APD Chief Wilson says she’s not resigning despite ploys to push her out

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AURORA | An attorney for Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said Thursday that the chief has no plans to leave the helm of the department, despite being pushed to do so by City Manager Jim Twombly.

Attorney Paula Greisen told the Sentinel that she reached out to the city attorney’s office about a week and a half ago on Wilson’s behalf to ask whether rumors of a conspiracy to oust the chief were true.

“There has been a campaign against Chief Wilson and the deputy chief orchestrated by certain members of city council,” Greisen said. “They have made it clear their priority is to push her out. They have called her ‘trash’ and said her termination is in the works, and there’s been an ongoing effort to demoralize and demean her.”

In January, Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky called Wilson “trash” on a regional conservative talk radio show and said she thought the chief should be removed from her position. Jurinsky later became the target of a censure attempt brought by councilmember Juan Marcano for her remarks.

Greisen said City Attorney Dan Brotzman told her at the time that he knew of no plans to ask the chief to step down.

On Monday, Greisen said Wilson was invited onto a Zoom call with Twombly in which the city manager said they needed to discuss an “exit strategy” for Wilson.

“Chief Wilson’s response was that she was not resigning and had no plans to resign,” Greisen said, “and that if the City of Aurora wanted to talk about that, they could contact me.”

Greisen said she had not heard from the city but said they have “her personal cell phone number.”

When asked by a Sentinel reporter Wednesday to confirm whether he had requested that Wilson submit her resignation, Twombly said he was “surprised” by the inquiry.

“This is kind of a volatile situation, and I don’t really have anything to say about it,” the city manager said before the call abruptly ended.

City spokesman Ryan Luby sent a statement shortly after in which he wrote that it would be “wholly improper for us to engage in speculative conversations on any personnel matter.”

“We remain focused on comprehensive public safety changes that are in the best interests of our community and employees. There have been and continue to be frequent discussions between city leadership and public safety leadership about progress on those changes,” Luby said.

“This is part of a campaign to force her out for her efforts to reform the police department and implement a court-ordered consent decree,” Greisen said. “She has had a laser focus on doing that since she took the position of chief of police.”

Others agreed.

“This is about politics and not about public safety,” said Councilman Juan Marcano.

He said Wilson has shown a great deal of courage in pushing back against those officers in the department who were caught abusing their power or abusing citizens.

“She is actually holding people accountable,” Marcano said. “She’s earned the respect and admiration of constituents across the city.”

Because of that, she’s become a target of part of the police department irked by Wilson’s demand for accountability among the ranks.

He said that Republicans on the city council, and especially those elected in November, pandered to a contingent of police determined to oust Wilson and install a chief who would once again look the other way.

“No one police chief is perfect ,” Marcano said. “But Wilson has been able to begin rebuilding the public trust in the city’s police. She stands up for her officers.”

Conservative councilmember Steve Sundberg, who serves on the council’s policy committee for public safety, said he was “out of the loop” regarding any discussions between Wilson and senior city management about Wilson’s resignation.

“All I can really say is I think she’s done a great job building trust with the community at a time when the police department needed it,” he said.

Aurora NAACP Chapter President Omar Montgomery said he had “strong concerns” about Wilson being asked to leave while the city is under a consent decree.

He compared the alleged scenario of council members conspiring against Wilson to the controversy that erupted earlier this year when some members of the Douglas County Board of Education reportedly colluded in private to fire superintendent Corey Wise.

“If there’s real issues with Chief Wilson’s performance, let’s talk about it as a community,” Montgomery said. “I have concerns that the community is not involved in these discussions.”

He said the departure of Wilson would result in the department “starting from scratch” as it tries to rebuild trust within the community.

“I think Chief Wilson is doing the best she can to mend these fences,” he said. “If anything, I’ve heard people say they like the direction she’s going with accountability. … We’re definitely in a very important time when it comes to what Aurora’s Police Department is going to look like.”

