Denver-based civil rights attorney David Lane sent Aurora City Council members a warning letter Wednesday: If they move forward with an investigation that could lead to censuring one of their members, he would file a lawsuit in federal court.
Lane’s letter comes as a response to an allegation of a city charter violation that Juan Marcano, a progressive member of the council, filed against conservative member Danielle Jurinsky. The charge was over comments she made Jan. 27 about Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Deputy Chief Darin Parker on the Steffan Tubbs radio talk show on KNUS.
Marcano said Jurinsky’s call for Wilson to be removed and her meeting with Wilson calling for Parker’s removal violates the city charter, which prevents council members from directing employment or appointment decisions of anyone under the city manager’s authority.
In the interview, Jurinksy said the way to fix the problem of lack of police officers in Aurora would be to “remove the chief immediately, and with her takes out the trash of the Deputy Chief of Police Darin Parker.” Jurinsky also referred to Wilson as “trash” in the interview.
Aurora police declined requests for comment on Wednesday.
Marcano wrote in his complaint that Jurinsky’s comments on social media and talk radio “amount to public direction to terminate Chief Wilson and Deputy Chief Parker in direct violation of our city charter.”
“We’re legislators, not executives. Our charter prohibits us from calling for or directing the firing, or hiring employees, with the exception of the city manager, the city attorney (and) … two other positions in our system,” Marcano told The Post on Wednesday.
He added that he didn’t want to set a “very troubling new precedent” to allow a violation of the city charter and have employees reporting to 11 people, rather than one, causing chaos.
But Lane referred to the charge filed by Marcano and any potential investigation or hearing as a “bad-faith political investigation” over Jurinsky exercising her right to free speech, alleging a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and a violation of the state constitution. In his letter, he added that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld public officials’ rights and employees to engage in free speech.
“There can be no doubt that Council Member Jurinsky was exercising her rights under the First Amendment,” Lane wrote. “She made radio comments regarding the current administration of the Aurora Police Department. She stated that her perception is that the Chief of Police is ‘trash’ and that she and her managerial subordinates should immediately be terminated from their positions of authority over the police.”
With Aurora making international news over police misconduct, he continued, the issue is “of grave public concern.”
In recent years, Aurora police have made headlines over the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain following a violent arrest; an Aurora cop who handcuffed and forced a group of Black girls to lie down on their stomachs during a stop; an officer leaving a restrained woman on the floor of patrol car for 21 minutes despite her pleas that she couldn’t breathe; and an on-duty cop who passed out drunk while driving and wasn’t investigated.
Lane has given the city until the close of business on March 4 to alert him that the charges have been withdrawn or the case dismissed or he and Jurinsky would proceed with the lawsuit.
“The right to free speech is under assault in this country,” he said in an interview. “And it’s under assault from the right and it’s under assault from the left. And I personally believe that it doesn’t matter what your position is — if you are attacking the rights of free speech, my law firm is coming after you.”
Jurinsky said she stands by her comments and that she wasn’t directing city staff or the city manager to fire an employee.
“I did nothing wrong, and as an elected official, you do not lose your constitutional rights,” she said.
But Marcano believes this is Jurinsky’s response to being held accountable and that “she’s free to think whatever she wants to just as I am, but doing what she’s doing is reckless and brash.”
Both the investigation spurred by Marcano’s complaint and Lane’s letter were referred to outside counsel — Burns Figa & Will — per council rules, according to city spokesman Ryan Luby. A public hearing for the censure process is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on March 30 in the City Council Chamber.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time the City Council has undergone this process,” Luby said in an email.
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