Investigations Into Aurora Officer Who Was Found Passed Out Drunk Come As The City Considers How To Police The Police

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
An Aurora Police officer pulls a counter protester away from immigration activists marching on the home of Johnny Choate, GEO Group’s lead of their contract immigration jail in Aurora. Sept. 19, 2019.

Since an officer was found passed out drunk in a department vehicle while on duty in March, the community and others have called for oversight into the Aurora Police Department

“This latest issue with the officer found passed out in his vehicle has resulted in additional calls for independent oversight,” said Jim Twombly, the city manager.

In an email, Twombly said Councilmember Nicole Johnston plans to talk with the Mayor and Council in an upcoming study session about an independent monitoring process of the police department.

Nathan Meier, the officer who was behind the wheel while intoxicated, didn’t face any charges and is still working for the department.

The incident has sparked multiple investigations.

Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh will conduct an independent investigation into the departments’ handling of Meier’s case, the city of Aurora announced on Monday night.

“It is in the public’s best interest that a thorough outside examination take place to ensure our residents’ confidence in our police department and it’s leadership,” Twombly said in a statement.

The results of the investigation will be made public. Walsh will look into the department’s response at the scene, the hospital and disciplinary actions.

District Attorney George Brauchler’s office is also looking into the incident to see if Meier can be charged.

Meier was demoted after the incident and took a $20,000 pay cut, according to a statement from the Aurora Police Department.

“We understand in order to maintain the public’s trust we need to be transparent with our actions,” the statement said. “We take our responsibility to the public very serious and hold our members accountable for their wrongdoings.”

Police Chief Nick Metz will retire from his post at the end of December. He defended his decision to keep Meier on the force in an email to his staff. Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe will be the interim chief starting in January.

When Meier was found unconscious in March, O’Keefe wrote in a report that he questioned if Meier was intoxicated or having a medical issue.

“If the goal here is to build community trust and to have an effective and honest and good police department, that's sure not going to do it,” said Denver attorney Mari Newman.

Newman said she has sued the Aurora Police Department multiple times over the last decade for civil rights violations and the unconstitutional conduct of officers.

The incident follows a string of other high-profile events over the last year involving the Aurora Police Department. 

Elijah McClain was killed after an altercation with police in August this year. Officers were cleared in that case and were put back on the job. In December 2018, David Baker was killed after a violent fight with officers. The officers were again cleared, but during an internal review of the officers involved, one tested positive for cocaine and resigned.

Newman was involved in both of those cases and said the incident involving Meier is hardly an anomaly. 

“It is impossible for a police department to build trust in its community when there is so much overt malfeasance and dishonesty,” she said.

The city has been looking into replacing its review board with one that’s independent of the department. The Denver Post reported the current review process is used infrequently and is ineffective.

The city’s human resources department oversees the board and meetings are made up of four members in the department and four members chosen by city council.

Walsh's review will begin immediately and will happen as expeditiously as possible, Twombly said.