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Police chief admits anonymously trolling critic on Twitter

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(iStock/jbk_photography)

BURLINGTON, VT – The police chief in Vermont's largest city used an anonymous Twitter account to troll a government critic, he admitted this week.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said that he took six weeks of medical leave to seek mental health treatment after telling his story to the mayor. Seven Days weekly newspaper first reported the story Thursday.

For one hour on July 4, del Pozo said, he used the anonymous Twitter account to respond to the critic.

“I erased the tweets and deleted the account because I realized I was wrong and it wasn't becoming of me," he told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

He told Seven Days that he created @WinkleWatchers to respond to political activist Charles Winkleman.

Winkleman posted to his website that “Del Pozo’s social media is meant to bully and silence critics, whether it be private citizens or oversight groups like Copwatch, all while promoting himself."

He told the Burlington Free Press on Friday that he was surprised the chief admitted it and disappointed that the mayor had known.

“I’m surprised it happened at all," he said.

Among the exchanges that Winkleman cited was one in which del Pozo, under the WinkleWatchers handle, responded to a tweet by Winkleman that said, “all we had to do was give up $1.5 million in federal money for the Perkin Pier," referring to a waterfront park.

@WinkleWatchers responds in linked tweets: “I know you didn't think it was possible, but yes, even a nice waterfront park can be ... #chickytrolled. There has yet to be a troll sighting at the actual park yet. It can safely be enjoyed by people."

When Seven Days first asked del Pozo about the Twitter account in July, he denied he was behind it.

He then realized, he said, that he needed to account for what he had done, and went to the mayor in person and confessed. He went on medical leave and returned to work in September.

Mayor Miro Weinberger released a written statement late Friday saying he was “very troubled” by del Pozo's tweets and his response to the reporter. He said he placed del Pozo on administrative leave and directed him to turn in his badge, gun and city phone and to stop using social media.

An investigation by the city confirmed that while the chief had not committed any illegal acts or explicitly violated city policy, “he clearly had conducted himself in a manner that was unacceptable, inappropriate, and not consistent with what I expect from the Chief of Police," Weinberger said.

City officials soon learned that del Pozo had an underlying mental health condition, asserted by two medical professionals, that affected his actions, he said.

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.

Taking the medical leave this summer was "to be sure that the issues resulting from my bike crash and the challenges of policing in the spring and summer weren't the type of thing that would cause a mistake like that again," he said.

Weinberger said that “the Chief’s overall service to date had been otherwise excellent." He said he believes he deserved a second chance and said he warned him that any repeat conduct would lead to his immediate dismissal.

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This story has been corrected to show that Winkleman posted to his website, not his Twitter account.