State Senator Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), who was a cosponsor of Colorado’s 2020 police reform bill, said she found Twombly’s actions baffling, and that Wilson needs more time to try and rebuild the community’s trust in the beleaguered department.

“Chief Wilson deserves a chance, not a resignation letter,” she said. “You don’t change culture on a dime, it’s like turning around a ship. I think it’s premature and I’m very disappointed.”

She wanted to know if city leadership has spoken to Wilson directly about whatever concerns they have with her performance.

“They want to ask her to resign because she’s holding people accountable for their poor performance?” she asked. “What are we supposed to do, have blinders on, and let (police) continue to do what they’re doing without oversight and leadership?”

Some were unsurprised to hear Wilson was being pressured to step down, arguing that she was “set up to fail” given the conflicting demands of officers, city leaders and community members seeking reform.

“I haven’t always supported all of the decisions she’s made, but I’ve seen her make changes in the police department in ways that no one else has been able to,” said Lindsay Minter, one of the members of a community task force on police reform that was established in the wake of McClain’s death and other police scandals.

“I feel like the amount of change she’s made in such a short time is scary for people, because people hate change,” Minter said. “She’s definitely done a good job of making everyone mad.”

Candice Bailey, a former City Council candidate and another member of the task force, said she thought Wilson had not met the community’s expectations for reform in the wake of the McClain case. But she also said she thought it was “virtually impossible” to do so given the influence of the two police unions.

Bailey was critical of Twombly’s leadership as well as the role Jurinsky may have played in pressuring the police chief.

“It is not something the community has asked for,” Bailey said. “I have heard the community say to remove the brutality and the culture of violence inside the police department.”

“What kind of pressure is Mr. Twombly under in order to make a decision that he has the sole right to make? … He just overrode the need for the community’s voice. He has slighted our community,” she said.

Denver7 first reported Wednesday evening Wilson would be resigning in the coming weeks. Earlier today, 9News reported that was not the case.

Wilson was appointed by Twombly in August 2020 after serving seven months as the interim chief following former Deputy Aurora Police Chief Paul O’Keefe’s withdrawal to lead the department through to its next leader. Aurora City Council members endorsed Twombly’s decision with a 10-1 vote, with Councilmember Angela Lawson casting the lone “no” vote.

Wilson is the first woman and first openly gay person to lead the nearly 750 sworn employees of the department. She started with APD in 1996 as a patrol officer, moving through the ranks and serving various roles with the investigations, intelligence and internal affairs units.

Upon being selected as chief in 2020, amid various police department controversies including the aftermath of the death of Elijah McClain, Wilson told the Sentinel she believed police brutality against non-white people was a “systemic problem” and that changing the department would take time.

“I can’t snap my fingers and have that happen,” she said.  

While Wilson, a longtime member of the Aurora Police Association, originally had the endorsement of the department’s chief bargaining union, the Fraternal Order of Police, the two organizations said in October that she’d received a “vote of no confidence” by a majority of the department’s sworn officers.

“She should be removed immediately,” former officer and APA head Doug Wilkinson wrote in an email to the Sentinel following the vote. He said he was irked by a then-recent call from Wilson to investigate an incident of officers that had been previously cleared of wrong-doing and called for the vote.

Wilkinson was later fired by Wilson for an email he wrote to fellow officers decrying the department’s diversity policies

Following the vote of no confidence, Aurora city management staff said the chief had their full support.

“…She was selected because we believed, and still believe, that she is the right person. She accepted and embraced her role knowing significant challenges were ahead,” Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor said in a statement. “She is responsible for making difficult and, at times, unpopular decisions to meet the needs of both employees and our community. Over the last 21 months, she has been a vocal champion for Aurora police officers while also making it clear that she supports implementing best practices…”

Sentinel Managing Editor Kara Mason contributed to this story. 

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Susan Carr
Susan Carr
1 month ago

Fire her

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

How-many times have you said that?

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

Vanessa has always been a cold sore, unwanted, bad for the image, useless, but hard to get rid of……..Parker too…ditto

Last edited 1 month ago by john wilson
Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  john wilson

Many disagree with your opinion.

