Independent monitor lauds cooperation, criticizes Aurora Police force review board in first report

1216

EDITOR’S NOTE: A subheadline in this story, now replaced, mistakenly referred to the number of reform mandates met by the city. Aurora has met 9 mandates of 36 reviewed so far by the independent monitor. We regret the error.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser last year explaining a new consent agreement with Aurora to oversee its police and fire departments. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A risk management firm has issued a mixed assessment of the work done so far by Aurora’s police and fire agencies to enact numerous public safety reforms, specifically criticizing how police evaluate uses of force.

IntegrAssure was chosen in February to help the city monitor its progress toward the reforms outlined in a type of sweeping agreement called a consent decree with the state attorney general’s office last year.

The agreement came following outcry over the death in custody of Elijah McClain and after the attorney general’s office investigated the Aurora Police Department and found officers were using force disproportionately against residents of color and that paramedics had been administering sedatives inappropriately.

IntegrAssure’s report — prepared after the end of the first monitoring period, which lasted from mid-February through mid-May — praised Aurora and its public safety agencies for their cooperation in the reform process.

“During this initial period, the City of Aurora and its constituent agencies have cooperated fully with the Monitor and have begun working on, and in some cases have made great strides toward, the implementation of the mandated reforms,” IntegrAssure wrote in its report.

However, the monitor also specifically criticized the shortcomings of the police department’s Force Review Board, a panel of police officers that evaluates significant uses of force based on documents and body-worn camera footage, as well as a lack of coordination while developing new policies.

Even with a Force Review Board, the monitor recognized a need in the department for “not only in-depth investigations, but investigations and reviews which are done with an extremely critical eye, in order to make both the Department and individual APD officers better, and better protect officers and the public alike.”

IntegrAssure wrote that police and fire department leadership along with “the vast majority of rank-and-file members of each department with whom we have spoken” recognize the need for reform.

Former APD Chief Vanessa Wilson shows one of two photos of the three police officers mocking the death of Elijah McClain at the site of McClain’s 2019 encounter with APD, during a July 3 2020 press conference discussing the photos in question. The incident let to widespread outrage and distrust of the police department. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Aurora residents don’t trust police and fire responders

One of the persistent drivers of reform — identified in the report as well as in the investigation by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that laid the groundwork for the decree — is the community’s lack of trust in its police force.

In May, IntegrAssure used a survey firm to poll residents on their feelings about the local police and fire departments, using the randomly selected cellphone numbers of Aurorans that IntegrAssure founder Jeff Schlanger later said were culled from a commercial database. In total, 1,164 people completed the survey.

The poll was taken nearly two months after the firing of Wilson in early April. Wilson has alleged the firing was politically-motivated and fueled by resentment from conservative politicians and union leaders who opposed her approach to police reform.

City Manager Jim Twombly has said the decision was made in response to unspecified failures of management. Dan Oates was selected to serve as interim chief later that same month and began his second stint as chief in June.

Wilson has been credited by reform advocates with rebuilding trust and credibility among the public. The survey did not address Wilson’s firing.

Poll results showed that negative feelings about Aurora police were reported more frequently than positive feelings, with just 34% of all survey-takers saying the police department was doing a good or excellent job, compared to 44% who said it was doing poorly or very poorly.

People of color were also less likely than whites to express a high opinion of the department, with 38% of white respondents saying they thought the department was doing good or excellent work compared to 35% of Asians, 33% of Hispanics and Latinos, 26% of Blacks, and 22% of mixed-race respondents and others.

The majority of all demographics expressed positive feelings about Aurora Fire Rescue, though whites were still more likely than other groups to say the agency was doing a good or excellent job.

Most people, around two-thirds of all respondents, also said they felt safe in their neighborhoods, and 61% said they felt about as safe or safer than they did a year ago.

In this screen shot from an Aurora Police officer body cam, Preston Nunn is being subdued and shocked by officers during a traffic stop. Aurora’s police force review board said officers failed to properly de-escalate the situation.

Police abuse of force led to consent decree 

Aurora’s consent decree was implemented following high-profile incidents of police using force against unarmed minority residents, most notably in Elijah McClain’s case.

One internal mechanism for accountability that was repeatedly criticized by the monitor was the police department’s Force Review Board.

