AURORA, Colo. — The Aurora police officer found drunk and unconscious while armed and on-duty in his patrol car will not face criminal charges after a review by the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“I am incredibly frustrated with an agency that I put a great deal of trust in,” said DA George Brauchler.
“I think that they are an incredible law enforcement agency. I think it’s embarrassing for the 99.9 percent of men and women there that they have to go through the community with this kind of thing hanging over their head,” he said.
Despite all of the public information known about the incident, including details of Meier having a blood alcohol level that was more than five times the legal limit and that he admitted to drinking vodka before getting behind the wheel, Brauchler said he would not be able to use much of that evidence at a trial.
According to Brauchler, law enforcement officers who are compelled to share incriminating information about themselves during the course of an internal affairs investigation are protected from having that same information used against them in a criminal proceeding under a ruling made in a case called Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1966).
Brauchler said Aurora police officers on the scene also failed to tell him about the incident for nearly nine months, preventing him from obtaining Meier’s blood samples in a timely manner.
“Should he be here in court facing these charges? Given the information we had, if we had gotten that blood alcohol level, we would have charged him,” said Brauchler.
Brauchler said he felt the police officers on the scene also failed to collect appropriate evidence, preventing him from pursuing a criminal case.
“I think this became an ‘ignorance is bliss’ moment. This became a, ‘we don’t want to know, we don’t want evidence that might show what we suspect (case)’. I don’t think that’s a cover up, but it’s a couple blocks from it,” Brauchler said.
Interim Aurora Police Department Chief Vanessa Wilson was not the interim chief during this incident, but said the situation was not handled properly.
“We did this wrong and for whatever reason, the decisions were made that day, they were made, and the case was affected by those decisions,” she said. “I can’t sit here and defend those decisions because it did mess up the ability to hold Nate (Meier) accountable as we would hold any other citizen accountable or any person in our community.”
Wilson said she made changes when she took over as interim chief to help her officers know they are not above the law.
Specifically, Wilson said she changed the substance abuse directive for officers to instruct them to investigate any situation involving another officer who may be using drugs or alcohol in connection with a possible crime before an administrative review occurs.
“They will be held accountable. We do have a wellness and peer support in place for them because this is a very difficult job, and they face the stressors just like anyone else in the community. If they need help, they need to ask for help before an incident occurs, not after,” she said.
Wilson announced she planned to open an internal affairs investigation into Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe, who was one of the first officers on the scene with Meier. He chose not to pursue a DUI investigation into Meier.
“There was a decision made. There was a high-ranking official on scene, and like any military organization…there is a chain of command, and officers follow the lead – if you will – of whoever is running that investigation,” she said.