AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – On the steps of the Aurora Municipal Center, in the city where Vanessa Wilson spent more than two decades of her career, community members and former co-workers gathered in support of the former police chief Monday afternoon, days after she was fired by the city manager.
“Whether you’re angry and you’re upset by this decision, the decision has been made,” Wilson said, encouraging the community to continue supporting the officers who remain at the department who have embraced recent reforms.
Wilson has spent the last several days absorbing the news that she would no longer be leading the police department through efforts to improve training, enhance diversity, and change use-of-force policies as the city works to fulfill a consent decree agreement it made with the state after an attorney general’s investigation found a pattern and practice of racially biased policing and excessive force at the Aurora Police Department.
Although the city manager often stood by Wilson as she implemented new strategies in the department and terminated 15 officers, last week, he fired Wilson.
Recent votes and statements by the two unions representing police officers also indicated a lack of confidence in Wilson as a leader.
“I have lost trust and no longer have full confidence in your ability to lead the Aurora Police Department,” Jim Twombly said in a letter to Wilson. He cited a failure in leadership and a failure in overall management as reasons for his decision.
“The timing is such that he is being pressured,” said Wilson, who also called Twombly a “good man”.
“I wasn’t going to go quietly into the night,” said Wilson, flanked by about twenty supporters from city council members to religious leaders. “I wasn’t going to accept a resignation and just walk away when I know what this is driven by, and this is a political agenda, and there should not be partisan politics in public safety.”
Wilson said it was an honor being the police chief and serving the community.
“It’s not about me,” Wilson said. “It’s about making sure that we have leaders in the police department, this city, in this state, and across the country that are willing to stand up to the unions, that are willing to stand up to people that are doing it wrong and are willing to fire officers that are doing it wrong. We are commissioned to serve the community. We cannot have a police department that does not do that.”
Over the course of more than an hour, several people spoke on Wilson’s behalf.
“I’m tearful because you are a phenomenal human,” Maisha Fields, the daughter of Sen. Rhonda Fields, said to Wilson. “You are an extraordinary leader.”
Fields said she deeply appreciated Wilson and believed the city manager’s decision to fire Wilson was wrong.
Fields also read a statement from her mother who said, “It’s incredibly disappointing to see our Aurora Department police chief, Vanessa Wilson, fired by city officials. She held officers who engaged in misconduct accountable and refused to tolerate a clearly documented pattern of racist and misogynistic policy, targeting people of color and targeting women in leadership.”
One police sergeant who said he has served for 40 years at Aurora PD spoke out but told the Problem Solvers some other officers who support Wilson are afraid of retaliation if they speak publicly.
“I have spoken with many members of the Aurora Police Association and the FOP Lodge 49, and they believe Chief Vanessa Wilson to be a very capable and competent leader,” Sgt. Paul Poole, member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives said.
Poole said he was going to retire a few months ago, but Wilson contributed to his decision to stay.
“When these things started happening where she was coming under attack, especially from … the unions, the political forces, I just felt compelled to say something,” he said. “Most of that came from officers who would tell me how they felt but were reluctant to say anything because they feared different levels of retaliation.”
Wilson, who will be paid up to a year of her final salary at the department along with benefits, said she was exploring her options when asked if she would pursue a lawsuit against the city.
She said she is looking forward to continuing to find ways to serve the community and law enforcement in the future.
Watch the full news conference with the former chief on FOX31 NOW.