AURORA | An Aurora lawmaker says she’s lawyered up and is prepared to take legal action to halt an investigation into comments she made to and about the management of the city’s police department in January.
Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky was accused by fellow Councilmember Juan Marcano of violating the city charter and council rules after calling Aurora Police Department Chief Vanessa Wilson “trash” on a regional conservative radio show and saying Wilson should be removed from office, along with deputy chief Darin Parker.
Marcano initiated the formal process of censuring Jurinsky the next day, and attorneys acting on behalf of the city started gathering evidence that could be presented to the council next month before a vote on the motion to censure.
Now, Jurinsky is accusing Marcano and the City of Aurora of punishing her for engaging in what her lawyer, David Lane, says is constitutionally-protected speech, giving them until March 4 to pull the plug on the process before Lane says he will “seek an injunction that would bar the council from conducting this bogus hearing.”
Lane also said he’s willing to sue “anyone who has their fingerprints on this hearing.” He said that could include Marcano and the city itself but that it was too soon to say who specifically would be targeted if the March 4 deadline comes and goes.
“Whoever is sponsoring this witch hunt, this bad-faith investigation, is on the hook,” Lane said. “Everything she was saying is protected speech.”
“I think I will need to consider whether or not we sue the city,” Jurinsky said Wednesday. “We need to have further talks about that.”
Jurinsky said she decided to take the matter to court after she was contacted by Lane through a third party. Lane said the censure and related investigation infringes on Jurinsky’s free speech rights as codified in the U.S. and Colorado constitutions. In a letter sent to the city council on Wednesday, Lane described the charges against Jurinsky as “retaliatory.”
Marcano later said he was “not sure exactly what I’m retaliating against here, seeing that none of the stuff she said was directed at me.”
“I think it’s absurd. I don’t think there’s anything to retaliate against,” Marcano said.
Lane said he did not know why Marcano would want to retaliate personally against Jurinsky for comments made about Wilson and Parker.
“I have no idea. I’ve never laid eyes on this gentleman. It doesn’t matter,” Lane said. “He is retaliating against her free speech. That is common sense and logic.”
Marcano said he only wants to litigate what he believes are Jurinsky’s violations of the charter and council rules.
The charter specifically bars council members from inserting themselves into the hiring and appointment processes for employees who fall under the authority of the city manager, and council members are generally required to interact with staff through the city manager.
In her Jan. 27 interview with KNUS host Steffan Tubbs, Jurinsky said she believed the chief should be removed from office “immediately” and that “with her takes out the trash of the deputy chief of police, Darin Parker.” She went on to describe a lunch meeting with Wilson where she encouraged the chief to replace Parker as deputy chief.
“I said, ‘Even a bigger problem than you, chief, may be your appointed deputy police chief,’” Jurinsky told Tubbs. “‘He may be the bigger problem. What do you think about, as a show of faith, you know, that you mean business, and you want to change, and you want to stop losing all of these officers on your watch, why don’t we reappoint someone else and try to start fresh?’”
“I never once said that she should remove the deputy police chief or fire him,” Jurinsky said Wednesday. “Those words never came out of my mouth, ever.”
“What Juan doesn’t understand is what the nature of that meeting was. The chief wanted to meet with me, and she wanted to talk about rebuilding her image with the police department,” Jurinsky said.
A police spokesman, Chirs Amsler, wrote in a Feb. 1 email that the chief had “met with Councilmember Jurinsky, intending to answer any questions and address any concerns with the hope of building a relationship of mutual respect.” Amsler said at the time that the chief did not consider replacing Parker.
Marcano has also accused Jurinsky of violating a section of council rules by her “ad-hominem attacks” on Wilson and Parker. The section states that “when interacting with City employees or members of the general public, individual Council Members shall conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times.”
In a statement attributed to spokesman Ryan Luby, the city said a council hearing on the allegations is tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on March 30. A two-thirds majority of council members would have to vote to affirm that Jurinsky broke the law before she could be disciplined.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time the City Council has undergone this process,” Luby said.