Vermont police chief resigns over fake social media account

Vermont police chief resigns over fake social media account
AP via CNN
In less than a day, Burlington, Vermont had three top cops. A scandal involving use of anonymous social media accounts took two of them down.

In less than a day, Burlington, Vermont, had three top cops. Social media accounts took two of them down.

On Sunday, Police Chief Brandon del Pozo resigned after a scandal involving his use of an anonymous Twitter account.

Less than 12 hours later, his acting replacement, Deputy Chief Jan Wright, was removed from her role for the use of a Facebook account under a fake name.

By Monday night, Deputy Chief Jon Murad was acting chief, assuring city officials that he “has never engaged in anonymous social media posting.”

What happened last July

The controversy has roots dating back to last July, as Mayor Miro Weinberger outlined in a statement last Friday.

That month, del Pozo told the mayor that he’d been running a Twitter account anonymously under the handle @WinkleWatchers.

Through the account, del Pozo targeted a local man who had been critical of the police department.

Tweeting from the anonymous account, del Pozo called local community organizer Charles Winkleman a “cowardly creature hiding behind an electron curtain,” according to screen shots confirmed by Burlington city officials. The account has since been deleted.

The mayor said he put del Pozo on administrative leave but later reinstated him.

“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,” he said in the statement.

What happened next

Cut to last week.

Seven Days, an alternative weekly, asked the mayor about the Chief’s anonymous account.

The mayor publicly accepted del Pozo’s resignation Monday. Del Pozo could not be reached for comment.

At a news conference that day, the mayor announced that Wright would be acting chief.

However, that announcement quickly unraveled.

Soon after the news press conference, Wright told the mayor she had “occasionally operated a Facebook account under the name ‘Lori Spicer’ through which she made comments about and engaged citizens in discussion of Police Department policy and practice.”

As a result, she was replaced as acting chief.

“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,” the mayor said.

What’s next

Now Burlington, Vermont, has a new acting police chief — Jon Murad.

But the two personnel changes raise “the possibility that problematic social media use is far more widespread within the department than previously understood,” the mayor said.

Wright remains a deputy chief on full duty, the city told CNN Tuesday.

But the target of del Pozo’s ire said he didn’t think that was enough.

“The entire scandal and coverup is petty, shameful, and a deeply disturbing display of no accountability or oversight in this city,” Winkleman, the target of del Pozo’s anonymous account, told CNN in an email.

The city said it will be seeking an independent investigation to review the police department’s social media use and policies.