Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Former Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson sues city over 2022 firing

Former Aurora Police Department Chief Vanessa Wilson alleges in a new lawsuit against the city that her firing was discriminatory and in retaliation for implementing anti-racism reforms.

Wilson’s employment was terminated in April 2022, and her attorneys notified the city in November of that year of her intent to sue. On Friday, her team submitted a 35-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for Colorado. It details accusations that former City Manager Jim Twombly fired Wilson “because of her association with and advocacy on behalf of individuals of color, and in retaliation for, and in anticipation of, Chief Wilson engaging in protected activities.”

The complaint alleges a violation of her civil rights and wrongful termination.

“Vanessa Wilson was unjustly fired,” said Scott Medlock, one of Wilson’s attorneys, in an interview. “She was doing her job. She was cleaning up a very disturbed police department, and that made some of the officers — who had been engaging in racist and brutal behavior for a long time, with nobody doing anything about it — pretty unhappy about it.”

The lawsuit claims that Wilson’s firing was the result of pressure from conservative City Council members Danielle Jurinsky, Dustin Zvonek and Steve Sundberg as well as police officers who didn’t like the changes she was making.

Those included abiding by a consent decree with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The Aurora Police Department agreed to a court-monitored, five-year plan to implement changes related to the use of force and addressing bias within the agency after an investigation into the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the city of Aurora, said city officials hadn’t yet reviewed the claims and couldn’t comment on the lawsuit. In a November 2022 statement issued in response to Wilson’s lawsuit notice, city officials denied the allegations that the city manager fired Wilson for her community involvement, saying it was because she didn’t similarly prioritize internal operations and a positive culture within the police department.

The statement also noted that the city had supported Wilson’s decisions during her time as chief and remained committed to the consent decree.

But Medlock said the city was supportive “until it wasn’t.” After new council members came into office in 2021, they clearly did not back Wilson, he said — pointing to Jurinsky calling Wilson “trash” on a conservative talk radio show as an example.

In the lawsuit, Wilson alleges that Jurinsky, Zvonek and Sundberg called for her firing publicly while privately strategizing about how to force her out and pressured Twombly to fire Wilson, or else he’d get fired.

On Monday, Jurinsky declined to comment until she had read through the lawsuit. Zvonek called the complaint the “same fact-free claim she has made before” and said, “Unfortunately for her, you can’t just make stuff up. Having evidence or some sort of proof is required for a lawsuit to move forward.”

Sundberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint states that Wilson was forced out of the agency after working there for 25 years, including as the first woman police chief, after holding officers accountable in multiple high-profile incidents. She also attributed the firing to her involvement with Aurora’s diverse communities, participation in Black Lives Matter protests and actions to eradicate racism from the APD. The latter included her efforts to diversify the department and to eliminate racist officers from the ranks, the lawsuit says.

It also states that she was prevented from keeping her badges after she left APD, which the city has allowed others to do. She was unable to get a law enforcement officer safety card that would allow her to carry a concealed weapon.

Wilson is seeking unspecified compensation for damages, including attorneys’ fees.

Get more Colorado news by signing up for our daily Your Morning Dozen email newsletter.

Popular Articles