EDITORIAL: Aurora Councilman Dave Gruber’s theatrical GEO protest slander warrants public, council rebuke

1977

Aurora Councilman Dave Gruber brought the city’s legislative body to a new low Monday night by theatrically breaching meeting protocol in an attempt to publicly smear three fellow lawmakers over a recent immigration prison protest.

It was a spiteful and shameless stunt that warrants a sharp rebuke from the city council and a public apology not only to the three council members he viciously slandered, but to the residents of Aurora.

The bizarre scene capped several days of local controversy stemming from a Friday night protest at the GEO immigration prison in north Aurora. Protests and vigils have been held there for years in an effort to draw attention to what critics say is poor and inhumane treatment of immigrants detained inside the privately run facility. On Friday, the protest was likely the largest ever, attracting about 2,000 people as part of a nationwide series of rallies coordinated by Lights for Liberty.

The peaceful Aurora protest was marred by a few miscreant combatants who trespassed onto the front of the GEO prison. They lowered American and Colorado flags from the facility and replaced them with a Mexico flag and “Thin Blue Line” banner flown upside down and spray-painted with anti-police graffiti. The vandals also ineptly tried to burn the flags they removed from the facility. 

It was a stupid and vulgar stunt that event organizers wisely immediately denounced and made clear they had neither encouraged nor approved of.

Some public officials have fixated on the handful of rogue protesters who stumbled through the clumsy flag desecration. Public outrage has come from Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, a handful of local Twitter and political pundits, and even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Gruber, however, made his criticism personal, hateful and baseless.

Monday’s city council meeting was packed with residents appearing for legislation regarding the city’s controversial new oil and gas regulator powers. At the beginning of the meeting, Gruber dramatically left the dais and addressed the audience from the floor lectern. It was a stunt contrived to maximize the effect before a packed house with a surprising departure from council protocol.

Gruber denounced the flag-vandalism but then went on to accuse councilwomen Allison Hiltz, Crystal Murillo and Nicole Johnston, who attended the protests, of being complicit and responsible for the vandalism.

“I’ve already seen backpedaling since our council members have discovered how much they have hurt the citizens of Aurora,” Gruber said at the lectern, as reported by Sentinel Colorado reporter Kara Mason. “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.”

It was a contrived and malevolent political stunt that did nothing but embarrass Gruber and the residents of Aurora by cheapening righteous public indignation over the vandals’ bumbling flag desecration.

Not only were Gruber’s allegations against the councilwomen unfounded and unfair, he manipulated the event so that the three women he maligned were unable to respond to his histrionics until about 2 a.m., when the meeting agenda allowed for council comment. 

Mayor Bob LeGare shares in the blame and also owes these councilwomen an apology, first for allowing Gruber to hijack the meeting with his grandstanding attack, and for then not correcting the error by allowing the women to address the assaults at the time Gruber made them.

But all of the city council should censure Gruber for his slander, which would easily find him in court if the council members were private citizens.

Gruber desecrated his own position on the council by plotting a petty and puerile stunt over matters of grave concern to everyone in Aurora and the nation.

He has undermined his credibility in being a canny and sensible lawmaker and can no longer serve effectively until he corrects this grievous error.