Brandon del Pozo has bowed to the inevitable, and resigned as Burlington’s police chief. His departure came a mere four days after he admitted to Seven Days’ Courtney Lamdin that he had used an anonymous Twitter account to troll frequent City Hall critic Charles Winkleman.
Still, a whole bunch of questions remain unanswered. But they can all be boiled down to a single multidimensional query:
Why did it take so long?
The original deed — creating a fake Twitter handle to bash a critic, and deleting it almost immediately — would have been a bad look. But a fireable offense? That’s questionable. I think del Pozo would have survived.
Instead, here’s what happened. Del Pozo posted the tweets on July 4. Winkleman took notice, and vented his suspicions to Lamdin. She approached del Pozo on July 23, and he repeatedly denied any involvement. He lied “nearly a dozen times,” as Lamdin reported.
Five days later, del Pozo came clean to Weinberger. The mayor put the chief on medical leave and took away his gun, badge and city-issued cellphone. And told him to stay off social media. (The leave was publicly announced on August 2.)
Del Pozo returned to the job on September 15. And still, nothing about the twitter account and the lies to Seven Days’ city hall reporter. Weinberger kept it under his hat, thinking maybe, I don’t know, it’ll all just go away?
Well, of course it didn’t. Last Monday, Winkleman wrote a blogpost outlining his suspicions. This put Lamdin back on the trail. Which brings us to Thursday, when del Pozo spilled the beans.
There’s a question: If WInkleman hadn’t written that post, would the mayor and chief still be in coverup mode? Seems likely, considering they kept it quiet for almost three months after del Pozo’s return from leave.
When asked on Friday why he hadn’t said anything in the preceding months, Weinberger went Full Weasel: “I was asked about the Chief’s tweets for the first time yesterday by Seven Days, and at that time I shared this full account.”
So all this time, he was simply waiting for a reporter to pop the question? No thought of any duty to proactively disclose? I mean, he didn’t inform city councilors or police commissioners until last Thursday.
And by the time all this came out — the lies, the leave, the temporizing, the failure to disclose — del Pozo’s goose was cooked. And Weinberger is in a big fat mess of his own making.
Now, let’s review the medical dimension of this. In June 2018, del Pozo was in a serious bicycle accident. As he recuperated, he was off the job for months. Eventually he was medically cleared and returned to duty.
But now, he’s blaming the Twitter fiasco on lingering mental health issues stemming from the accident. Which begs the question, why was he cleared to go back to work? And did his performance suffer in other respects during the months and months after his return from the injury?
Bring it forward to this summer. When Weinberger put del Pozo on leave in July, the ostensible reason was that medical issues triggered the Twitter fiasco. Do did the city have a less-than-100% police chief for the preceding months? How was it that he was cleared to return in mid-September?
And again, what did Weinberger and del Pozo think would happen if they tried to keep this whole thing under the rug?
Answer: The longer it was kept quiet, the worse the ultimate revelation would be.
Last Thursday, Weinberger offered this rationale to Lamdin:
“Mental health challenges are serious issues among public safety personnel. We have a duty to be compassionate about them.”
Certainly. But “we” also have a duty to the city of Burlington. In that, Weinberger failed. And he’s just beginning to pay the price.
Update 12/17/19. This scandal is moving faster than the speed of blogging. Last night, Weinberger revealed that Deputy Chief Jan Wright, who’d been named acting chief earlier that day, would no longer fill the top job because — you can’t make this shit up — she had her own fake social media account she used to troll BPD critics. Deputy chief Jon Murad became the city’s third police chief in a single day.
Aside from the inevitable casting of Weinberger in the “Sideshow Bob and the Lawn of Rakes” scene, this does raise a very serious point that should not be lost in the peals of laughter.
Del Pozo claimed that his Twitter offense was triggered, in large part, by the effects of a brain injury and by heightened job stress this spring. So, then, what’s Wright’s excuse?
Also, the ex-chief posted his anonymous tweets and almost immediately deleted them. Wright maintained her “Lori Spicer” Facebook account for, apparently, years. And that raises a legitimate question about the BPD’s culture. Is this something that police personnel routinely do, in this department and others? Did Burlington’s top cops have chummy conversations over coffee about trolling their critics?
To his credit, Weinberger, now looking carefully around him for more rakes, will bring in an outside investigator to look into the issue — and will establish a social media policy for department employees. (Just spitballing, but maybe it should cover all city employees.)
And just to show how ridiculous this whole thing has gotten, Weinberger made a point of saying that Murad had “confirmed explicitly… that he has never engaged in anonymous social media posting.”
Which is now a thing that the city of Burlington has to do when hiring a police chief. Fun times.