In The Blue is a project of the Sentinel Colorado Investigative Reporting Lab. The Lab’s mission is to engage with readers, journalists, decision makers and citizens around impactful accountability reporting that serves all communities of Aurora. The series is an extended look at local police reform and related issues.
AURORA | Members of Aurora’s Civil Service Commission say they were aware of Matt Green’s involvement in the 2019 incident that caused the death of Elijah McClain and stand by their choice to reinstate the officer in December.
Green resigned from the Aurora Police Department and joined the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in July 2021 after his role in McClain’s death was made public. While McClain was restrained on the ground by Aurora police, Green threatened the 23-year-old by saying he would have his police dog bite McClain.
Harold Johnson, who chaired the commission when it approved Green’s re-hire late last year, said his first thought when he heard about Green’s threat toward McClain was of the use of police dogs to terrorize civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s.
“When they said that he brought the dog, my mind went directly to that police officer’s snarling German shepherd, where he’s holding it up, and it’s on his hind legs, looking like a wolf, and getting ready to bite a person,” Johnson said. “When we initially started, I said, ‘No, he can’t come back.’”
But because Green did not follow through on his threat, and because Aurora police say the threat of unleashing a dog is an acceptable way of discouraging resistance by detainees, Johnson and other commissioners said, the commission ultimately supported allowing Green to return.
“The dog was never deployed. It never came out of the car. Officer Green … was not screaming and hollering, or cussing, or beating up and putting knees on people,” Johnson said. “(The media) sensationalized things. If he deserves to not come back or be fired, then everyone who was on scene has to be fired.”
An independent panel tasked by the city with analyzing McClain’s fatal encounter with police wrote in a 2021 report that Green was disciplined and removed from APD’s K-9 unit following the incident.
Community leaders and activists slammed the decision to reinstate Green last month, warning that it would undermine efforts to reform the city’s troubled police department. McClain’s mother said in response to the news that “everyone that was there that night and did nothing to help my son stay alive are all accessories to my son’s murder.”
Green was not among the officers and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics indicted in 2021 for criminally-negligent homicide, manslaughter and other crimes in connection with McClain’s death.
Through a records request, The Sentinel learned that the commission voted unanimously on Dec. 13 to reinstate Green. Desmond McNeal, who replaced Johnson as chairperson at the end of December, said the decision to reinstate Green “was not taken lightly.”
“I can tell you that I voted ‘yes,’” McNeal said. “First of all, we have a problem finding police officers. But there was also nothing in the paperwork to tell me that I shouldn’t reinstate this guy. … That (threat) was common practice at the time that he did it. So he didn’t operate outside of the rules and regulations of the police department.”
He and city staffers said reinstatements, as well as entry-level police hires and lateral hires, go through a multi-stage process involving an evaluation of candidates’ employment history, driving record, criminal background and other documents.
Once a candidate applies to become a first-time cop in Aurora, the city’s corps of nine civil service investigators — all former metro-area police officers, according to city spokesman Matthew Brown — begin looking into the individual’s background.
Investigators consider records from the Department of Motor Vehicles, U.S. military and courts, along with a candidate’s credit history and presence on social media, Brown said. The candidate’s birth certificate, high school and college transcripts, and vehicle insurance and registration are also verified.
Investigators also review job suitability reports and the results of polygraph tests as well as interview character references and past supervisors.
As for applicants for civilian jobs and applicants who work currently as officers at another agency, Brown said the Aurora Police Department conducts background investigations in a manner similar to the civil service investigators, which he described as a “complete and thorough background investigation process.”
The commission is less involved in processing these applications, tasked only with verifying qualifications related to state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board certification and checking whether or not the candidate has accumulated three years of related experience in the past four years, as required by the City Charter.
Prospective reinstatements, including Green, go through an investigation by the police department where records related to a person’s personal and professional background are examined, including:
• National Crime Information Center / Colorado Crime Information Center criminal and civil histories.
• Colorado Courts criminal and civil histories.
• Police decertification database information.
• Past Aurora police internal affairs files.
• Local, state and national police databases and records.
• Financial information, including open and closed bank accounts, history and statuses; payment histories; bankruptcies; past and present debts assigned to collection agencies.
• Social media and internet information.
• Fingerprint records.
• Employee evaluations from the two years prior to the candidate’s reinstatement request.
• Driving records.
• Information included in the department’s records management system.
Brown said police also interview the candidate’s current law enforcement agency or employer supervisor as well as their past APD supervisor, along with current and former coworkers listed as references.
Once the background investigation process is complete, the results of the investigation are presented to the city’s Civil Service Commission. For entry-level hires, if a candidate is approved to progress in the process, they would next be interviewed by commissioners and police.
For reinstatements, the results of a background check are also presented to the commission, which along with the police chief and deputy city manager has the discretion to require further screening or request an interview. Commissioners said no interview was conducted in Green’s case.
Aurora police could not immediately confirm whether the department’s internal canine policies had changed since the McClain incident.
Other recent changes mean that the Civil Service Commission’s role in the hiring process will soon be scaled back, with more power vested in the police department itself, but at least for now, the commission has the final say in hiring newly-certified and returning cops.
