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Aurora Sentinel: Weaponized police-records attack of Wilson, police reform warrants council resignations | Opinion


As alarming and disappointing it is that Aurora is back in the news as the home of a corrupt police department and an inept city government, it’s most vexing that, once again, the city has been wounded with another self-inflicted injury.

There’s no shortage of people to blame for the city being dragged into a sea of national worry and rebuke because of the harassment and virtual torture of Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who was fired last week.

But there are clearly a select few responsible for a new quagmire that clearly was created to provide impetus, or cover, for the ill-fated political smear and ouster of Chief Wilson. It’s indisputable that a spurious and deceptive “review” of a longstanding police records problem in Aurora was used as fodder to incite or justify Wilson’s ouster.

Some members of city council have for months conspired with insurrectionist police officers, livid that Wilson has made good on promises to the community to hold cops accountable for thuggery, racism and abhorrent episodes of incompetence. This latest attempt to undermine police reform — by using an obviously tainted “review” — to purposely stoke fear in Aurora and subvert Wilson and police reform efforts crosses a line from political intrigue to unconscionable subterfuge.

The PRI Management Group review of a backlog of “transcribed” police reports in the APD records department is a bogus sham, a Sentinel story published Wednesday revealed.

Police and city hall officials knew the scathing, politicized and sensationalized report was a red herring, or they should have known.

Even before the content of this feint was made clear, The Sentinel reported that the author of the review, the company’s CEO, has a well-published history of anti-police-reform, anti-Black Lives Matter rants on social media.

The report itself was so blatantly provocative it should have set off red flags for police and city managers immediately.

Instead, it was used to bludgeon Wilson publicly and make an argument against her crusade to restore credibility and honor to the city’s embattled police department.

Among the spurious and inaccurate charges in the review:

• “Of particular importance is the fact that reports do not get routed by the system for follow-up action or investigation until the transcription process is complete.” In reality, police routinely follow up on cases, especially serious cases of crime, regardless of whether a record is “transcribed,” which has nothing to do with transcription as most people know it. It’s nothing more than a clerical curation of reports. City police and other officials point out that ALL records added to a case are immediately available to investigators and others, even if they are not “transcribed.”

• ”As a result of the delays in processing police reports, violent crimes reported to the Aurora Police Department may not be investigated for months, enabling suspects who might otherwise have been investigated and taken into custody, to re-offend.” In reality, city and police officials point out that “processing” these reports is not integral and often not even a part of meaningful police investigative processes.

• “It is administrative errors and failures such as this that lead to cases like the Charleston, SC church mass murder and the Marjorie (sic) Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, both of which would not have happened had law enforcement not erred in the processing of prior cases involving the suspects.” This alarmist and politicized statement is not only false, but cruel. Police associated with both of those mass shootings have never associated any records problems with suspects in the shootings. 

• “Delays in the transcription process (of stolen cars or other property) can lead to officers having incorrect information in the field. Case in point: a stolen vehicle which has been recovered and returned to its rightful owner must be removed from CCIC, lest the owner risk being pulled over by an officer and detained at gunpoint based upon a computer query which indicates the car is still stolen.” This was easily debunked. Local and state police officials have made clear that Aurora, like most large police departments, report stolen and retrieved autos to the state CCIC database virtually in “real time.” Stolen car data does not languish in “un-transcribed” reports in Aurora, and trumping up the misnomer with more fear-baiting examples makes this report all the more suspicious.

Because this report is so rife with fakery, city officials must discard it immediately and terminate work with PRI Management Group. Taxpayers have every right to expect a refund from PRI Management Group for the $45,000 allotted for this instigative farce.

This odious report was only part of the problem.

Far more appalling is that it was weaponized against Wilson.

In numerous interviews, it’s become clear that City Manager Jim Twombly passed the report early on to Councilmember Dustin Zvonek, who at the end of an unrelated city council meeting March 28 launched into a tirade about the crisis at hand in Aurora because of a brewing police scandal. It’s unclear if others on city council also received an early heads up about the report.

