Two stories in this week’s issue make the Aurora (Colo.) Police Dept. look very bad. Let’s start with the stories from the 12 January 2020 issue, and then explore why they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Friends Who Let Friends Drive Drunk
“He’s a little intoxicated,” said Eugene VanDyk as he found a colleague passed out drunk in the middle of a road. We know that because VanDyk was wearing a body camera: he’s a police officer in Aurora, Colo., and his colleague, Ofc. Nathan Meier, was on duty and in uniform at the wheel of his unmarked police car, which was running and in gear, but his foot was on the brake. Other officers at the scene noted Meier’s signs of intoxication, but none of them arrested him, started a DUI investigation, or even requested a blood alcohol test. “I unequivocally stand by my decision” to demote and suspend Meier, rather than fire him, said Chief Nick Metz in an internal memo to officers, “because I care about the human being who stepped up and owned his incredibly poor decision … and continues to courageously own it.” The memo, obtained by the media via an open records law request, also complains of the “inaccurate media spin” on the case, but that was before the department also was forced to give up the bodycam recordings for the same reason. On the other hand, the chief also told his officers, “I don’t want this to become a distraction from a message I want all of you to hear loud and clear, which is this: If you make a mistake, OWN YOUR S**T.” (RC/Denver Post) …(“Applies only to police officers. ‘OWN IT’ form must be filled out completely. Limit 2 per officer. Offer may be subject to other conditions or be withdrawn at any time.”)
Screw the Widows and Orphans
Roland Albert was sentenced to 18 months in prison, five years of probation, and ordered to pay restitution for the more than $65,000 he stole, plus interest. He also resigned from his job — as a police officer in Aurora, Colo. The victims in the case: Aurora Police Orphans Fund, and the Brotherhood for the Fallen Aurora; Albert had been the treasurer for both non-profits. Even Albert’s own son thought the lenient treatment for his dad was “embarrassing.” Caleb Albert is studying to be a police officer himself. Aurora Police Sgt. Tim Jeffery, one of the founders the Brotherhood for the Fallen Aurora, which funds travel expenses for officers to attend the funerals of officers killed on the job in other cities, said Albert “sullied the name of law enforcement across the country.” In a statement to the court, former Ofc. Albert said, “I’m now looked at as an embarrassment, a thief and a crook.” (RC/Denver Post) …That’s correct: just as you felt about the people you arrested for similar crimes.
Multiple Issues in the Department
Two Citizens Called 911 for the unconscious police officer in Colorado, apparently knowing he was a police officer. Once the memo and video footage went public, Police Chief Metz refused all media interviews and requests for comment about what he wrote, or the decisions he made on the case. In a “surprise” twist, Metz announced his retirement after the two incidents, but before the thieving officer was sentenced, and before the drunk officer case went public.
The drunk officer incident didn’t come to light until long after it happened, on March 29, 2019. Metz’s deputy chief was the first one to arrive (and was named interim chief while the city goes through a hiring process to find a permanent replacement). Firefighters had to smash a window to get into the car, and immediately reported the alcohol-related odor. The district attorney is looking into the case, but noted that statements Meier made to Internal Affairs investigators can’t be used as evidence.
It’s patently obvious that a mere civilian would not be afforded such lenient treatment. “I don’t like double standards for law enforcement,” Aurora City Councilman Juan Marcano said. “If you were a civilian, that would have gotten you charged with multiple counts.”
Meier had several years of experience as an officer in other departments, and was hired despite admitting that he had been “investigated for improper conduct or illegal activities” at a previous job, and had been reprimanded. He also admitted that he had “engaged in undetected theft of goods or property” on his application. Clearly, he has been the beneficiary of a “second chance” on more than one occasion. We can hope that he not only “continues to courageously own it,” but learns from it and gets help for his obvious alcohol problem.
As for Ofc. Roland Albert, after he was charged with two counts of felony theft, he resigned and apparently disappeared. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and weeks later Albert was found and arrested …in Florida.
But Wait: There’s More
These are not the only embarrassing recent incidents for Aurora P.D. — by far. In August, Ruth Brassell, 60, an administrative assistant, and Alice Jackson, 67, the department’s volunteer and intern coordinator, were both charged with theft of gift cards contributed by department employees to help federal employees hurt by the government shutdown.
In November, Detective Craig Appel was confronted after billing $81,043.31 for 1,161 hours of overtime while he was assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Investigators found he was using much of that time not trying to thwart terrorists, but rather going to yoga classes, shopping, hunting, jogging, bike riding, and doing other personal tasks.
“Detective Appel said that he was only working 50% of the overtime hours he submitted and was paid for,” the investigative report noted. “Detective Appel said 50% of the time he was legitimately working.” He was not only not charged with any crime, he got to keep the $40,000+ in fraudulently billed overtime!
“We specifically wanted to confirm whether or not the FBI was intending to criminally charge our employee,” Chief Metz said after that investigation. “We were told that the monetary loss was not egregious enough to conduct a criminal investigation and/or request charges.” Thus, he allowed Appel to retire.
Det. Appel was previously disciplined after an Internal Affairs investigation in 2001 for “making a false/incomplete/untruthful declaration.” He was suspended without pay for a week in that case. Again, a second chance wasted.
These are just a few of the problems I found at Aurora P.D. with a quick Google search. I’m confident there are more.
In An Interview after he announced his retirement after serving less than five years as chief, Metz proudly noted that “This is not a department that needs to be fixed.”
I beg to differ.
- “He’s a Little Intoxicated’: Body Camera Shows Response to Aurora Officer Found Passed out Drunk in Car in Middle of Road”, Denver Post, 16 December 2019.
- “On-Duty Aurora Police Officer Who Passed out Drunk While Driving Kept Job, Was Never Charged with DUI”, Denver Post, 11 December (updated 16 December) 2019.
- “Former Aurora Police Officer Sentenced for Stealing $65,000 from Orphans, Fallen Officers Funds”, Denver Post, 17 December 2019.
- “Aurora Police Employees Charged with Stealing Charity Gift Cards”, KCNC-TV Denver, 27 August 2019.
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