Reinstatements currently require candidates to receive a letter of recommendation from the
deputy city manager and Aurora’s police chief — in Green’s case, Jason Batchelor and Dan Oates.
McNeal and commissioner Barb Cleland both said Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky, who was elected in November 2021, was also among those who recommended Green.
“There were just a lot of people that had sent letters in saying that he had done a great job,” Cleland said. “And his background, when we did the background check, it was fine.”
While the commission’s rules don’t bar city council members from submitting recommendations on behalf of candidates, McNeal said the intervention of Jurinsky in Green’s hiring made him uncomfortable.
“I was the first one to say in the group, when I saw the packet, that it seems inappropriate that a city council member’s name is on here,” McNeal said of the materials presented to the commission regarding Green.
Commissioners are appointed by a majority vote of the City Council and may be removed by a supermajority of eight. One of the purposes of civil service commissions such as Aurora’s is to ensure that the hiring of police and firefighters is a merit-based process that takes place without meddling from elected officials.
“You could make the argument that some of the people in the room might say, ‘Oh, there’s a council member’s name on here. They want this to happen.’ … The question becomes, if we don’t do it, what happens?,” McNeal said.
Providing context for McNeal’s concerns was Jurinsky’s reaction to the firing of police officer and then-Aurora Police Association president Doug Wilkinson in 2022, after Wilkinson mocked the department’s diversity policies in an email to other officers.
Former police chief Vanessa Wilson has alleged in a lawsuit that Jurinsky asked her to reverse the firing of Wilkinson, which Wilson declined to do, and that Jurinsky retaliated against Wilson for this and Wilson’s other efforts to promote police reform by orchestrating Wilson’s firing.
A few days after the commission upheld Wilkinson’s firing, writing in its decision that the former APA president had “denigrated and showed hostility toward women and minorities,” Jurinsky asked about the logistics of dismissing commissioners in a council committee meeting.
Jurinsky did not respond to multiple attempts by The Sentinel to set up an interview.
The Sentinel has formally asked the Aurora Police Department for all application information submitted by and on behalf of Green. Currently, the agency estimates that requests submitted under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act will take 24 weeks or longer to process.
Green applied for reinstatement during the administration of former interim police chief Dan Oates. Aurora’s current interim police chief, Art Acevedo, said he did not learn of the hiring of Green until after it would have been possible for him to get involved in the process.
Acevedo said the decision to threaten McClain with a police dog was an example of a common though controversial tactic used by police across the country to stop individuals from fighting officers. However, the chief also questioned whether McClain was actually resisting police at the time Green made his threat.
“I can’t tell 100 percent, but it doesn’t appear to me that Elijah McClain is doing much in terms of resistance,” he said. “I really didn’t see it at that point. It almost appears like he was already pretty much under control. … If he’s completely restrained and under control, that would not be a circumstance in which you would use that tactic.”
The independent panel behind the 2021 report on the McClain incident wrote that the conduct of nearby officers indicated McClain was not resisting at the time Green made his threat.
One of the officers restraining McClain had only his left hand on the 23-year-old as Green spoke, while adjusting his badge with his right hand. Another one of the officers who initially responded was cleaning his hands with a wipe.
“Neither officer’s conduct suggested any movement or resistance from Mr. McClain during this time,” the panel wrote. “The body worn camera audio did not reflect any sounds suggesting movement or vocalizations by Mr. McClain.”
Acevedo said he understood why community members were angry, but that the department didn’t want to “hide” Green by assigning him to a non-public-facing role. He said Green was resuming the duties of a normal patrol officer.
The chief said he hoped the public would not judge the majority of Aurora police for the controversial personnel decisions made last month, which also included the promotion of Nate Meier, who in 2019 escaped DUI charges after passing out drunk behind the wheel of his police vehicle.
“We should not paint them with a broad brush based on the decisions of the leaders. I don’t think it’s fair to those men and women,” Acevedo said.
Most if not all commissioners, however, stand by their choice to allow Green to return to the force.
Cleland said that if Green had demonstrated a pattern of problematic behavior while serving as an Aurora police officer or later as a Douglas County deputy, they likely would not have allowed him to return.
“If we had seen in his background that he’d been written up, he probably would have not been allowed to come back,” Cleland said. “But he had a very good record with APD. And he had a good record in Douglas County. And those are the things we look at. It was even a comment that, in Douglas County, he asked questions about situations. To us, that was like, ‘Well, you know, maybe he learned something.’”
The Sentinel last week submitted requests for available internal affairs records involving Green to APD and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. As of press time, those requests were still pending.
In The Blue series is produced by Sentinel staff journalists Max Levy, Philip Poston, Carina Julig and Kara Mason with investigative journalists in residence Brian Howey and Trey Bundy.
It’s really too bad that Dave Perry, never found out how the Civil Service process worked vis a vis the Civil Service Commission (CSC) before criticizing numerous CSC decisions over recent years.
Dave, perhaps you will now take a “page”, from the above article, before writing about past, current, and future CSC decisions.
