was a Denver Public Safety cadet for nearly three years.

-Vicki Scott, the program manager of Aurora Youth Options, a program run out of the Aurora Mental Health Center.

City council members first approved the task force in February, but it’s been slow to start because of the COVID-19 and its impact on in-person meetings. The task force was born out Johnson’s call for an independent review board, which she said will be the major focus of the task force among other recommendations the members see fit. 

Nothing is off the table, Johnston said. Policy changes, possible ordinances and charter changes, which require a ballot question, are all within the scope of the task force. 

National cries for police reform after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have already had some impact in Aurora. Interim chief Vanessa Wilson announced a quintet of directives, including a ban on chokeholds, earlier this month. 

Locally, protests surrounding the death of Elijah McClain — a 23-year-old black man who died days after a violent encounter with Aurora police last summer — have been prominent in the city. In March, a videotaped encounter between a local physician and an Aurora police officer also drew protests.

The chokehold ban is also slated to go before a vote of the city council, which would codify the change. Other members have hinted more police reform measures are on the way. Included in the ban is maneuver known as a carotid hold, where an officer puts pressure on a carotid artery of person, causing them to faint.

Johnson said she’s pleased by those actions so far. 

“I’m very happy with the directives that came out because those probably would have been some of the recommendations the task force would make,” she said.