Burlington Police Chief Created Anonymous Social Media Account To Heckle Critic
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo used an anonymous Twitter account to mock a critic in July. After the incident, del Pozo was placed on administrative leave and then medical leave when a city investigation determined a medical condition contributed to his actions.
In a police department memo, Deputy Chief Jan Wright wrote that del Pozo created the account and on July 4 sent 10 tweets to a critic of the city, before deleting the account. The chief then told Mayor Miro Weinberger, who disciplined del Pozo, according to the memo.
Seven Days first reported the news Thursday night.
Del Pozo, speaking to VPR on Friday, said he had three skull fractures and two brain bleeds, stemming from a bike crash last summer and the effects of those injuries, in addition to job-stress resulted in his decision to create the anonymous Twitter account.
“The tweeting was done on an impulse and it was wrong and I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it,” del Pozo said.
Del Pozo also lied when asked in July by Seven Days if he was behind the fake Twitter account.
“When a reporter asked me and my impulse was to deny it, I said I need to account for what I’ve done and so when the Mayor came to town, I told him in person at the first opportunity,” del Pozo said.
An internal city investigation of del Pozo’s actions determined they were “a result of a medical condition and the Chief subsequently went on FMLA [Family and Medical Leave],” Wright wrote in the department memo.
Del Pozo was on leave for six weeks in the summer. The city did not release any information about the circumstances surrounding del Pozo’s absence at the time. In the memo, Wright said two medical professionals cleared del Pozo to return to duty.
In a written statement, Mayor Miro Weinberger said he was “very troubled by both the tweets and [del Pozo’s] response to a member of the media.”
Weinberger opted to give del Pozo a second chance, in part due to his “overall service to date” and because del Pozo admitted to the incident. However, the mayor warned del Pozo that any further “problematic conduct” would result in “immediate termination.”
The Twitter account del Pozo created was aimed at Charles Winkleman, an activist and blogger, who frequently criticizes the city administration’s position on issues like housing and policing. On Monday, Winkleman published a story accusing del Pozo of creating the fake account.
In an interview with VPR, Winkleman said he was “still in shock” about the del Pozo’s admission.
“It doesn’t feel great to spend the last five months essentially being ignored, kind of lied to,” Winkleman said. “And then … them only willing to acknowledge the mistakes they made after I was willing to take that personal risk to my reputation. … it’s shameful”
The incident was kept under wraps until this week. Independent City Councilor Adam Roof, chair of the Public Safety committee, said he learned about it yesterday shortly before Seven Days published its story.
“It’s a disappointing thing to learn about,” Roof said. “I understand that there’s some complexity to the situation that quite frankly I have not fully unpacked and I plan to do so throughout today and the weekend to really fully form my position on this.”
Progressive Councilor Perri Freeman, one of two councilors who voted against del Pozo’s reappointment in June, said she was concerned that the city had a “double standard” in its response to the incident.
“The fact that someone in a position of power and authority is given a verbal reprimand and yet we have people with mental health issues who have been pretty much gunned down or seriously harmed in their interactions with the police department … that’s what feels really disproportionate about this to me,” Freeman said.
Freeman said she wants to hear from the public before making any decision about actions to bring to the council.
The Burlington Police Commission, an advisory group, was not told about the incident at the time it occurred. The group plans to discuss it soon, commission chair Michele Ashe said.
Ashe said while more information could come out, she said based on what she knew, the mayor handled the situation appropriately: “In light of everything else that Chief del Pozo has done for the city, I’m not going to question the mayor’s decision because I do think we have a very competent police chief who screwed up.”
Mark Hughes, another member of the police commission, said he was troubled that group was not informed.
“It should have made us privy to this information, so we would not have had to find out about it in the eleventh hour last night,” Hughes said. “And so we could have been involved in that process with the mayor to help him make … a wiser decision … while at the same time respecting our chief’s privacy to his health.”