After well-publicized efforts by Twombly failed to get Wilson to step down, and Wilson instead made public her fight against her firing, the unchallenged, spurious charges in this report were flung from radio talk shows, TV newscasts and social media posts, primarily from Zvonek and Mayor Mike Coffman.

This comes after months of public disparagement, insult and ad hominem attacks by Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky against Wilson, who admittedly has conspired on several occasions with disgruntled police officers to undermine Wilson and imminent police reforms.

Coffman, simultaneously saying he has no ill-will against the chief, has mimicked frequent baseless attacks on Wilson, especially as this controversy unfolded.

“The result of this backlog means that crimes, whether it’s a murder case or a motor vehicle theft, are going cold before they are ever investigated and that habitual criminals are allowed to reoffend before the rank and file at APD is made aware of the crimes that they’ve already committed,” Coffman wrote in an April 5 statement.

It’s false. And days after the report was made public, it’s unclear why no one in the city stepped up to the mayor to stop him from spreading disinformation. 

Twombly sent the spurious PRI report to city council members the day before he fired Wilson. City lawmakers speaking anonymously said Twombly did not tell them the report was damaged goods, but instead signaled that the report was accurate and bode ill for Wilson and the city.

And so the deceit in the report spread.

“Coffman told Denver talk radio host Jimmy Sengenberger of KNUS the next day that police reports must be transcribed before they are shared among police officers,” The Sentinel reported Wednesday. That’s also disinformation that should have been debunked by a city management team who knew it was false. 

Councilmember Dustin Zvonek posted on Twitter April 6 that “over 2500 victims … didn’t have their case investigated” due to the backlog.

It’s absolutely false, and days after he received information about the report without ever questioning its validity or being offered advice on the false information by city officials.

What’s perplexing and disappointing is that Twombly has been a steadfast leader in the effort to push back against Aurora Police corruption and malfeasance. He has repeatedly ensured Wilson has been able to rightfully be transparent that abusive, racist and incompetent officers are held accountable.

This is not Twombly’s first rodeo as a city manager. He’s well aware that caving in to elected bullies in a city-council-manager form of government only invites further abuse and corruption of the government, and possibly his own ouster. He has never given any indication he would cave to political pressure on this or any other matter. We look forward to a explanation about how his poor PRI report decision was bad optics and not bad intentions.

If Wilson’s performance rose to the level of dismissal in the very thick of the city’s most volatile period in history, he needs to hold himself to the same level of accountability and transparency he, and everyone in Aurora, expect of Wilson and the police department.

Why? Why now? And why play into this abhorrent ploy?

Coffman, Jurinsky and Zvonek have now destroyed their credibility on the issue of police reform and public safety with their dangerous collusion with insidious or simply misguided forces remaining in the police department. No longer able to credibly or effectively lead or even partake in what is the most important issue confronting the city right now, they should resign their seats.

At the very least, each should abstain from any city council vote or interaction involving public safety and police. 

They are part of a growing problem in the country where elected officials feel empowered to treat anything they say as reality, regardless that it isn’t based in fact or reality.

The gaslighting from this city council caucus must end now. Lives have been ruined by some Aurora police, others gravely and permanently damaged. And still others have died at the hands of Aurora police, some of the innocents like Elijah McClain.

Because of the ghastly behavior of some officers, people of color in Aurora live in fear and dread of any interaction with police. Despite the dismissal of that fact by these elected officials and the crony cops they collude with, these critical deficiencies in the police department exist.

The decades-in-the-making policies that enabled crimes and malfeasance inside the police force to go unpunished and unabated must be routed out. We, like much of Aurora, is at a loss how reform will be sustained now that there is not clear leadership in Aurora to make that happen.

Credible members of city council and Twombly owe all of Aurora, and Colorado, an explanation and assurances that the city can move past this debacle —  again.

Those free from delusion have a duty to assure residents they can be confident that the professional, compassionate and principled members of the police force and city leaders are in control of the most important reform effort in Aurora history.

Aurora Sentinel editorial board

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