Boy was I wrong about the Aurora Police Department’s evaporating credibility after bungling cases where the cops are forced to investigate themselves.
“It can’t get much worse than this,” has become a regular refrain for myself and others mystified about APD’s publicly self-inflicted wounds.
Actually, it got much worse this week.
New howling started last week with a KCNC-TV report about Officer Nathan Meier. Last March, Meier had gotten so drunk on duty that he passed out in the middle of a busy street — in full uniform, behind the wheel of his unmarked police car, running.
What could have turned out to be a sad and purely salacious saga has instead turned out to be yet another Aurora Police scandal.
There are a growing list of problems Aurora Police have created for themselves in this incident, all highlighting the fact that APD now enjoys about as much credibility as the Trump Administration.
It’s heartbreaking. For decades, APD has been the rock of the Colorado law enforcement community.
Like any police department, APD has had its share of problems. But its reputation of being forthright during controversies had boosted the department above most other agencies in the state.
Sadly, for everyone, that ended a few years ago.
Misinformation, withheld information and releasing mock-u-mentaries, instead of straight facts and full reports, has tragically undermined police believability. APD has given to offering the public and media increasingly fewer details about all kinds of cases, but especially cases that put the department in a potentially bad light.
The light has been especially harsh for the Aurora cops lately.
They’ve developed a bad habit of shooting, killing or maiming people they come in contact with, and then bungling public information and their self-investigations.
The problem has gotten so bad, that after the Sentinel and many others begged and then demanded that police submit to independent, external review of controversial cases, a handful of city lawmakers are now creating a plan that will likely be imposed on the department.
But not this week.
This week, Police Chief Nick Metz got grumpy because he said local media was mischaracterizing the story about Meier. He said it was a nice story about a cop fessing up to a serious problem and taking his punishment. It’s heartwarming that the chief sees crime and punishment among the ranks as proof that good wins out, but the implication is that Aurora police have one justice system and the rest of the world has another. As most who’ve come under it can relate, judges, prosecutors and bosses aren’t as kind and lenient as the chief judge of the Aurora Police Department.
Distracting from that engaging tale is the fact that it looks increasingly like another Aurora police episode of Cover Your Ass.
Information fed to the media last week now looks like propaganda compared to office body cam footage and other uninterpreted reports that APD was forced to release to the media.
The story is amazing because the veteran cop, miraculously, didn’t injure or kill anyone after he tossed back enough vodka one spring day in March to make him practically comatose. Channel 9 News reported that Meier’s blood alcohol level was above 0.450, more than 4 times that triggering a DUI in Colorado.
When fellow officers arrived at the scene, in the middle of a busy street, they broke out a car window and extracted Meier. They sent him to a hospital, where he recovered from his “medical condition.”
He later confessed to his drinking problem and was demoted.
However, scrutiny and police body cams blew holes in the story, like so much Aurora police spin these days.
First off, coincidentally, it was Deputy Police Chief Paul O’Keefe that was nearest Meier when the call for “cop passed out” came through.
O’Keefe said he, too, suspected alcohol, but he changed his mind and let it go.
So after more cops and rescuers arrived, broke out the passenger window, smelled “a faint” trace of alcohol on Meier, stuff got weird.
The story after the fact was that O’Keefe and a bevy of other cops smelled booze but they thought Meier was having a medical problem, other than suffering from alcohol poisoning. Police body cam footage show cops slowly and carefully removing Meier’s gun belt, then his jacket, all while Meier sat slumped behind the wheel. It took several minutes.
If it had been a stroke or heart attack, Meier might be dead. If it had been anyone else passed out behind the wheel, not smelling like booze, rescuers would have clipped the belt and gotten them out of the car pronto, rather than carefully removing jackets from a seated unconscious person. And if this had been anyone else, police might have disclosed the entire incident, rather than sit on it for months.
Last week, however, police went to great lengths to make it clear that nobody there had any idea Meier’s problem was that he had passed out drunk in his car, smelling like booze.
Except, however, for Officer Eugene Vandyk. “He was a little intoxicated,” the cop said clearly into his body camera as he was walking past another officer on his way to the scene. Immediately, Vandyk reacts with a groan and fumbles to turn his camera off.
Just as damning as the video is the fact that Aurora police won’t comment on it.
Despite cops initially thinking Meier was “a little intoxicated,” armed and passed out behind the wheel of his police car, nobody ever ordered blood-alcohol tests.
It could be that Aurora police were, once again, just victims of their own ham-handed attempt to handle public information about another internal controversy.
But these recurring public relations disasters make the next one, and the one after that, all the harder to not immediately think the worst. Instead of giving police the benefit of the doubt, all Aurora Police draw these days is serious doubt.
In an unprecedented move Monday night, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly announced he would bring in former U.S. Attorney John Walsh to independently investigate the Meier scandal.
Finally, someone in charge at City Hall is wise enough to help Aurora Police save them from themselves.
It could be that all of this on the level. For that to be believable, it has to come from someone with credibility, outside the department. Twombly may have found the answer.
Metz warned officers that the lesson from this incident is that cops make mistakes, and the most important thing is to own up them.
“If you make a mistake, OWN YOUR S**T….” he said.
It’s excellent advice the chief should act on himself.
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