AURORA | Breaking from normal protocol during Monday’s city council meeting, Aurora City Council member Dave Gruber left the council dais and took to the lectern, typically reserved for citizens, to denounce protesters who removed U.S. and Colorado flags from the Aurora immigration detention center during a protest on Friday night.
In doing so, Gruber also charged three fellow council members with helping organize and lead the march in front of the facility, owned and operated by GEO Group Inc.
Council members Allison Hiltz, Crystal Murillo and Nicole Johnston were at the march and protest but said they weren’t involved in organizing the protest. Lights for Liberty organized the event in coordination with marches and protests across the country.
None of the three council members appeared to trespass or engage in what the Aurora Police Department has described as “illegal activity” when a small part of the crowd removed three flags in front of the facility. In their places appeared a Mexican flag, a “Thin Blue Line” police hero banner that had disparaging anti-cop graffiti, and a flag that condemned police officers.
“I am deeply saddened by these events. We recently commemorated the birth of our nation and the 50th anniversary of our landing at Normandy. The men and women who sacrificed
under our flag for so many years did so to honor their oath and Constitution,” Gruber said during a portion of the meeting set aside for the public to address city council on non-agenda items. “This Constitution is the same document that grants your right to defame the flag. But I can tell you this, if this action had taken place against our flag flying in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa or anywhere else Americans have been engaged in combat, these brave service members would have given their lives to keep it from happening. Not only did you hurt our citizens, you also hurt our veterans in our city, especially our citizens in the fire and police departments. They were told to stand down as these atrocities occurred.”
The women were not permitted to rebut Gruber’s allegations until hours after he made them.
Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz confirmed in a statement on Saturday that he told officers not to address the crowd. In the statement, Metz said a few people broke past the barrier, and hundreds of people separated from the overall peaceful protest, which attracted between 1,500 and 2,000 demonstrators, and overtook the area past the barriers that separated the GEO Group’s private property from the street where the protest was taking place.
“The decision to not intervene at the time was based on protecting the safety of the large majority who were acting peacefully, and the safety of the officers,” Metz said.
Metz said police are investigating the incident and will try to determine who committed any vandalism.
Mayor Bob LeGare said he supported Metz’s orders, as did council member Johnny Watson.
Gruber, a retired Air Force colonel, told the city council chamber he was speaking for himself and other veterans in Aurora.
“I’ve already seen backpedaling since our council members have discovered how much they have hurt the citizens of Aurora,” Gruber said at the podium. “I can hear arguments saying even though I gave a speech under the desecrated flag, it was not my doing. To this, I remind you that the masked men that attacked our flag were invited participants. They did not simply show up. Our council members were complicit in these acts, and we the veterans hold you accountable.”
The trio of council members had released a statement earlier on Monday condemning the actions of the protestors that desecrated the flag.
“Each of us has deep roots to the military and honor those who serve. We also are committed to speaking up against human rights abuses, even when a small group tries to distract from the issue,” the statement, posted on social media, said. “We also are committed to speaking up against human rights abuses, even when a small group tries to distract from the issue.”
Gruber’s speech — given during a meeting that was packed by members of the public attending to hear legislation on controversial oil-and-gas bills — garnered applause from the crowd.
At the end of the city council meeting, around 2 a.m., when council members were allowed to speak about Friday’s events, a number of council members condemned the desecration of the flag in addition to Gruber’s comments.
Hiltz said Gruber’s comments put the council members who attended the protest in danger, and that his comments were “blatant lies,” as her speech was given to a group of about 400 people who were sitting on the ground, hundreds of yards away from where the illegal protestors were.
Councilwoman Angela Lawson, who said she was told “to go back to the country she came from” in the days after the protest, said Gruber’s comments were an act of sexism. Johnston called Gruber’s speech “a theatrical performance” and called for an apology.
“My comments stand for themselves,” Gruber said in response.