As an example of the board falling short, the monitor described the aftermath of a tense traffic stop in May 2021, during which Aurora police officer Gabriel Nestor pulled his gun on a motorist, Preston Nunn III, who had reached into his clothing after being told to hand over his driver’s license and registration.

Nunn, who is Black, was pulled over after Nestor said Nunn drove dangerously close to him while Nestor was conducting another traffic stop.

At gunpoint, Nunn was ordered to put his hands on his face, “which he failed to do to the officer’s satisfaction,” the report said. The monitor notes that Nestor “​​became extremely agitated” during the incident, “using expletives to issue various orders.”

Once police backup arrived, Nunn decided to exit his car and was tackled to the ground and shocked with a stun gun. 

The police department’s Force Review Board evaluated the incident the following month, determining that Nestor made a legal traffic stop and used his body-worn camera appropriately but “could have been more professional” and “more in control of himself.”

The board recommended to the district commander over Nestor that the officer receive more training on the use of stun guns and investigating driving under the influence — while the driver allegedly admitted to using marijuana that night and was cited for having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle, he was not charged with DUI.

But IntegrAssure questioned the Force Review Board’s failure to consider Nestor’s involvement in another use-of-force incident one month prior when he shot a burglary suspect with less-lethal ammunition, which the department deemed “unsatisfactory performance.”

Nestor also allegedly caused a “serious traffic crash” in October 2020, for which he was reprimanded, an incident that was also apparently not considered by the board.

“Moreover, the fact that this situation unnecessarily evolved into one that came perilously close to an officer involved shooting did not consume the Board,” the monitor wrote.

“Simply put, the Board’s review should have been much more critical, in the nature of a deep-diving after-action report, with every aspect of how that which occurred could have been avoided and probed for lessons which could be taught both to the involved officer and to the Department at large.”

They also pointed out that the board did not consider the possible consequences of the suspect being tackled by an officer while multiple officers were pointing their guns at him, and said the board needed to be more probing in its evaluation of officer conduct.

IntegrAssure said it would begin working with the board during the next reporting period.

They also recommended that body-worn cameras be used to supervise officers who are the targets of corrective action and that the practice of assigning new recruits and inexperienced supervisors to late-night, high-crime periods — which police leadership allegedly said was because of the department’s current system of giving veteran officers preference in picking their schedules — needed to be re-examined.

Aurora City Manger Jim Twombly giving details about a new consent agreement with Aurora to oversee its police and fire departments. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Aurora meeting 9 consent decree mandates of 36 reviewed so far

IntegrAssure broke down the city’s compliance with 36 of the 70 mandates included in the consent decree, saying in summary that the city and its public safety agencies “have cooperated fully with the Monitor and have begun working on, and in some cases have made great strides toward, the implementation of the mandated reforms.”

Aurora Fire Rescue was recognized for halting the use of ketamine, a powerful sedative that McClain was injected with prior to his death. Of the nine mandates that IntegrAssure determined the city has complied with already, eight are related to ketamine.

The ninth mandate requires that the city or the Civil Service Commission engage a consultant to advise the commission on hiring practices to ensure the police and fire workforces better represent the community. IntegrAssure said it had been selected by the commission to fulfill this role. Seventeen other mandates were also deemed to be underway and on the right track.

IntegrAssure expressed uncertainty about 10 of the mandates and whether the city would be able to meet the expectations of the decree, including mandates addressing accountability for the use of force.

“We have not seen the degree of self critical analysis that we believe is so important to the process,” the monitor wrote of the department’s Force Review Board. “In addition, it appears that the history of individual officers involved in uses of force is not meaningfully considered during the process of evaluating whether remediation for an officer is required.”

The monitor also expressed concerns about the department coordinating with them on policy creation, mentioning that while they were working with the police department’s legal team and Professional Standards Section on a policy for documenting contacts with citizens, other PSS employees were working on developing a different policy without consulting the monitor.

IntegrAssure said the city had acknowledged the problem and would be working with the nonprofit Crime and Justice Institute to streamline its policy development process.

“Without such structure, the messaging to the officers can be inconsistent and confounding, thereby being counterproductive to the work and efforts invested into developing effective policies,” the monitor wrote.

Omar Montgomery. FILE PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

 New panel created to provide ’diversity’  insights and advice


Between February and May, IntegrAssure also assembled the new Community Advisory Council, which is expected to “promote diversity of thought and information exchange for the duration of the Consent Decree.”

