Burlington police chief admits to trolling a critic on social media

Vermont

Activist Charles Winkleman is a frequent critic of Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo. He already suspected that the chief was behind an anonymous Twitter account that briefly mocked him this summer. The chief is verifying Winkleman’s suspicion and apologizing. “It’s 45 minutes of my life spent anonymously tweeting someone in a snarky way that does not befit a chief of police,” del Pozo said.

The chief said to a wide range of local journalists Friday that on July 4, he used a burner Twitter account, @WinkleWatchers, to respond to Winkleman’s criticism of him. Del Pozo said he realized within minutes that he was wrong, deleting the tweets and the account before telling Mayor Miro Weinberger what he’d done. The chief also told the mayor he’d lied to Seven Days reporter Courtney Lamdin when she asked him if the WinkleWatchers account was his. The chief told Lamdin on Friday, “I can still feel my throat choking up when you asked me that question and saying, ‘my God, this is a problem’.”

Weinberger took the chief’s gun, badge and personal cell phone, telling him he’d be fired if he did it again. Del Pozo then took six weeks of leave to seek mental health treatment. During his leave, experts apparently told him his state of mind came from factors including job-related stress and the brain injury he suffered in a bicycle crash in the Adirondacks in the summer of 2018. “I was helicoptered in with 10 broken bones and multiple bleeds, and to say we want to know more about exactly what was found in your psychiatric diagnosis — if that’s the precedent, I don’t blame people for not seeking help,” the chief said.

“One of the things I thought is how worried I am about the city, how we as a city continue to give the police department so many chances and the chief so many chances, and yet, here we are again,” Winkleman said. He added that he doesn’t question what the chief says about mental health, but that he’s worried about what he calls a pattern.

“It seems like whenever anytime something that his officers do is deemed bad in the public light, they do a whole press thing to try to create goodwill again as opposed to just being honest and taking one on the chin and saying, ‘yeah, it was a mistake and we’re trying to do better’,” Winkleman said.

Chief del Pozo said he’s open to the idea of a face-to-face meeting with Winkleman to talk about what he did, but the two men have not had such a meeting. “I’d value the opportunity to meet with Mr. Winkleman, but not in a way that would be seen as opportunistic or just for the benefit of the media, so at the time and place where he’s ready, if he’d like to, I’d be happy to.” When asked about that prospect, Winkleman said, “And then he should meet with Douglas Kilburn‘s widow and apologize to her, and so should the mayor.”

Mayor Weinberger was not available for an interview Friday, but in an emailed statement, he wrote that he’ll have more to say about the chief and his situation on Monday.

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