AURORA | A spokesperson for the City of Aurora clarified Tuesday that officials will heed requests from a trio of fired Aurora police officers to close their upcoming appeal hearings to the public.
City spokesman Michael Bryant said Officers Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich and Jason Rosenblatt asked city officials to bar the public from listening to their hearings before the city’s three current civil service commissioners in the coming weeks. Per the city charter, officials will honor those requests, Bryant said.
“It is part of city charter that the appellant has the right to express a desire to close the hearing to the public, which is the case for both of these hearings,” Bryant wrote in an email.
Rules and regulations for the Civil Service Commission state that petitioners seeking to appeal discipline rendered against them can clarify whether they want their ensuing hearings open or closed to the public.
Dittrich, Marrero and Rosenblatt are all appealing Police Chief Vanessa Wilson’s decision to fire them earlier this summer after the group was implicated in a photo scandal mocking the death of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old massage therapist who died days after officers detained him on a north Aurora sidewalk in August 2019.
Dittrich and Marrero posed in the photo with fellow officer Jaron Jones last October, imitating the carotid control used on McClain.
Jones resigned from the department the day before Wilson announced her disciplinary recommendations. Rosenblatt, one of the three officers who originally detained McClain, was fired because he responded “haha” upon being texted the photo.
The trio slated to go before the Civil Service Commission in the coming weeks lodged their appeals with the city shortly after Wilson levied her terminations on July 3.
Rosenblatt is slated to stand before the civil service commissioners on Jan. 21 and 22, according to Bryant. Dittrich and Marrero are scheduled for hearings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
The hearings were originally scheduled to be held in December, though city attorneys cited delays in the court system spurred by the pandemic as a reason to postpone the proceedings until 2021. Dozens of activists from across the country called in and gave public comment at the public meeting when the hearings were originally slated to take place on Dec. 8.
Counsel for the commission characterized the hearings as quasi-court trials at the meeting last month. However, there is no opportunity for the public to file a motion or request for expanded press coverage asking a judge to grant media or public access to the proceedings. Such practices are standard procedure in the vast majority of legal proceedings held across the state.
Commissioners will issue a written report outlining whether they agree to uphold or overturn Wilson’s decision to terminate the officers. That process could take “a couple of weeks,” according to Bryant.
The city publicly broadcasted another high-profile appeal hearing via Zoom last year, when former Officer Levi Huffine asked commissioners to reconsider his own firing in October. Huffine was fired for failing to intervene when a handcuffed woman fell on the floor of his police cruiser and begged for help.
Commissioners unanimously upheld Wilson’s decision to terminate Huffine.
Huffine’s proceedings before the civil service commission were public, though he later sued the city, claiming officials botched his hearing and unfairly painted him as a racist.