Fired Aurora police chief files lawsuit against city for wrongful termination

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Vanessa Wilson (far right) during a community meeting about a fatal police shootout in Montbello in 2017.

Former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson has filed a lawsuit against the city over her termination. The suit alleges the city forced Wilson out of her job because she supported and worked toward department reforms ordered by the state in a 2021 consent decree from the attorney general’s office. The terms of the consent decree were handed down to APD due to the department's pattern and practices of racially biased policing and use of excessive force.

Wilson was the police chief during the 2020 protests over the death of Elijah McClain and when the attorney general investigated the department. She was fired by city officials in April 2022.
The wrongful discharge lawsuit against the city was filed last week in the state U.S. District Court.

According to the complaint, “Aurora terminated Chief Wilson in retaliation for exercising her job-related right to enforce the consent decree and eradicate racism in the APD and performing her duties as required by law.”

The suit goes on to say that firing Wilson also undermined the consent decree as she had “engaged in all her protected activity in a good faith attempt to end the racism in the Department, and to repair the Department’s broken relationship with communities of color in Aurora.” 

Aurora officials have not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Wilson was known for being engaged and active in the community, and Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said as much in a statement released Wednesday morning that she “prioritized” outside relations over working inside the agency with 744 sworn officers and a little more than 240 staffers.

“The police chief also needs to effectively engage with staff, build morale, and validate employee feedback,” Twombly said. “To provide the level of public safety that our community deserves, a change in leadership must occur.”

Wilson had been with the department for more than two decades, rising up from patrol through serving as a division chief. She was the first woman to be named chief in the agency’s history in 2019.

During her tenure, Wilson repeatedly tried to call out officers who broke laws or didn’t conduct themselves professionally. She also put out press releases every time an officer was fired.

The lawsuit alleges a coordinated effort by several city council members to fire Wilson because they “did not believe in the consent decree and that the city manager’s termination without cause was retaliation for her efforts to address racism in the APD.

Wilson has asked for an unspecified amount of money for economic losses, including damages and back pay. 

Aurora is currently in the process of searching for a new police chief after Interim Chief Art Acevedo stepped down suddenly in January. 

Justice reporter Allison Sherry contributed to this report.