AURORA | A few weeks after Aurora’s mayor designated him the face of a program to help homeless veterans, Nathaniel “Omen” Crawford said his comments about legislation banning urban camping in the city were what made some city council members fear for their safety and call for the group to meet remotely Monday.
According to Crawford, during a meeting with Mayor Mike Coffman at city hall last week, Crawford said that the city would pay “a street price” for the council’s support of the ordinance, which passed a final vote Monday evening.
“Neither you, nor I, nor anyone could reasonably walk down Colfax and call anyone there garbage, and walk away safe. This law is legally (labeling) these same desperate people that same way,” Crawford explained in a Facebook message Tuesday.
Crawford said Coffman interpreted his remark about paying a “street price” to mean that he “intended harm to the (municipal) center” and said he was subsequently locked out of the building.
Mayor Mike Coffman said through a mayor’s office employee that he had no comment on the situation. Other city lawmakers said they found Crawford’s comments menacing and concerning.
When asked whether he planned to harm city council members, Crawford insisted the only reason he was labeled as a threat was because the mayor wanted to prevent him from speaking during public comment.
“When I came to the hearing yesterday, I had a backpack. In that backpack was nothing but a rubber mask and a bag (of) gummy worms. What threat is the Mayor assuming from that, surrounded by armed policemen?,” Crawford wrote. “Was he afraid I’d do what (Will) Smith did, and smack him upside the head for his disrespect? Seems kinda…overstated as a threat, don’t you think?”
Crawford also asked why he wasn’t searched by police while present at city hall if he was viewed as a legitimate threat. He called Coffman a “coward” and said the mayor was making excuses for “taking away my constitutional rights all because he knows he’s doing wrong, and I’m vehemently against it.”
Crawford started meeting with the mayor after passionately denouncing Coffman’s camping ban Feb. 28, saying the city wanted to “sweep away” the homeless like trash rather than offer meaningful help.
The U.S. Army vet has been homeless in Aurora for about five years. The mayor’s office connected Crawford with resources through the Aurora Veterans Day Works Program after the Feb. 28 meeting, and the mayor posted about his enrollment on social media.
Crawford later said he can continue working through the program, which offers employment assignments through Aurora’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department, but that he was no closer to securing housing. He also said he was worried about being contacted by police while at work and about aid organizations being cautioned away from helping him.
Councilmembers on Tuesday confirmed that Crawford was the person that the group was concerned about when they considered meeting remotely rather than in-person. They said along with police that it was social media posts which came under scrutiny Monday afternoon.
Crawford’s public Facebook page includes posts warning that the camping ban was “a declaration of class war.” The vet wrote on March 24 that he had taken “what may be my final opportunity to say goodbye to the Mayor in person” and that he was “aware I will not only be a casualty of this war, I will most likely be the first after this decision is made.”
Councilmember Curtis Gardner said Crawford’s social media feed contained “thinly-veiled threats” against the mayor and the rest of the group.
“It was carefully worded, so it wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to kill a person,’” Gardner said. “It’s pretty clear to me what the implication was. I felt a little unsafe.”
Gardner attended Monday’s meeting in person. Another council member, Steve Sundberg, said the Aurora Police Department sent an email to the council alerting them to social media posts by Crawford. Regardless, Sundberg said he was glad most of the council and the public were physically in attendance.
“My take is there was increased security put in place last night, and you have to weigh being held hostage by these threats with conducting city business,” he said. “I understand how people feel a sense of anxiety from things like that, but the show must go on.”
Near the start of Monday’s meeting, Councilmember Francoise Bergan said she was attending remotely because of the perceived threats and said the council had considered meeting remotely as a whole.
“We heard from some staff members that were extremely, extremely concerned,” Bergan said at the time. “Some of the things you look at are intent, motive (and) resources. And I think all three of those things were present.”
She said council members asked Monday afternoon whether a restraining order could be put in place, and that the city attorney’s office said there was not enough time.
Signs announcing that the meeting would be entirely virtual were posted at one point outside of city hall.
Elizabeth McGregor, a public information officer with the Aurora Police Department said the department was “aware of some concerning social media posts that were directed toward the Aurora City Council,” not naming Crawford.
“We are looking into the remarks that were made,” McGregor wrote in an email. “Out of an abundance of caution there was an increased police presence at last night’s meeting. Due to the ongoing investigation we cannot give specific details at this time.”