- Luke Awtry
- Mayor Miro Weinberger
This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2019.
I was nervous when I called Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo in July for a story about social media abuse. So nervous, I went out to my car, where it was quiet, to conduct the phone interview in which I had to ask him whether he had set up a fake Twitter account in order to troll a local citizen. Charles Winkleman, a regular critic of the chief and his department, alleged that the chief was behind the short-lived @WinkleWatchers account and had some convincing evidence to prove it.
It's hard enough to confront an authority figure with such a pointed accusation. And, after only three months on the job, I had not yet developed a working relationship with del Pozo. Still, I managed to pose the question, and he said "No, nope" before I'd even finished asking it. That seemed a little suspicious to me. So I rephrased and inquired again in several different ways, with the digital recorder running. There was no misunderstanding what I was asking. Del Pozo spent five minutes denying that he had anything to do with the online harassment of Winkleman.
Six months later, the same question — this time, directed to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger — broke open this story. I had requested an interview with him about the city's social media policy, including fresh allegations from Winkleman about the chief. Weinberger agreed and, in the course of our conversation, admitted that del Pozo had in fact been the anonymous creator of @WinkleWatchers.
I exposed del Pozo's subterfuge and bolstered it with the audio recording that captured him lying repeatedly. Days later, the chief resigned. Then the scandal went deeper: del Pozo's replacement, Jan Wright, lasted just hours as acting chief after she, too, admitted to operating an anonymous social media account.
Proof that the hardest question to pose is almost always the one that needs asking.