Burlington Mayor Removes New Chief On First Day For Posting On Fake FB Account
Burlington, VT – Just hours after Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo resigned in the wake of a Twitter-trolling scandal, his replacement was removed from office for failing to disclose that she has also used a fake social media account.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Chief del Pozo’s resignation on Monday, and said that Burlington Deputy Police Chief Jan Wright would be serving as acting chief effective immediately, WCAX reported.
But just before 7 p.m., the mayor stood before the Burlington City Council to announce that he’d already removed Deputy Chief Wright from her role as Burlington’s top cop, according to Seven Days.
"Much to my surprise, Deputy Chief Wright, who I just asked to serve as acting chief, shared that she occasionally operated a Facebook account under the name ‘Lori Spicer,’ to which she made comments about and engaged in discussions about police department policy and practice," Weinberger told the council, according to WCAX.
“While Deputy Chief Wright’s situation may be very different than Chief del Pozo’s, given the circumstances the department is facing, I found the failure to raise this issue with me in the lead-up to today to constitute a lapse in judgement," Weinberger added.
He then named Burlington Deputy Chief Jon Murad as acting chief of the department, according to Seven Days.
"Murad has confirmed explicitly to the City Attorney Eileen Blackwood and HR Director Deanna Paluba that he has never engaged in anonymous social media posting," Weinberger declared.
At the mayor’s instruction, Paluba and Blackwood have launched an investigation into Deputy Chief Wright’s fake Facebook account to determine whether or not she should face discipline for her actions, Seven Days reported.
Their recommendations are expected to be delivered to Weinberger by Friday.
One of the individuals Deputy Chief Wright engaged online under her “Spicer” account was Charles Winkleman – the same individual who now-former Chief del Pozo was accused of trolling.
In another thread, she accused Winkleman of being “obsessed” with del Pozo, Seven Days reported.
"You can't get enough of him," she wrote, according to the news outlet. "He definitely lives rent free in your head. Seek help.”
Weinberger has vowed to establish a social media policy at the Burlington Police Department (BPD).
"Deputy Chief Wright’s disclosure raises the possibility that problematic social media use is far more widespread within the department than previously understood," the mayor said.
The controversy surrounding BPD administration’s fake social media accounts gained momentum on Dec. 13, when then-Chief del Pozo admitted that he had set up a fake Twitter account to mock one of his critics.
He also confessed that he lied to a reporter back in July when he was asked if he was the one behind the account.
The chief said that the brain injury he suffered during a bike crash in June of 2018 was the reason why he created and used the fake account to troll Winkleman, a Burlington resident known for criticizing city leaders, Seven Days reported.
Chief del Pozo created the @WinkleWatchers account while he was off duty on July 4 with the intention of mocking Winkleman, Seven Days reported.
He deleted his 10 tweets and closed the account within one hour of creating it, according to the VT Digger.
Winkleman immediately suspected that the police chief was behind the Twitter handle, which was created after Winkleman criticized a Burlington police lieutenant who wore a Thin Blue Lives Flag shirt to a civil rights monument in Alabama.
He shared his suspicions with Seven Days.
But when Seven Days asked Chief del Pozo about the social media account on July 23, he flatly denied having any “sock puppet accounts,” according to the news outlet.
“The answer’s categorically no,” he said at the time. “If I had anything to say, I would say it directly.”
Five days later, the chief showed up at Weinberger’s home to confess that he was the person behind the WinkleWatchers handle – a fact that both he and Weinberger later confirmed, Seven Days reported.
Chief del Pozo was placed on administrative leave during the ensuing internal investigation, which “very quickly…turned up a number of things” that were determined to be “linked to an underlying medical condition,” the mayor said.
None of the chief’s actions were illegal or “explicitly violated any City policy,” he added, according to the VTDigger.
As a result, the city handled the matter as a “verified medical situation,” Weinberger told Seven Days.
“Mental health challenges are serious issues among public safety personnel,” the mayor said. “We have a duty to be compassionate about them.”
Chief del Pozo was on medical leave for six weeks and received treatment before he returned to active duty on Sep. 15, Seven Days reported.
Seven Days again asked the police chief about the since-deleted fake Twitter account allegations after Winkleman recently resurrected his allegations on his website.
This time, Chief del Pozo admitted that he lied to the news outlet when he denied having created the WinkleWatchers account in July.
"I was disappointed in what I did,” he said. “It was a mistake, and I regret it, and I'm sorry.”
The chief said that the brain injury he suffered during a bike crash in June of 2018 was the reason why he created and used the fake account to troll Winkleman.
“It resulted in a lapse of judgment where I made a mistake that I regret,” he told Seven Days. “I responded to negativity with negativity in a way that doesn't become a chief of police.”
“I realized pretty quickly this was foolish and wrong, and I erased the tweets and deleted the account,” Chief del Pozo told the VT Digger. “Between the stress and some of the issues I was dealing with my health, it was a way to respond to negativity that wasn’t appropriate. It was wrong.”
On Saturday, Winkleman declared that Weinberger and Chief del Pozo should resign their positions.
"I think the chief should resign. I think his deputies should resign,” he told WCAX. “I think that the mayor needs to resign too.”
Chief del Pozo made headlines last month when he declared in a New York Times op-ed piece that law enforcement officers are too quick to defend themselves against knife-wielding suspects.
“We tell officers that a knife or a shard of glass is always a lethal threat and that they should aggressively meet it with a lethal threat in return,” the police chief wrote. “But doing so forecloses all of the better ways to communicate with a person in crisis. There are alternatives.”
He said that one of the biggest mistakes trainers have made has been to teach law enforcement officers “to lead with the gun.”
American law enforcement leaders should instead try to mimic techniques used in countries were officers are unarmed, such as Britain or Iceland, Chief del Pozo suggested.
Yelling commands at a knife-wielding attacker “is unlikely to make a difference,” especially when the officer is unarmed, he said.
But unarmed officers would instinctively back away from the attacker, which could then allow for the situation to de-escalate, the chief claimed.
“Unarmed officers will cultivate an instinct to de-escalate,” Chief del Pozo declared. “They will keep a safe distance, they will try to assess the true level of threat rather than see a weapon as a cue to rapidly escalate, and they will communicate in ways that reach people.”
Chief del Pozo did not specifically address the impact such training would have on law enforcement officers’ safety, however.
Shortly after his op-ed was published, an LAPD officer was almost murdered while trying to flee from a machete-wielding attacker. The incident was captured on video, and showed other officers shooting the suspect at the last possible moment.
A total of 42 law enforcement officers have been stabbed to death in the line of duty since 1990, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.