“Deputy Chief Wright’s disclosure raises the possibility that problematic social media use is far more widespread within the department than previously understood,” Weinberger said in a statement. “I am troubled that more than one senior department official engaged in such activity.”
Weinberger, who has served as mayor since 2012, said he planned to hired an outside investigator to thoroughly review the Burlington Police Department’s social media activity and practices. The mayor also said the city’s draft social media policy will be further amended within the next two weeks to “explicitly address the issues of anonymous social media posting by senior officials.”
The city’s third acting chief since Monday, Deputy Chief Jon Murad, “confirmed explicitly” to the Burlington city attorney and human resources director that he has never posted anonymously to social media.
The saga began over the summer, when local political activist Charles “Chicky” Winkleman told a reporter at Seven Days that he believed del Pozo was mocking him from the Twitter account @WinkleWatchers. When Winkleman would tweet complaints about city decisions or government spending, the account would share those tweets with sarcastic commentary and #ChickyTrolled.
On July 23, Seven Days reporter Courtney Lamdin asked del Pozo whether he was behind @WinkleWatchers, and the police chief said the answer was “categorically no,” the alt-weekly reported. Del Pozo said he maintained no “sock puppet accounts,” adding “if I had anything to say, I would say it directly.”
But five days later, unbeknown to Seven Days or Winkleman, del Pozo went to the mayor’s home and came clean about @WinkleWatchers. The police chief also told the mayor he had not been honest with a reporter about his tweets. The mayor placed del Pozo on administrative leave, asked him to turn in his badge, gun and city phone, and instructed him to stop using social media. The city attorney and HR manager determined that del Pozo had not broken any laws or city policies but that his conduct was “unacceptable” and “inappropriate,” the mayor said in his statement.
At that time, the city also learned about a mental health condition the chief was experiencing that, according to the statement, had affected his actions. He was evaluated by his own doctor and the city’s medical examiner. The chief was granted six weeks of medical leave and returned to the job in September.
None of this became public until last week, when a blog post by Winkleman resurfaced interest in the @WinkleWatchers account and prompted Seven Days to once again start asking questions, the alt-weekly reported. A Seven Days reporter was invited to police headquarters to speak with del Pozo. It was then that the police chief publicly recanted what he had previously told the paper and admitted he created @WinkleWatchers.
“I was disappointed in what I did,” del Pozo told Seven Days. “It was a mistake, and I regret it, and I’m sorry.”
The chief did not elaborate on his medical condition but told the alt-weekly he suffered a brain injury in a near-fatal bike accident in 2018 and was under a great deal of stress in 2019 that “resulted in a lapse of judgment where I made a mistake that I regret.”
“I responded to negativity with negativity in a way that doesn’t become a chief of police,” del Pozo said.
In a statement late last week, the mayor said that he formally reprimanded del Pozo when he returned to work and warned him that a repeat social media offense would get him fired. Weinberger said he factored in that del Pozo had self-reported his behavior and worked to remedy it. “Employers of public safety personnel have a duty to treat mental health issues with compassion and awareness of the stigma still associated with mental health issues,” the mayor said in his statement.
Weinberger also said he did not publicly disclose what happened until Seven Days approached him because he believed that del Pozo was owed a level of privacy related to his health.
“When dealing with personnel issues as mayor, I generally believe that people deserve second chances if possible, particularly when they have come forward to admit error,” Weinberger said in his statement.
Days later, on Dec. 16, the mayor announced that del Pozo had resigned and that he was appointing Wright, the deputy chief, to temporarily replace him. But soon after the news conference, Wright told Weinberger about her own critiques of Winkleman from a Facebook account under the name “Lori Spicer.”
In one comment obtained by NBC 5, the Facebook account wrote that Winkleman was “obsessed” with del Pozo. “You can’t get enough of him,” the comment said. “He definitely lives rent free in your head. Seek help.”
Wright is still on the police force, the mayor said, and her actions are being reviewed by the city attorney.
In his resignation letter, which del Pozo shared from his official Twitter account, the former police chief said he would resume writing a book about American policing and complete his PhD in political philosophy. A goal, he said, is to “help establish a research center for the study of policing and public health.”
He called his time as chief “the noblest thing I have ever done.”