Politics

Weinberger criticized over prior knowledge of ex-police chief’s fake twitter account

Brandon del Pozo
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

New court documents show Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger knew more than he publicly shared about a Twitter account that ex-Police Chief Brandon del Pozo used to troll a critic and led to his resignation in December 2019.

Del Pozo, who is named as a defendant in the case, had been deposed by lawyers who are bringing an excessive force lawsuit against the city on behalf of Jeremie, Albin and Charlie Meli. 

Jeremie Meli was pushed and knocked unconscious by Burlington Police Officer Jason Bellavance, who is also named as a defendant along with Officer Cory Campbell, during a fall 2018 incident. (Bellavance was recently offered a $300,000 buyout by the city.)  

In the partial deposition filed in court, del Pozo said he showed Weinberger the @WinkleWatchers Twitter account on July 3, created to troll local activist and vocal critic Charles Winkleman. On July 4, del Pozo sent off a series of tweets directed at Winkleman in a 45-minute period and then deleted the account. 

The public had previously been told by Weinberger that del Pozo disclosed the account to him on July 28, when del Pozo had admitted he was behind it and that he lied to a Seven Days reporter who had inquired about it. 

On July 29, Weinberger put del Pozo on a six-week medical leave and opened up an investigation into his conduct, but he didn’t disclose to the public the reason behind the chief’s absence. del Pozo was in a bike crash in June 2018 that caused a serious brain injury; he attributed his behavior to the injuries he sustained in that crash.

In the deposition, first reported by Seven Days, del Pozo said when he showed the account to Weinberger, he laughed at it. 

“It was after July fireworks,” del Pozo said in the deposition, which has some typos. 

“He said, How’s it going? I said, Yeah, you know, it’s frustrating to have the city’s best efforts like on the park and everything you attack. Like, wouldn’t it be interesting if somebody who constantly trolls people and is, like, bitter in his criticisms, like, was called out on it,” del Pozo stated. 

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“And he laughed. He say, Yeah, you know. He didn’t say do it. He didn’t — the whole thing was like maybe 30 seconds,” he added. “I think he saw it as me just like venting and just trying to, like, vent some stress.” 

del Pozo also contested that his gun and badge were taken from him when he came clean to Weinberger about the account. In December 2019, Weinberger told reporters that he asked del Pozo to turn in his gun and badge. 

“I will go on the record and testify that that is not true,” del Pozo said. “My badge was never taken and my gun was never taken, and I cannot emphasize enough that that is inaccurate reportage.” 

“I haven’t spoken with the mayor in a long time,” he added. “You’ll have to ask him. I never ever, ever, ever relinquished my shield or my gun. I state that on the record under oath.” 

Weinberger would not make himself available for an interview. His communications coordinator, Olivia LaVecchia, said that because the matter concerns active litigation, his office would limit his response to a statement. 

The mayor corroborated del Pozo’s account that he showed him the Twitter account at the July 3, 2019, party held at the ECHO Leahy Center. He called the interaction “bizarre and brief.” 

“While Brandon showed the account to me as if he thought it were funny, I didn’t find it funny and I don’t believe that I laughed. He explained to me that it was an account he had created but that he had no intention of using,” Weinberger stated. “I found the interaction confusing, but it seemed clear that he did not plan to actually activate the account, and it was unfathomable to me that he would do so. I moved on with the evening and would never have thought about the incident again but for later events.” 

Weinberger said when he told the public he found out about the account on July 28, it didn’t occur to him to bring up the July 3 interaction. 

“Last December and January, when I spoke with members of the media and the public about Brandon’s use of this account, I was very focused on describing how I learned about the tweets themselves at the end of July and the actions that I took in the days that followed,” he added. “It simply didn’t occur to me to go back and talk about this bizarre and brief prior interaction. In retrospect I wish it had so that this was clear from the beginning.”

Weinberger added that he believed del Pozo had surrendered his gun and badge to then-Acting Chief Jan Wright when he was directed to do so by the city’s HR director and put on administrative leave. 

“Apparently, Brandon instead left the gun and badge in his desk at the Police Department, however, it is still the case that he did not have access to the building during the subsequent six weeks that he was on medical leave,” Weinberger said. 

As the mayor heads into his March 2 reelection campaign, his opponents point to this new information as further evidence that Weinberger’s administration lacks transparency. 

“Transparency in general has been an issue with Mayor Weinberger’s administration,” said City Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, who is running against Weinberger for mayor as an independent. 

“This is completely nonsense and shocking to so many, many, many different people,” Dieng said. “It’s unfortunate that Burlington residents have to go over this, scandal after scandal after scandal. It is very unfortunate and we deserve better.” 

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City Council President Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, who is also running for mayor under the Progressive party banner, said in a statement that over the past year trust has been broken between city officials and community members. 

“It is troubling that the Mayor has not been forthcoming with the full story of the events that led to Chief Del Pozo’s resignation and that he did not stop the Chief when he had the opportunity,” Tracy stated. 

“The actions by the Mayor and their impact on our community is a reminder of why we need transparent, thoughtful, and principled leadership in the Mayor’s office as well as the need for expanded community oversight of the police,” Tracy added. “I am committed to transforming our public safety system and building new accountability structures to ensure that incidents like these do not happen again.”

The excerpt from del Pozo’s four-hour-long deposition was used by Evan Chadwick, who represents the Meli brother, to argue against a protective order that had been filed to prevent Weinberger from being deposed. 

“The statements of del Pozo as outlined above, directly contradict the City’s knowledge of, and response to, the fake social media account scandal that ultimately led to del Pozo resigning as chief of police,” Chadwick argued. 

There has been no ruling yet on whether Weinberger can be deposed. 

“If Brandon del Pozo’s statements are truthful,” he added, “the Plaintiffs have a right to inquire of the Mayor of what actions he took in response to the knowledge that his chief of police was setting up a fake social media account to troll critics of his administration.” 

Chadwick argued the mayor should also be questioned about the $300,000 separation agreement for Bellavance that he helped broker with the city council. 

The city’s attorneys, Pietro Lynn and Barbara Blackman of Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky, argue that the plaintiffs have not met the “exceptional standards” to depose a high-ranking official like Weinberger. She also argued that Weinberger would be unable to discuss Bellavance’s buyout because it was negotiated in executive session. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:50 p.m. with comments from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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