“Essentially, the CAC will be the Monitor’s eyes and ears in the community providing community perspectives and insight to the Monitor on matters related to each of the areas covered by the Decree,” the monitor wrote.

The group is led by Mosaic Church of Aurora pastor Reid Hettich, Aurora NAACP president Omar Montgomery and Jeanette Rodriguez, an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office deputy and member of APD’s Community Policing Advisory team.

Members of the newly-formed CAC include:

  • Maurice Anderson, a former Air Force mental health care worker and investigator for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Melissa Berglund, an education and training program manager for a child welfare and family services nonprofit, and a former social worker. 
  • Maisha Fields, executive director of the Fields Foundation and daughter of state Sen. Rhonda Fields.
  • Ronald Garcia y Ortiz, a Cherry Creek School District educator and the district’s director of equity, culture and community engagement.
  • Willian Gondrez, a U.S. Army veteran, member of the city’s Citizen’s Water Advisory Committee, schoolteacher and president of the Northwest Aurora Neighborhood Organization.
  • Becky Hogan, former small business owner, Planning and Zoning Commission member and widow of former Aurora mayor Steve Hogan. 
  • Gianina Horton, executive director of the nonprofit Denver Justice Project with a background in civilian law enforcement oversight.
  • Thomas Mayes, ​​an Aurora pastor and Vietnam War veteran with experience mediating between activists and the Aurora Police Department.
  • Amy Wiles, ​​director of strategy and business development for UnitedHealthcare.

Schlanger later said the only person with experience as a law enforcement officer on the council was Rodriguez.

IntegrAssure wrote in a news release that the Community Advisory Council will be moderating a town hall between IntegrAssure, the public, representatives of the city and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Beck Recreation Center.

The event will be streamed online and televised, and community members can submit questions in advance to [email protected] or by filling out the contact form at www.auroramonitor.org.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
8 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Don Black
Don Black
13 days ago

The City of Aurora has painted itself into a corner. By not standing up to multiple lies and distortions by the media, Attorney General Weiser, and certain legislators, they have placed the city in an untenable position. They should have fought the narrative that was being advanced by these people. The incidents used by the Attorney General had no basis in racial bias. They are characterized that way by Weiser without any factual basis. There is also good reason that the officers and firefighters in the Elijah McClain case were not charged by the original DA. There was no brutality. Further, no one knows what actually killed McClain. But, emotional narrative is being advanced all over, with disastrous results. The police have long known that too much civilian involvement in discipline is a problem. A quote from one expert says, “In specialized disciplines, the majority opinion is almost automatically wrong”. The statements made by the monitor in this report show that the monitor is making comments simply to justify the large sums of money paid to keep monitoring the department. The fact that an officer was involved in a prior incident is not a matter for the review board. It is a matter for the Chief’s office and a consideration of discipline.

The monitor does not understand that police incidents happen quickly in many cases. But, I realize that the monitor must justify his job and huge salary. There are always some things that could be done better. It is a matter for training, which has always been neglected by Chiefs. The police receive about half of the use of force training they should have before starting the job. After they start, they receive a pitiful amount of training. All the bias training in the world doesn’t help you once the resistance starts. The suspect determines the need for force. In today’s world, everyone wants to forgive the criminal for running and fighting the police. Sorry, but if you comply you won’t get hurt. If you want to have safety, you have to require that citizens comply. There are lots of avenues for complaint later. This is especially true with body cams. Decide if you want safety and the enforcement of any laws. If not, you are on your own against the criminals. The police have left in droves. They understand the things that you don’t. They understand that the popular distorted narrative has placed police in a position where they cannot do their jobs and are at great risk of prosecution. There has to be room for the police to use discipline and remediation without an emotional cry from activists. Officers are in stressful situations and make mistakes. There has to be a reasonable review by people who understand. If we fire everyone who makes a mistake, there is no room for young officers to learn from their mistakes. The Supreme Court said long ago that use of force should be judged from the viewpoint of a reasonable officer at the scene and not from 20/20 hindsight. Unfortunately, the public does not understand that and the prosecutors have decide to ignore it for their own political gain.

