Former Burlington police chief Brandon del Pozo resigned from the Howard Center board of trustees last month as the mental health agency wrapped up an investigation into his social media use.
In an email to Seven Days on Thursday, del Pozo said his decision to step down was unrelated to the investigation. Rather, he said, he and his family had moved out of state.
"As my work commitments gradually went nationwide I no longer had the community connections and local focus that service to the Howard Center requires," he wrote.
Del Pozo had served as a trustee for the Howard Center, the state's largest mental health and substance use service provider, since 2018. His three-year term was due to expire this year.
Following a string of employee complaints, the Howard Center board hired local law firm Paul Frank + Collins in August to "better understand the full scope of events" surrounding del Pozo's decision in July 2019 to create a secret Twitter account to troll former Howard Center worker Charles Winkleman.
Del Pozo initially lied about the @WinkleWatchers account but came clean in December 2019 after Winkleman publicly accused the chief of operating it. Del Pozo resigned as chief shortly after but stayed on the Howard board.
Since then, online petitions demanding his removal from the board have amassed nearly 2,300 signatures. Members of the AFSCME Local 1674 union, which represents Howard Center workers, argued that someone who belittles an employee has no place on the organization's board of trustees.
The attorneys interviewed Winkleman in October, asking him to discuss del Pozo's account but also pressing him on his own social media use, he said. "There were certainly parts where I was feeling like I was on trial," said Winkleman, who has since left the Howard Center.
Del Pozo resigned from the board on December 29, "before the full board had the opportunity to discuss the results" of the report, according to a letter that Howard Center board chair Deb Stenner sent to Winkleman this week. Because del Pozo resigned, Stenner wrote, "in the end no action was necessary."
The report will not be made public because it was "developed by an independent law firm at the board's direction" and "is a confidential attorney-client communication," Stenner wrote. Only trustees and Howard Center director Bob Bick have seen the document, Stenner said in the letter.
Neither she nor Bick immediately responded to interview requests.
In a statement issued Friday morning, the union said the Howard Center didn't need an outside investigation to conclude that del Pozo had harassed Winkleman. Leadership should have acted sooner, the union said.
"The union applauds Mr. del Pozo's departure from his position but finds it regrettable that the board of trustees never removed him and only took up the matter after consistent pressure from the union," the statement reads. "The board has failed to address Mr. del Pozo's harmful and disreputable behavior in a timely or meaningful manner."
Del Pozo tweeted out his resignation letter at 2:18 a.m. on Thursday, less than two hours after Seven Days contacted him about his decision to step down. He thanked trustees for making his service on the board "one of the more memorable experiences" despite how it came "during a difficult time in my life."
"I felt nothing but compassion and understanding from Howard's leaders," del Pozo wrote. "You truly embody the values that Howard wants to convey to all of the people it serves."
Winkleman has argued that the board tried to protect del Pozo — who has said that head trauma from a cycling accident contributed to his decision to make the burner account — instead of recognizing the trauma the former chief inflicted on one of their employees. Before Winkleman resigned from his job at the Howard Center last month, he'd been on a monthslong mental health leave of absence related to the del Pozo incident.
"I feel bad for our employees and the people who are clients, because the people at the top — they're not anywhere close to the supposed values that the organization claims to have," Winkleman said. "The real problem, for me, is the Howard Center board of directors, and, frankly, even Bob Bick, don't seem to be really trauma-informed."
Winkleman said he suspects that del Pozo resigned based on the report's findings, an assertion del Pozo called "baseless and wrong."
"Nobody from the Howard Center has shared anything about it with me," he wrote, adding, "It's simply the start of a new year, I haven't lived in Vermont going on seven months, I have responsibilities elsewhere, and the Howard Center is best served by trustees who are part of its local community and civic life."
Del Pozo now lives across Lake Champlain in New York's Adirondack region and is researching addiction and public health as a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University. He is also frequently called on by national media as an expert in police reform, something local critics have questioned given the numerous controversies that unfolded at the Burlington Police Department on his watch.