Burlington Deputy Chief Wright Resigns Following Firestorm Over Social Media | Off Message

Burlington Deputy Chief Wright Resigns Following Firestorm Over Social Media


Deputy Chief Jan Wright - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Deputy Chief Jan Wright
Updated 9:41 a.m. February 11, 2020

Burlington Police Deputy Chief Jan Wright has resigned her post following weeks of scrutiny of her inappropriate use of social media.

In a written statement Monday night, Mayor Miro Weinberger said that Wright “agreed to my request that her service to the City end at this time, for the benefit of the Department and of the City.” Her last day is February 21.

“Good local governance, including good policing, depends upon the hard and skillful work of our City team, including civility and respect for all members of our community,” the mayor’s statement says. “In this instance, a high-ranking leader in our City’s Police Department took multiple actions that damaged City relationships and eroded the public’s and my trust in her judgment beyond repair.”

Wright will remain on administrative duty until her last day and will get a severance package that's equivalent to 22 weeks' pay, according to her separation agreement.

The deputy chief is "resigning in good standing," the agreement says.

In a separate statement, Interim Chief Jennifer Morrison said Wright's social media problems had "become an impediment to how we interact with and maintain trust with important segments of the Burlington community.

"A negotiated separation is the most prudent way to move forward," Morrison’s statement says. "The Burlington Police Department thanks Jan for over 18 years of outstanding service to the Burlington community and nearly 34 years to the profession. We wish her the best in future endeavors."

Morrison declined to comment further: "There's a lot I could say, but I'm going to stick to my statement for now," she said.
Wright is the second Queen City police leader to resign in the wake of the social media scandal. In December, then-chief Brandon del Pozo admitted to creating an anonymous @WinkleWatchers account on Twitter to troll a police department critic, and to previously lying to Seven Days about the account. He resigned on December 16 amid public outcry.
Weinberger appointed Wright acting chief, but hours later he demoted her after she admitted to operating her own anonymous Facebook profile, "Lori Spicer." The city launched an internal investigation into Wright's social media activities, which turned up about 19 problematic posts and another online pseudonym, "Abby Sykes."

The city released its report on January 27. In the days following, VTDigger.org and Seven Days uncovered dozens of additional comments from Wright, including posts in which she questioned the racial makeup of the majority-minority Burlington Police Commission. Those commissioners, plus city councilors and other Burlington residents, called for a fuller accounting of Wright's online activities.

Morrison pledged to review the posts but said last week that Wright's status with the department hadn't changed. The interim chief had already suspended Wright for eight days, unpaid, and ordered Wright to undergo a restorative justice process with the targets of her trolling.

Wright's separation agreement says she will receive her usual pay and benefits, and she will make regular contributions to retirement and health care until her severance and unused vacation time are paid out in full.

Wright will stay on duty until February 21 "to ensure orderly knowledge transfer within the Police Department administration," according to Morrison.

The agreement also includes a non-disparagement clause, stipulating that neither Wright nor the city will "make any adverse comments about the other to any media or press."

The Burlington police union issued a statement in support of Wright's resignation. Wright's behavior harmed morale set a poor example for officers she led, the statement said.

At Monday night’s council meeting, resident Jim Carrier called for an independent investigation into social media practices among Burlington police officers “that does not include the police, city attorney or the mayor’s office.”

Resident Trish O’Kane, too, called for a more thorough investigation and for increased civilian oversight of the police department. O’Kane, a University of Vermont media literacy professor, said she was especially troubled that Wright had, using an online pseudonym, attempted to discredit a traffic stop study by fellow UVM prof Stephanie Seguino.

Released in 2017, Seguino's study concluded that police stop and search drivers of color more frequently than white operators. Using her Sykes profile, Wright called Seguino’s study “fake fake fake.”