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City leaders say Aurora’s Civil Service Commission, process for new police hires needs to change

It comes after Officer John Haubert was hired with a criminal record
Aurora Civil Service Commission
Posted at 8:00 PM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 09:08:51-04

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora leaders say the city’s Civil Service Commission, which oversees hiring of all new police officers, needs an overhaul.

“They need to take a look at how they currently operate and make changes,” Councilman Juan Marcano said.

The outcry comes after former Aurora police officer John Haubert was seen on body camera video last month pistol-whipping and choking a suspect. It was also uncovered that Haubert had a previous criminal record but was still hired to be a police officer.

A city spokesperson also confirms a former commission who hired Haubert knew about his record and still made the decision to hire him.

“We need to find out what we knew and when we knew it,” Councilman Curtis Gardner said.

Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said she had no knowledge of Haubert’s record until the day before she released the body camera video to the public.

“I have no control over any basic applicant. That is a Civil Service Commission question,” she said during the press conference last month.

Haubert was charged with felony menacing, DUI and prohibited use of a gun while drunk in 2009. According to the police report, Haubert’s roommates accused him of being drunk and pointing a shotgun at one of them. He took a plea deal on the misdemeanor gun charge, leading some to say he never should have been allowed to wear a police uniform.

“I do have concerns with the prior gun charge,” Gardner said. “It's coming forward at our Public Safety Committee to find out how it was that he was hired in the City of Aurora with his past record.”

The Civil Service Commission solely made the decision to hire him in 2018, not Aurora’s chief or anyone in the department, which is the way all new police and fire recruits are hired in the city.

When asked if the police chief should have some say in new hires, Gardner said he does think the police chief should be involved.

Denver7 Investigates was scheduled to interview current Commission Chair Jim Weeks, but he backed out at the last minute.

In a statement, Ryan Luby, a city spokesman, said the background investigator followed the standard procedure in reviewing Haubert’s application and received a copy of the police report in his 2009 criminal case.

“However, staff do not believe the investigator, who departed the city in 2019, sought contact with Haubert’s former roommates named in the report,” Luby said in the statement.

“I do have concerns, though, if a past Civil Service Commission knew about it and still made the decision to hire this individual,” Gardner said.

The five previous commissioners, who served on the board when Haubert was hired, had a wide range of backgrounds from teaching to firefighting. One had previously served on Aurora City Council. They all had two things in common: They lived in Aurora and were registered to vote.

A review of the current board found two interesting backgrounds.

The first involved Commissioner Harold Johnson. He was fired by Denver Fire in 2015 and lied to Aurora City Council about it earlier this year. Johnson disputes his firing, but with a heated 6 to 5 vote, council decided not to remove him from his position in Aurora.

Vice Chair A.J. McDonald’s wife worked for the city when he was appointed by council. She was later hired by police, but the city says she no longer works there.

A closer look at the commission’s background investigators, who handle the background checks on officers before they’re considered for hire, found there are two married couples in that group.

Councilman Juan Marcano said that should not be allowed.

“It’s extremely troubling to me,” he said. “There are other ethical requirements for various branches of government where that would not be allowed, and the fact that it is allowed for the civil service is shocking to me.”

The city said the couples aren’t in supervisory roles and are hired as part-time contractors.

“I don’t think that we should have folks who are related, even if they don’t supervise one another,” Marcano said.

Denver7 Investigates also discovered Aurora’s Commission is an outlier in two key areas: They do not conduct oral boards – meaning new recruits don’t meet anyone from the police department until their first day on the job. It also does not work with the city’s human resources department and operates independently from the city.

“When you're a manager, I think it's important to know who you're going to be working with when they show up for the first day on the job,” Gardner said.

In addition to being chosen by the civil service commission following a background check, all officers must be certified by Colorado’s Peace Officers Standards and Training.

In a statement, Colorado POST said the misdemeanor Haubert pleaded guilty to is not a crime that would keep an officer from becoming certified.

John DeCarlo, a former police chief who now serves as a law enforcement expert and professor at the University of New Haven, says Haubert’s hiring demonstrates a system problem.

DeCarlo stressed Haubert’s record should have been a red flag for any agency.

“Maybe politically or legislatively that should be looked at,” he said.

DeCarlo added other police departments across the state and country utilize civil service commissions to assist with the hiring, but not all do.

“Very often the departments do their own hiring,” he said. “A civil service commission indeed is something that tried to ensure that people are hired on merit and not nepotism. When new politicians came in, they would very often fire everyone and hire new people, and civil service commissions were put into place so that wouldn't happen.”

Luby added the city has not yet determined whether changes could be implemented through policy and practice revisions or if a charter change would be needed, which requires a vote of Aurora residents.

State Rep. Leslie Herod has led the charge on police reform in Colorado and said she would consider looking at legislative changes to make a misdemeanor like the one Haubert was charged with a reason to disqualify someone from becoming POST certified to be a police officer.

“It's definitely something that I will look into, but what I think is more important right now is that our law enforcement agencies need to do an audit of their staff, of their law enforcement,” she said. “I’m concerned that there are more officers like this that continue to be on the streets in Colorado,” Herod said.

Officer Haubert has since resigned following the investigation into his alleged use of excessive force.

Wilson fired officer Francine Martinez earlier this month for failing to intervene and violating several directives within APD, according to the results of an internal affairs investigation: Duty to intervene and report intervention, unsatisfactory performance and conformance to law.

Martinez, a six-year veteran of the police department, still faces charges of duty to report use of force by a peace office and failing to intervene, both misdemeanors.

Haubert is facing four felony charges: criminal attempt of first-degree assault, second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree assault with strangulation and felony menacing.

Denver7 Investigates also sat down with Aurora’s Police Chief who said she supports changes to the commission. We will air that part of the story 10 p.m. Thursday on Denver7 News.