Aurora Appoints New Interim Police Chief Amid Simmering Controversies

Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
An Aurora police cruiser outside the Town Center at Aurora mall after a shooting on Friday, Dec. 27, in Aurora.

Aurora has named a new interim police chief after its initial pick for the job decided he didn't want it.

Division Chief Vanessa Wilson will take over for Chief Nick Metz on Jan. 1.

Metz announced his retirement in September amid a string of controversies including the death of Elijah McClain, who died after a confrontation with officers in August. Police say body cameras the officers used during the fatal struggle fell off.

McClain died after being put in a "carotid control hold" by one of the officers. None of the officers in that case were charged with a crime, and all of them were put back on the job.

The city is also trying to decide how it should conduct oversight of the police department after an on-duty officer was found passed out drunk in a department vehicle in March. That officer, Nathan Meier, has kept his job.

The city commissioned an independent investigation into how the department handled that case. The results are pending.

Deputy Chief Paul O'Keefe, who was expected to step in as interim chief after Metz retired, also announced his retirement after the drunk officer controversy. He stepped away from the position last week.

Wilson said she has a lot of work to do to help the department regain the trust of the community.

"I promise you today that we will work tirelessly to regain that trust because I will state that no one is above the law," Wilson said at a news conference. "And you expect professionalism from this police department and that is what we are going to deliver."

Wilson also faces questions over violence in the city — particularly after two shootings at an Aurora mall. A 17-year-old was shot and killed in a dispute at the Aurora Town Center on Friday. One person was shot at the mall a couple weeks before that.

Officials said they are meeting with leadership at the mall to address the violence there.

Wilson said the department has additional officers patrolling the area around the mall and that they have off-duty officers working security in the mall.

Wilson has been with Aurora PD since 1996 and is the first woman to be appointed interim chief, according to a news release.

Wilson says she plans on applying for the permanent police chief job. City officials said that the process could take up to eight months to complete.