Fake social accounts bring down police chief — and successor

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Hours after the police chief in Vermont’s largest city resigned over using a fake social media account to heckle a critic, the mayor announced that the officer acting as chief revealed she too has used a fake account.

Deputy Chief Jan Wright told Burlington’s mayor Monday that she used a fake Facebook account to engage citizens in police policy talk.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said that while Wright’s fake account was different than former Burlington Police Department Chief Brandon del Pozo’s, it highlights a widespread problem of leadership being caught in the web of social media.

“Given the circumstances the department is facing, I found the failure to raise this issue with me in the lead-up to today to constitute a lapse in judgment,” Weinberger said in a statement.

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As a result, Weinberger named Deputy Chief Jon Murad the new acting chief and said Murad has “confirmed explicitly” to the city attorney that he has never used a fake social media account.

Wright was named interim chief of the department earlier Monday after del Pozo submitted his resignation over backlash from using a fake Twitter account. He’s accused of using the anonymous account to respond to a critic for one hour on July 4 before deleting the account.

He had initially lied to a Seven Days newspaper reporter when asked about it in July. Days later, he confessed to the mayor. Weinberger said he had placed him on administrative leave and directed him to turn in his badge, gun and city phone and to stop using social media. The chief then took six weeks of medical leave to seek mental health treatment. He returned to service in September.

The mayor has been criticized by some for not notifying the city council and public sooner. He said Monday that city officials had quickly learned that del Pozo had an underlying mental health condition and that they were trying to protect del Pozo’s medical privacy. Weinberger also apologized for the city to Charles Winkleman, who had been targeted by del Pozo.

Del Pozo, who was appointed chief in 2015, was in a bicycle crash in 2018 in which he suffered three skull fractures, two brain bleeds and a concussion.

In his letter of resignation, del Pozo wrote that the city was able to fight the opioid crisis by reducing overdose deaths by half in 2018 and sustaining that into 2019; closed the gap in racial disparities in many ways; and lowered violent crime, Weinberer said, reading from the letter.

Weinberger said that in the case of Wright, the city attorney and human resources director will review her posts to determine if further action is required.

Wright operated the Facebook account under the name “Lori Spicer,” Weinberger said.

The mayor added that within two weeks, his administration will make additional changes to their draft social media policy to address the seemingly rampant “issues of anonymous social media posting by senior officials.”

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