Let us look at the biggest lie being used to justify the present narrative. The fact that arrest statistics are not proportionate by race is touted as proof of the police discrimination. Even progressive Boulder is under attack for that fact. The reality is that young black males, particularly, are disproportionately involved in committing crimes. The studies all show that. Watch the news. They will not say anything about it, but watch who is shooting up the streets. Watch who is looting. The greatest cause of death for young black males is other young black males. he number of black males killed by police is paltry by comparison. In most of those cases, the black males contributed greatly to their own deaths by involvement in some crime and resistance. Meanwhile, the largest cause of mass shootings is disputes between young black males.

Let us look at recruiting minorities. The police have been trying to recruit for at least forty years. It is difficult. Often, just like white males, the applicant’s history becomes a problem in selection. That aside, why would a minority want to join a police department in today’s environment. You can say that you will get people who want to change the system. That is great, except that most of the system exists the way it is out of necessity. When the minority is suddenly faced with nasty people who fight, all of that idealism takes a back seat. Some of the officers involved in the George Floyd death were minorities. Sadly, as junior officers, they subordinated themselves to a sadistic senior officer. The public doesn’t understand that the pressure to not speak out against a senior officer comes from police administration. In the past, if a recruit disagreed with the training officer, he risked being fired. It did not matter if he was right. The other factor is that officers quickly learn that force is necessary and it doesn’t matter what race you are. I find it highly unlikely that the group selected to oversee minority recruiting will have a major impact. I teach at a law enforcement basic academy. Many of our students are minorities. Happily, many of them are now getting on police departments. However, our class size has steadily shrunk in today’s environment.

I have been part of discussion groups in the past where black ministers and community activists were involved. In the past, the ministers were trying to guide black youths away from crime. That effort has been largely unsuccessful. Obviously, the effort should always continue. But, what I see now is an effort by the ministers to defend black youths at all cost. The inability to admit the truth is as bad as the police inability to admit their lack of training, complete lack of leadership, and stupid mistakes. The idea that we will have an honest conversation is silly. If neither side can admit mistakes, we won’t have any productive conversation. If you are going to say that all the police shootings are simply a result of systemic racism and not the fault of blacks involved in crime and resistance, then you won’t progress with real police officers. The chiefs may nod and say how we ned to change our culture, but they are simply politicians.

The City of Aurora, by not objecting to the distortion of facts, has put itself in a box. They must now automatically pay out large sums of money to any minority who resists the police. The Attorney General and the false narrative have already set the stage for litigation. At the same time, the City must pay out a fortune to a monitor who nitpicks policies to justify his existence. Ironically, the stated goal that they are seeking is to create proportionate stop and arrest statistics for minorities. If the police are doing heir job, the statistics should be disproportionate. This is only true as long as blacks are disproportionately involved in crime. So, the police are expected to not stop criminals. In today’s paper, there is a long article about people complaining about the lack of police response in their neighborhood and the constant gunfire. I think Rhonda Fields should get herself down there with a gun to help solve the problems. Her police reform bill has destroyed police effectiveness in Colorado. The vague definitions on use of force and punitive nature of the bill have caused police to leave in droves. Like the Attorney General’s report, the consent decree, and the popular narrative, no one is standing up. The chiefs are not and they have that responsibility. The police know that they have no one to talk reality and facts instead of emotional exaggeration. Without any voice and no protection, why would you risk stopping anyone in this environment.

With all of that said, it is difficult to defend the police. With as many officers as there are, there are constant examples of police stupidity and brutality. The police deal with nasty people all the time and those people are now emboldened by the current narrative. As retired officers and trainers, my friends and I are constantly dismayed by the stupidity demonstrated by officers. But we understand many of the reasons for that. The training is very poor and chiefs constantly disregard the need for training. The chiefs, instead, lie about how well trained their officers are. The chiefs also are the reason that police leadership is so bad. They, as politicians, have fostered good ole boy systems within their own departments. Favoritism has kept many bad supervisors on the job. The sergeants, who should be ethical and tactical leaders on a daily basis, are no longer qualified. The powers that be have not recognized the failures involved in police chief selection.

I anticipate that the police, particularly in Colorado, will be paralyzed by popular narrative and the ridiculous responses that have resulted. I don’t know if law enforcement can recover. The people who have destroyed law enforcement are not open to reason and they don’t even understand what the have damaged. Any real discussion would have shown the flaws in the police reform bill, the Attorney General’s report, and the consent decree. For people like the Attorney General, it is all a way to use race as a political stepping stone. For the rest of us, it is creating an unsafe situation. There is no one to say the emperor has no clothes.