Publius
Publius
1 month ago

Sure, make her a sacrificial lamb. She can pay for the sins of past chiefs, the city manager, and the city attorney.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Excellent! The beginning of the end for our unappreciated, (except for the socialist, Juan Marcano), Police Chief. The rank and file policemen will soon have their way; a new leader.

Next to go should be Jim Twombly. Make Jason B. the interim City Manager when Jim resigns and let him stay interim for a long time. Save $$ on a long search.

Then, next election, Juan Marcano, will be voted out along with his silly statements. By the way, Juan, it takes politics to get rid of a poor leader when that leader will not resign.

I wonder if the soon to be Ex-Chief has taken her girlfriend to develop their sun tans or decided to stay in Aurora to take the heat, here?

Thank you, Danielle, for starting this movement. The people who voted you in wanted this, I certainly did.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

We get it. You don’t like anyone who isn’t a trump republican.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Only one half correct, Joe, (usually you are totally incorrect), I’m not really a fan of The Donald.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Your assessment tells me I am spot on!

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

It doesn’t take any gifted clairvoyant taxpayer to see what’s next. Professional mouthpiece, Greisen,is already into the mix with the “exit strategy” for Wilson – code words for cha-ching! Wilson’s, take away from a settlement will be “confidential” and we will be told to be as happy as clams. We will be informed the city attorneys/ management have worked diligently and this one was hard earned but was a wonderful piece of negotiation

Nilta
Nilta
1 month ago

Thank you Chief Wilson! Do NOT give in to the new fascist council members, mayor, and despicable bigots who regularly post their hate on this paper’s site.

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago
Reply to  Nilta

You miss the root problem. Vanessa is an empty suit, so no surprise. The command officers who have always run this department just run it behind her puppet image. you have to clean out the corruption, they never do, never have.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

She’s done a great job of trying to get the good ol’ boys’ club under control, but they don’t like it. Too bad! The department needs to be gotten under control. The previous men couldn’t do it, so maybe it does take a woman. But the union is doing a good job of agitating in order to get her out. Instead, the rank and file should be concentrating on doing what is necessary to police themselves and thereby return trust, faith and respect to the department. We cry out for this!

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

The unethical and immoral leadership runs the department, they like to keep her as a puppet out in front while they ruin this once great department. she’s a face only

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago

Vanessa has always been a cold sore, unwanted, bad for the image, useless, but hard to get rid of……..Parker too…ditto

Jack
Jack
1 month ago
Reply to  john wilson

She makes good trouble. We don’t need you kind of ‘image’

BillyPatches
BillyPatches
1 month ago

Yes, fire the reformer, the first to bring true accountability, change and open honesty to the APD in many a year. Fire the uncorruptible. We will reap what we sow in terms of the quality of Wilson’s replacement. Only martyrs or moral weaklings may apply.

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago
Reply to  BillyPatches

You are missing the real root cause. Vanessa is an empty suit, she was never bright, so no surprise shes incompetent, but shes not in charge as you think. The executive command officers who have always run this department just run it behind her puppet image. you have to clean out the corruption, they never do, never have. I knew a lieutenant who told the former chief his first month there exactly that and he didn’t listen, look what happened to him and the department since then.

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago

Vanessa is an empty suit, just a figurehead. The command officers who have always run this department just run it behind her puppet image. you have to clean out the corruption, they never do, never have. I knew a lieutenant who told the former chief his first month there exactly that and he didn’t listen, look what happened to him and the department since then.

Jack
Jack
1 month ago

Big win for the racists who really run things.

Lou
Lou
1 month ago

The Chief of Police I feel has been continuously unfairly judged Give her the respect she deserves. Join her efforts to make Aurora a better!🙏

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
1 month ago

No one should be surprised if this triggers both a recall election and more riots, unfortunately.

It’s time for the union to grow up and admit that the problem is NOT with Chief Wilson. She’s taken on a thankless task and has approached it with admirable humility— a VERY rare quality among the city’s leadership.