Next time do yourself, the readers, and Aurora residents a big favor; learn the facts before putting pen to paper!!! You know things like, gee why did CSC make the decisions they did. What were the decisions based on? What facts were the Commission made aware of, or had to be excluded? And why? No charge for the above tutorial to help you do your job.
Mr. Gorin is spot on. One thing neither the Sentinel nor the public in general seem to grasp is that when Commissioners conduct a disciplinary hearing they must have the same mind set as jurors in a court proceeding. They must do their best to focus their attention on only what transpires and is presented in in the hearing and apply the preponderance of the evidence standard….i.e. which party has met the 51 percent threshold to prevail. If a Commissioner has information that could sway his or her decision either way, and it is not presented in the 4 corners of the hearing, it must be discounted. You readers who have served jury duty should especially understand the importance of an open mind and considering only the testimony and evidence presented by the attorneys in a jury trial.
It is refreshing to see something more factual out of the Sentinel. Unlike the Dave Perry editorials where he said that the officers tortured Elijah McClain while they were holding him down, we see that they had him on his side with one hand on him while they waited for rescue to check him because they had used the carotid control hold on him. Nothing excessive was happening to him and there was no reason for anyone else to intervene. The whole incident was tragic but not criminal. The stupid statement by the canine officer was inappropriate and poor judgment but not reason to fire him. Counseling and/or discipline, yes.
“because they had used the carotid control hold on him. Nothing excessive was happening to him”…Do you…do you really not see it? They put an innocent man who was walking down the street, minding his own business, in a choke hold causing him medical distress, then overdosed him with ketamine and killed him. Right…nothing excessive..
All he had to do was stop and answer a few questions
Healthy public sector agencies have the 3 Rs working in their favor….Recruitment, Retention and Respect. Quality people want to work for you, stay with you and know their work is valued by the agency’s stakeholders. APD is suffering in all 3 areas. Reinstatement requests are a band aid and also infrequent. During my 3 years as a CSC Commissioner I think I helped adjudicate only a handful of reinstatement requests.. Those 5 Commissioners who approved Green’s reinstatement had every right to expect the Oates peformed due diligence and vetted Green.. They also had every right to expect the Deputy City Manager endorsed Green’s reinstatement only after having assurance from Oates the McClain K9 incident was not a reason to deny the reinstatement request. I served with 3 of the Commissioners who approved the reinstatement request. They were each solid and ethical individuals dedicated to administering the merit based public safety program mandated by the City Charter. As a side note, city leadership is making a major mistake by scaling back the power of the CSC. Those civlian Commissioners represent the 400k residents of Aurora and their ability to function in an apolitical and independent manner should not be diluted or compromised.
3 RRRs sadly lacking in City Council (especially Coffman), and APD
Debra, your intellect is showing again and your never ending hatred of our Mayor. The 3 R’s do not fit for elected officials.
Dick, your misogyny is showing again. You seriously need to get a life and find a better way to enjoy it.
Wait, what is this? She is reaching up her sleeve. And there it is … the woman card! Well played.
Tired of the B’s run to other agencies is how you try to cover your face. U are still crooked! And we have laws that will catch up to u! Evil is Evil can’t change that. We are watching all racist cops . True Police Officers have nothing to worry about thay are pure Hearted! Know a few very Good officers! Can’t contain evil and it will bust out. And I will be right there! Bet on it! My new job.
abominable that Douglas Co. hired him, and worse that Aurora would hire him back. Vote out Coffman, & get rid of leaders of APD that refuse to make vitally needed changes in recruitment, training, leadership at APD to meet the decree governing it
You need to stick to your social work, Debra. Pretty obvious that at least two governmental agencies think differently from your way of hiring police officers.
Or was your comment only to bash our Mayor, again?
You want a better police department then vote out the socialists on Council that do not seem to even like any police department.
Elijah was killed by his mother and father’s lack of parenting. There is no justice in Aurora as they became millionaires for his passing. I hope your parents have taught you to stop and listen when a policeman stops you for any reason, just or unjust. Maybe the police officers in your family can give you advanced lessons in this area.
I wonder, if it’s true, that the police officers in your family appreciate you calling any other police officer a POS, and implying the complete APD is the same POS. That’s what I find pathetic about your comment.
You could use some social worker’s help in defining your understanding of “pathetic”.
Shut your d*** mouth, Dick. Don’t speak his name or assert you know anything about his life before it was taken from him.
That is true. All Mr McClain had to do was stop.
I have been stopped by the police because I fit a description of a perp of a crime that happened the day before. I ID’d myself and said I was at work the day before, and the crime victim came to look at me and said no, not me. The cops told me thanks for your time and that was it. I went on with my day.
When the police recieve a report of suspicious behavior in a high crime area they poceed with a mindset that is on a path towards confrontational outcomes. had dispatch put the call out as “anomolous behavior worthy of obsevation and evaluation” perhaps the mindset would have been different and thus the outcome.
Why are people like you so fixated on changing the language to obfuscate and exonerate behavior?
A criminal is a criminal–not “an individual who is justice system involved.” “Anomalous behavior worthy of observation and evaluation” is simply “suspicious.” Latina and Latino are not “Latinx.” All this reframing and renaming is just plain “sensically challenged.” IOW, stupid.