AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Vanessa Wilson, the former Aurora police chief, plans to sue the City of Aurora over claims of wrongful termination. Wilson claims the City of Aurora illegally fired her for enforcing the consent decree.

Wilson filed a notice of intent to sue on Sept. 23, 2022. The notice was addressed to:

  • Dan Brotzman, city attorney
  • Holly Ortiz, Semple, Farrington & Everall, PC
  • Jim Twombly, city manager
  • Mike Coffman, mayor
  • Jason Batchelor, deputy city manager
  • Laura Perry, deputy city manager
  • Roberto Venegas, deputy city manager
  • Ryan Lantz, director of human resources
  • Chief Daniel Oates, Aurora Police Department
  • Danielle Jurinsky, city councilperson
  • Crystal Murillo, city councilperson
  • Ruben Medina, city councilperson
  • Juan Marcano, city councilperson
  • Alison Coombs, city councilperson
  • Francoise Bergan, city councilperson
  • Angela Lawson, city councilperson
  • Curtis Gardner, city councilperson

Read the full notice here.

Aurora responds to fired chief’s plans to sue

Here is the full statement from City of Aurora Deputy Communications Director Ryan Luby on the notice of claim from Wilson:

City Manager Jim Twombly terminated Vanessa Wilson’s at-will employment in accordance with the Offer of Employment she negotiated with the city and signed in Aug. 2020. A copy of it is attached for your reference.

Contrary to the allegations asserted in the Notice of Claim, City Manager Twombly did not “illegal[ly]” terminate Ms. Wilson’s employment for “prioritiz[ing] community involvement.” As Mr. Twombly stated in the attached, widely distributed news release in April 2022, “It is clear that Chief Wilson has prioritized community involvement. However, the police chief also needs to effectively manage the operations of the department, effectively engage with staff, build morale, and validate employee feedback. To provide the level of public safety that our community deserves, a change in leadership must occur.” Consistent with this statement, Mr. Twombly informed Ms. Wilson in a Termination of Employment letter that she was terminated for her “failure to effectively create a positive culture of stability, employee satisfaction, and engagement in the agency,” and for “failure to strategically review, assess, manage, and provide efficient oversight to the overall police department operations.” That letter is also attached for your reference.

Mr. Twombly and the city management team wholeheartedly embraced Ms. Wilson’s community engagement efforts and, as she herself noted in a news conference following her termination, supported her through tough decisions she made during her time as chief.

Additionally, contrary to the assertion that Ms. Wilson was “illegally terminated for her actions to enforce the terms of the consent decree,” we have always maintained that the consent decree is the path forward, and we remain engaged in ongoing public safety changes and continue to make progress on the consent decree and with the Consent Decree Monitor. In fact, the Consent Decree Monitor team documented that progress as recently as Oct. 15 on their website. City management is unwavering in the commitment to fulfill the terms of the consent decree to ensure that the Aurora Police Department serves every member of our community equitably.

City of Aurora

Vanessa Wilson blames reform efforts for firing

Wilson became police chief in 2020, the first woman to hold the role. She served as interim chief from January until her formal appointment in August of that year.

She had been with the department for 25 years when she was fired in April. City Manager Jim Twombly said at the time that he no longer had confidence in her management and leadership of the department.

Wilson led the police department through efforts to improve training, enhance diversity and change use-of-force policies, and she has argued those shifts were behind the push to oust her.

She also oversaw efforts to fulfill a state consent decree. The agreement was reached after an attorney general’s investigation found a pattern and practice of racially biased policing and excessive force at the department.

Exit surveys suggested overall that department morale was low, FOX31’s Rob Low has reported.

During her time as chief, a quarter of her staff left and retirements tripled. Of the 232 officers who left the department, 15 were terminated, 105 resigned, 104 retired and eight transferred to another agency within Aurora.

Aurora’s problem with law enforcement retention is not unique. Denver’s police and sheriff departments have reported significant staff shortages, as has the mountain community of Park County.

Aurora has even extended its search for a new police chief to replace Wilson. After a months-long search and days of introducing finalists to the community, the city announced it would continue its search.