EDITORIAL: Lack of accountability and transparency led to the Aurora police calamity; it’s still the problem

1138
Preston Nunn looks at Aurora Police Officer Gabriel Nestor during a 2021 traffic stop. An independent monitor supervising mandated police department reforms was critical of how the police department’s force review board handled a review in the incident, which became physical and dangerously close to being an officer-involved shooting, according to the review report.. SENTINEL SCREEN GRAB

Besides the inarguable fact that too many Aurora police officers have used
 abusive, sometimes deadly force against residents here during the past several years, the very core of Aurora’s police problem has long been transparency and accountability.

Had those two critical failures been addressed years ago, as they became apparent, the police department would likely not be in the alarming place it is now.

Now, the city and its police department are under a court agreement to cooperate with the state attorney general’s office to implement a host of reforms across the sector. The so-called “consent decree” is the result of years of repeated and systemic problems surrounding racism and the abuse of force by some officers, and the department.

Aurora’s police and fire departments find themselves in the position of being internationally notorious for the death of Elijah McClain, as well as the abuse of black girls and women who were forced to lie face down on hot pavement during an erroneous arrest.

The list of atrocities committed by some members of the department, re-hired after being caught on video referring to people of color as “porch monkeys” or passing out drunk in a squad car have for years met with a system and department eager and committed to keeping its iniquities quiet and behind closed doors.

The most dangerous problem for Aurora police and the community is that, by all known accounts, the 600-700 members of the Aurora police department have not only never abused the use of force or behaved in any way other than diligently and professionally.  Yet they’ve been saddled with the gruesome acts committed by a few and then hidden or rebuffed by the department.

Despite years of demands by members of the community, rank and file officers and The Sentinel Editorial Board to create a permanent structure of independent review, transparency and accountability, past police chiefs insisted police alone can and should handle their own problems.

Nothing has been more damaging to the police department and the community than that flawed policy.

Despite a world of accountability crashing down on the Aurora police department now, it’s apparently yet to learn that lesson.

In the first report made by the independent monitor to work among the city, the police, the fire department and the state attorney general’s office, a clear picture emerged that Aurora police aren’t getting the message.

To the police department’s credit, the monitor lauded police and city officials for being eager to work on issues like training, messaging and searching for ways to change a culture of secrecy and disregard.

It’s encouraging and expected that, in light of recent state laws, prompted in part by Aurora police malfeasances and abuses, that it would understand that police must report and even intervene in abuses made by fellow officers.

It’s good news that Aurora police are teaching officers that they no longer have vast immunity from prosecution and responsibility for committing cruelties and offenses “in the line of duty.”

It’s absolutely a relief for residents, especially people of color, to hear that Aurora police are focusing on teaching officers the best ways to defuse confrontational interaction with the public, reducing the likelihood of anyone being injured or the public being abused.

What the independent monitor raised alarm over is the department’s recent handling of an abuse-of-force incident that clearly was mishandled by existing department oversight. 

The criticism comes after the recent worrisome dismissal of Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who’d made huge strides in repairing the department’s lack of trust by visibly holding the department accountable for change.

IntegrAssure, the risk management firm appointed as the independent monitor, focused on a May 2021 traffic stop. During the incident, 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, Sentinel reporter Max Levy wrote recently.

In police bodycam video, Nunn clearly does not immediately comply with Nestor’s demands.

“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.”

The video speaks for itself, with Nestor clearly becoming unhinged, terrifying Nunn.

“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.”

That’s pretty much how Aurora police have handled these incidents in the past. Be more “professional” next time.

IntegrAssure balked at the review board’s failure to consider Nestor’s involvement in another use-of-force incident a month prior. Then, he shot a burglary suspect with “less-lethal” ammunition, which the department deemed “unsatisfactory performance,” according to The Sentinel story.

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

Pointing out that it was clear the incident nearly spun out of control into an officer-involved shooting, “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.”

The monitor identified a host of alarming problems with the arrest not even considered by the force review board.

It’s unacceptable and bodes ill for Aurora, and especially people of color who live and work here.

It’s no secret that many Black and Latino residents live in constant dread of being confronted by an Aurora police officer for any reason.

The same critical report of the monitor also pointed out a recent poll of residents showing that a majority of residents do not trust or have faith in Aurora police because of its past mistakes, and even fewer people of color have faith that they can trust a local cop.

People across the nation are afraid for their lives of being confronted by a police officer, and this recent grievous error only makes that reality worse.

City council should push for immediate changes in the reform process to make every action of the force review board, as well as the police internal affairs panel, public by report of the independent monitor, at least on a weekly basis.

The credibility of the department, the reputation of the vast number of officers who diligently and admirably carry out their duties, and the wellbeing of the public is at stake.

City lawmakers should push back against some members of city council who act as shills for police who are critical of the reform process and holding officers and the department rightfully accountable for mistakes just like this.

The vile episodes that have drawn international scorn and shame on Aurora police are only a symptom of the problem this department is a long ways from solving. Solve the accountability and transparency problem.

3.5 11 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

18 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bart Emanuel
Bart Emanuel
1 month ago

Long-winded screed about how cops are victims by Don Black in 3… 2… 1…

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  Bart Emanuel

Don’t forget Dick Moore in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Oh, here he is, right on cue. I honestly wonder why those 2 torture themselves by reading the Sentinel.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Can’t speak for Don, but you should know, Joe, the only reason I read the Sentinel Website is to see your pearls of wisdom on each and every subject.

Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago
Reply to  Bart Emanuel

I will save my breath. The Sentinel’s generalizations prove that fact don’t matter. Only emotional appeals matter with broad statements about police conduct. An examination of each incident by impartial informed parties would yield a different picture. The media and the politically correct legislature have won. You can expect very little in the way of police protection and enforcement of your favorite laws. Continue the emotional police headhunting and see the results for the community. Nothing wrong with transparency. But let the police officers give their side and understand that the citizens know almost nothing about use of force.

FactsOverFeelings
FactsOverFeelings
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

Came here just for Don’s ever-unwavering opinion that cops should be allowed to murder innocent civilians with reckless abandon because “bEiNg A cOp iS hARd”.

I’m sure that it is very difficult, so maybe it should have some stricter requirements than a GED and 6 months of police academy. Maybe it should have constant oversight and greater transparency, instead of cops constantly sweeping their own mistakes under the rug as civilians die.

GeneD
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

Where’s the ‘save my breath’ part?

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Nothing new here. Just the same thing from the Sentinel creating our Police Force to be more careful, less proactive and more afraid of doing something that the Sentinel or activists might not like.

Don Black gets it as well as I do. My belief is that a vast majority of APD citizens are real believers in the positive abilities of our police department unlike what you state in a “poll” in your editorial. That’s my poll.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Yep–You are poll in your own mind, that’s for sure. Glad you know and admit it.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Glad you got my point, Joe. My poll is as accurate and scientific as the Sentinels reported poll.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

They fired our wonderful Police Chief and nothing changed. The citizens wonder if the members of the department will ever allow change. Like spoiled brats, they must have their way. But when their way conflicts with the needs of the community which they are supposed to serve, we have a problem.

Avoiding Racist Harassment
Avoiding Racist Harassment
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Don’t worry Homeless Mike and the Shillettes will make sure that the APD is protected from the citizens of Aurora. It’s these pesky people and their Constitutional rights that get in the way of bad apple policing!

It’s a good thing that old white right-wingers are here to make sure that the Aurora residents are protecting and serving the APD.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

I believe it is beyond ignorant to call the entire APD a bunch of spoiled brats. For those APD officerss reading these comments please understand Joe speaks only for himself. Most of us very much appreciate your commitment to Aurora.

Tired of the same drumbeat
Tired of the same drumbeat
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Are you actually kidding? Seriously, are you kidding? Our “wonderful police chief?” Huh? Did you not see one iota of her abysmal, disorganized, scattershot approach to overseeing the department? Or her partner’s criminally false allegations of child sexual abuses against a sitting council member? Or her frequent absence? While her work on reform moved the department in the right direction, there is so much more to bring the chief of police than that. She lost the confidence of literally the entire city management team. The same people who stood next to her and supported her on the most critical issues the department faced. Does their managerial experience mean nothing? People like you and this nonstop, tired and, frankly, defeated drumbeat from this woefully skewed supposed journalistic organization is exhausting. Be measured. Be thoughtful. Be open-minded.

Zero
Zero
1 month ago

I didn’t even like Vanessa Wilson, but you’re spreading some wild misinformation here, so I have to correct it. I hate that you liars make me defend her, because I also think she was a terrible choice for Chief and I think she never should have been hired in the first place – but the way she was fired was even worse, and a direct abuse of power.

So here are a couple of documented facts that need correction in your lies, but know that they don’t indicate that I want Vanessa Wilson back as Chief – they just indicate that I want a better Chief and I don’t want that better Chief to get chewed up by a lie machine like Wilson was –

1) Wilson is not her wife, and the despicable actions of her wife have been proven to have been carried out without Wilson’s approval or even knowledge. We don’t hold people responsible for the actions of their spouses in this country, because we don’t own wives.
2) Wilson did not “lose the confidence of the entire city management”. City Manager Twombly fired her without cause and without public justification, and changed their story daily. Twombly did this under pressure and threats to his own career and family from Danielle Jurinsky and Mike Coffman. The city had to pay out Wilson’s contract because they expressly had no cause for firing her except that Danielle Jurinsky threw an illegal temper tantrum and abused her power to force Twombly to do it.

Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

You don’t really understand that the police officers actually have very little power. If they had the kind of power you imagine, we certainly would never have had the so called police reform bill.

Zero
Zero
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

Idk Donnie, seems like police officers have obscene amounts of power to me – a huge arsenal of weapons of war, immunity to beat and murder civilians and joke about it on camera, buying City Councils, etc.

Police have their (dark pun fully intended) chokehold on just city council in Aurora, which is still an absurd amount of power that they shouldn’t be allowed. You’re not wrong that cops have less influence over the State than they do over the City, and that is why police reform passed. I know not having absolute and complete control over all branches of government including creation, enforcement, and adjudication of laws FEELS like no power when you want more, but that’s what tyranny feels like. Sometimes you gotta chill out and take a break on all the Police State stuff and gosh, I know, it’s a big bummer, but you just gotta. This whole country is founded Separation of Powers- I know you were probably in 4th grade in one of those one-room Colonial schoolhouses or something, but surely they still taught about the 3 branches of government, Don?

Doug
Doug
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

They have way more power than the average citizen and you know that. And that’s why we have the police reform bill. Because of certain actions by a minority of officers.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

So disappointed in Aurora/Arapahoe County police efforts to resist order of reform and continue racist and brutal behavior toward residents, especially POC. I mourn the death of Elijah McClain from police and firefighter brutality, incompetence and racism. They actually joked about it afterwards. Firing the female chief was totally political because she was pushing response to reform order, and picking someone from the past to take her place who never tried to improve recruitment and training of police examplified how this was part of the resistance. Under Coffman, the council will never get behind the order of reform. We need new top leadership on the council as well.