Doug
Doug
13 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

As usual, the long rant is there. Thing is it’s an opinion. I have a completely different opinion. APD is really a great dept with a few bad actors. All departments have them.i’m doubtful any new chief is going to change much, either. We’ll see.

Jon smith
Jon smith
11 days ago
Reply to  Doug

Don Black speaks from experience and he is spot on with his detailed description of current events and current state of policing in a poltical and false narrative emotional environment. I am a current law enforcement looking to get out as quickly as possible

FactsOverFeelings
FactsOverFeelings
13 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

Don’s usual long-winded rant about how persecuted the poor police officers are, and how awful civilians are for not wanting to be killed by inept, untrained, and irresponsible police officers while walking innocently down the street.

Beverly Bennett
Beverly Bennett
9 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

“The incidents used by the Attorney General had no basis in racial bias. They are characterized that way by (Phil) Weiser without any factual basis. There is also good reason that the officers and firefighters in the Elijah McClain case were not charged by the original DA. There was no brutality.”

Mr. Black, how many times have we watched the videos of Elijah McClain’s arrest on TV and the internet? Where have you been? Your statement that this is not police brutality is false. You discredit yourself in the beginning of your lengthy argument. Why would anyone keep reading or believe anything else that you have to say? It is disgusting to use this young man’s tragic death to illustrate how police are wrongly accused.

Jim Weeks
Jim Weeks
12 days ago

One of the duties a CSC Commissioner has is to sit in as an observer, time keeper and script reader when officers are vying for promotion to the next rank. I sat in on a number of promotion panels for Sergeant, Police Agent (Detective) and Lieutenant. The candidates undergo a rigorous process of writing, role playing and problem solving with minimal time to prepare. After my 3 years on the CSC I came away with great admiration and respect for the quality people who are the vast majority of APD officers. They are committed to public safety, smart, articulate and know what the occupation is all about. I agree with Doug. I would also say that having spent my career as a fed in the Department of the Interior it is an innate characteristic of a bureaucracy that the agency heads, like police chiefs, occupy political positions and must be good delegators so they can do the necessary to protect the agency. I respect Mr. Black for taking the time to lay out a very well written narrative about his insights and experiences, but what is lacking is what he would do if he was appointed chief of APD. Constructive criticism is a good thing, but it needs to be followed up with solutions that are feasible and realistic.

Don Black
Don Black
12 days ago
Reply to  Jim Weeks

I submitted long detailed plans in the past in the Sentinel. I started programs to address the issues while on the department. I actually tried to fix the problems during a long career. I did not simply gripe. I was physically pulling officers off of suspects while the average person was comfortable in their bed. I went before Council and suggested that they have a debate by prospective chiefs with real ideas instead of the same vague thoughts on community policing. I suggested that people like myself ask them questions. They can just give the citizens the same canned speeches. The fact is there is no one who cares to hear real ideas. They are all in their camps. I rant because I understand the problem and the answers. I rant because I care. Sorry if it offends some people. 32 years in the department gave me a better understanding than those who just have unfounded opinions. I realize that it will have little impact. We will get another politician for chief who just makes a show of things. Problem is now that it will be difficult for a chief to really make a difference with the police reform bill. Since the public knows virtually nothing about the real effects of the bill, it is difficult to have a productive conversation.

Time for thought
12 days ago

The vast majority of APD officers are good people and officers. They have all been lumped in as one agency with a big problem. The officers who remain at the agency, and those who apply to work at APD, go in now with full knowledge of how the administration and city treats the officers. A big pay raise is great until you are the one being arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are plenty of other agencies hiring that have better pay and benefits than APD, and support their officers. The good citizens pray for the officers safety, but sad to say and to be blunt, the liability of the officers own future falls on those who choose to remain or join APD. Is staying on a department where in today’s world you are automatically guilty by having APD on your uniform worth the gamble of losing your freedom and lively hood? The administration can say they have your backs, but in reality the administration has zero say when an incident goes bad and the media takes over the investigation. I hope this reaches a few current members, and applicants, who rethink their current choice before they lose their choices in life.