After months of investigation, a specially appointed lawyer has recommended that a member of Boulder’s Police Oversight Panel (POP) resign, but some in the community are questioning the validity of the findings and the legality of the recommendations.
The City of Boulder hired attorney Clay Douglas in January to investigate five code of conduct complaints, all of which were filed by Boulder residents, related to the appointment of new POP members. The panel is tasked with reviewing police department disciplinary action in cases where officers are accused of wrongdoing. Two of the complaints claimed that POP member Lisa Sweeney-Miran had made statements online being critical of police, and as such was unable to make impartial decisions on the panel. The complaints also pointed to Sweeney-Miran’s involvement with the ongoing American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Boulder’s camping ban.
“Available evidence of Lisa Sweeney-Miran’s ‘real or perceived bias or prejudice’ could undermine public trust in and effectiveness of the Police Oversight Panel,” Douglas wrote in the report released on April 14. “I recommend Council consider requesting Sweeney-Miran’s resignation from the Police Oversight Panel. If she refuses such a request, I recommend Council consider removing her.”
But Sweeny-Miran told Boulder Weekly she has no plans to resign from the board, and her lawyer, Dan Williams of Hutchinson, Black and Cook, has responded to the findings of the investigation via a letter to Douglas and the city attorney, calling the recommendation for his client to resign or be removed from the panel “illegal,” as neither of the two code of conduct complaints directly accuses Sweeney-Miran of misconduct. One complaint accuses members of the POP selection committee of misconduct by selecting Sweeney-Miran. The second complaint accuses six members of Boulder City Council of misconduct by voting to approve Sweeney-Miran’s place on the panel.
“One must have been found to have personally violated the City’s Code of Conduct as a precondition for the issuance of a sanction against the person,” Williams writes. “Because the Special Counsel makes no finding that Ms. Sweeney-Miran personally violated the Code of Conduct, the City is not authorized to sanction her … or … remov[e] her from the Police Oversight Panel.”
Williams also writes that the city attorney and special counsel “misconstrue what constitutes a code of conduct violation,” that Douglas “failed to conduct an effective investigation” by not interviewing POP selection committee members, and that the recommendations in the report “undermine the integrity of the Police Oversight Panel, disrupting its work.”
Jude Landsman is a member of the executive committee of the Boulder County chapter of the NAACP, and was a member of the POP selection committee who recommended Sweeney-Miran. Landsman confirms that no one from the selection committee was interviewed for the investigation, and calls the focus on “real or perceived bias” a “right-wing tactic.”
“All those words around bias were intended to make sure that the Police Oversight Panel members were diverse, whether they were formerly incarcerated, whether they were homeless, Black, white, Hispanic, Latinx community,” she says. “It was intended, I think in a well-meaning fashion, for inclusivity, and somewhere along the line certain factions want to make that about bias against the police. That is not, in context, what those words about bias are meant to protect.”
POP member Sam Zhang wrote a letter to City Council, which he shared on Twitter, in support of Sweeney-Miran.
“If it is biased to articulate alternative visions to policing,” Zhang wrote, “then one has excluded those who have thought most deeply and imaginatively about our community’s future.”
Darren O’Conner, criminal justice committee chair for the NAACP Boulder County, points to the “Legislative Intent” section of the City’s municipal code that sets up the POP:
“In order to improve community trust in the police department,” the section reads, “the Council intends to increase community involvement in police oversight and ensure that historically excluded communities have a voice in that oversight.”
“If every person recommended for POP by historically excluded communities is required to have no negative opinions of any kind towards police,” O’Conner wrote in an email to Boulder Weekly, “lest they be deemed to have bias forbidding them from serving, then the legislative intent is not achievable and justice for such communities will once again be justice delayed, and therefore justice denied.”
Community member Carolyn Elerding, who is also a member of the Boulder County NAACP and Showing Up for Racial Justice, also took to Twitter to share her letter to Council in support of Sweeney-Miran. Her comments homed in on the uptick in code of conduct complaints that have come into the city this year (News, “Questions arise around complaint process as councilmember accused of conduct violation,” April 6, 2023)
“It’s time to consider the sources of these complaints, for nothing is more biased than to believe that one’s own perspective is universal, though thinking this way is a common mistake (and tactic) of the privileged,” Elerding writes. “Democracy — real, healthy democracy — involves diverse perspectives and often deep disagreement, which should be navigated in a just and respectful manner, not by breaking the rules after losing a fair fight.”