Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo admitted Thursday to creating an anonymous Twitter account to troll a critic. He also conceded that he'd lied to a Seven Days reporter who asked him about the account in July. In a written statement Friday, Mayor Miro Weinberger described his chief as not having "been forthright with a reporter about those tweets."
"It's 45 minutes of my life spent anonymously tweeting someone in a snarky way that does not befit the chief of police," del Pozo said at an impromptu press conference Friday, "and then, to be candid, denying it out of embarrassment to a reporter, which I think is the more serious problem."
Del Pozo went on to say he felt his "throat choking up" during the July 23 phone call with this reporter.
A review of the audio recording of the 36-minute interview showed that the chief lied nearly a dozen times about what he'd done.
Listen to the audio of the first six and a half minutes of the interview here:
At the beginning of the call, as this reporter began to describe the accusation that he'd created the account, del Pozo interrupted and said, "No."
"So you did not do that?" this reporter asked.
"Nope," del Pozo said.
He went on to say, "I haven't created any fake Twitter accounts either, or Facebook accounts, at all."
At Friday's press conference, del Pozo attributed his behavior to a temporary lapse in judgment owing to a combination of stress and ongoing complications from the traumatic brain injury he suffered after a bicycling accident in 2018.
“You can make decisions that you do not normally make under those circumstances,” del Pozo said. “Being the chief of police and being responsible for the welfare of an entire city and for a police department can be very, very stressful.”
Del Pozo said he created the account on July 4 to troll Charles Winkleman, an outspoken activist who regularly criticizes del Pozo and others on Twitter. The profile, WinkleWatchers, was active for about an hour before del Pozo deleted it, he said.
While Weinberger called del Pozo's actions "unacceptable, inappropriate, and not consistent with what I expect from the Chief of Police," the mayor also lauded the chief for coming clean about what he'd done. But del Pozo waited more than three weeks to tell Weinberger about his actions and only did so after Seven Days questioned him.
"I didn't know where my head was. This was out of character," del Pozo recalled telling the mayor. "I know that I have these back and forths on the internet ... but I don't know why I did this thing."
He subsequently took a six-week medical leave, returning in September.
City councilors, police commissioners and the police union leader all said they did not know about the account until shortly before Seven Days' story was published Thursday night.
"The membership is understandably angry ... about what was revealed yesterday," Cpl. Tyler Badeau, the president of the police union, said Friday. He expected the union would issue a formal statement next week.
Councilor Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said del Pozo should resign.
“He’s lost the trust of the public,” Tracy said. “This will follow him wherever he goes.”
The city council is scheduled to meet on Monday evening, but the chief is not on the agenda. City Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) said he's invited del Pozo to appear on his radio show, "The Morning Drive," on Monday. "If he is going to weather this storm, he’s going to have to be completely open and candid," Wright said.
"The chief made two critical, really big mistakes that are indefensible, that he has owned up to and apologized for," said Wright. "But at the same time, he's a human being like I am, and we've all made mistakes. I think it's important that we not throw someone under the bus despite the severity of the mistake."
Other councilors reached by Seven Days on Friday had mixed reactions. Councilor Brian Pine (P-Ward 3) called for a restorative justice process in which del Pozo and Winkleman would meet and collaboratively address the issue. Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) said he was "disturbed and distraught" by del Pozo's actions and called for "a process of accountability."
Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District), who was one of two councilors who voted not to reappoint del Pozo in June, said she wants to hear from the public on how to respond.
Councilor Franklin Paulino (D-North District) said he'd already decided that del Pozo shouldn't resign or be fired because the incident was an aberration.
"As long as it’s not part of a bigger problem ... I stand behind our chief," Paulino said, adding, "He obviously made a mistake, and it sounds like he’s paying the price for it."