Vanessa Wilson claims Aurora fired her without cause

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Former chief Vanessa Wilson’s lawsuit filed against the city seeks economic losses and back pay.

AURORA, Colo. — Former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson filed a lawsuit against the city Friday claiming she was fired without cause “because of her association with and advocacy on behalf of individuals of color.” 

The federal civil rights lawsuit claims three City Council members and some officers were upset over her efforts to clean up the troubled department – which ultimately resulted in her firing.

Wilson was named the department’s interim chief in January 2020. Around that time, the suit points out, the department was involved in several high-profile incidents, including the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

She was tasked with restoring community trust, the lawsuit says, and in doing so, developed and implemented anti-bias policies and practices. The suit claims she held officers accountable – by firing at least a dozen of them during her tenure.

Among them were officers who mocked McClain’s death in a selfie and the union head who mocked diversity on the force in an email that’s part of the lawsuit.

In it, according to the lawsuit, he wrote “we could make sure to hire 10 percent illegal aliens, 50 percent weed smokers, 10 percent crackheads, and a few child molesters and murderers to round it out. You know, so we can make the department to look like the ‘community.’”

“Chief Wilson stood with and advocated for the minority members of the community in Aurora. And for that she was pushed out of her job,” her attorney Paula Greisen said.

RELATED: Colorado AG issues scathing report on Aurora PD’s policing, saying they treat whites, non-whites differently

Also during her time as chief, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office completed an investigation that found Aurora police had a longstanding pattern and practice of violating state and federal law through racially biased policing and the use of excessive force which disproportionately injured people of color.

In November 2021, when the makeup of the City Council changed, the lawsuit alleges, Wilson was targeted for her efforts. The suit accuses city council members Danielle Jurinsky, Steve Sundberg and Dustin Zvonek of pressuring then-city manager Jim Twombly to oust Wilson.

It pointed to a tweet posted by Jurinsky that included the hashtag “Fire the chief.”

Ryan Luby, a City of Aurora spokesperson reached for comment just after the lawsuit was filed Friday, referred 9NEWS to the city’s response to a notice of claim that Wilson’s attorney submitted to the city in 2022

“Mr. Twombly and the city management team wholeheartedly embraced Ms. Wilson’s community engagement efforts and, as she herself noted in a news conference following her termination, supported her through tough decisions she made during her time as chief,” the 2022 statement read in part

9NEWS has reached out to the three council members for comment. 

Sundberg said in an email to 9NEWS Friday, “I did not lobby anyone for her termination.”

Twombly publicly blamed management and leadership failures when he announced the firing of Wilson in 2022. It’s something she disputed then and disputes in the new lawsuit.

RELATED: ‘Sir, you are very wrong’: Former Aurora Police chief disputes reasons for firing

“This was a veteran officer, over 24 years of service, dedicated to her job,” Greisen said. “She lost her reputation, and she lost her job, and she lost her community.”

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks damages including economic losses and backpay.

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Vanessa Wilson claims Aurora fired her without cause

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