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Aurora police chief defends decision not to fire officer found drunk in running patrol car

In a letter sent to staff Friday night, Chief Nick Metz also criticized local media's reporting on his department's response to the incident.

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz defended his decision not to fire an officer found drunk and unresponsive in his unmarked patrol car in a letter acquired by 9Wants to Know. In the message sent to staff Friday night, Chief Metz also called out local media outlets' reporting on his department's response to the incident, saying it was an "inaccurate media spin." 

9NEWS called Aurora Police to clarify what inaccuracies Chief Metz was referring to and a spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department (APD) said the chief was referring to a perceived insinuation by the media that APD's response to the incident was a cover-up.

Chief Metz added, "I don’t want this to become a distraction from a message I want all of you to hear loud and clear, which is this: If you make a mistake, OWN YOUR S**T…."

The chief further wrote when an employee "makes a mistake worthy of adverse action", he considers "whether that individual owns their mistake, takes responsibility, and takes steps to right the wrong" before taking disciplinary action. 

Officer Nate Meier, 48, was not charged with DUI and is still on the job after the March 29 incident. An agent at the time, he was demoted to officer and "received a significant unpaid suspension," according to a statement released by APD this week.

According to a police report, the Ford Taurus' engine was running, the car was in gear and Meier's foot was on the brake. Responding officers said he was wearing his uniform and had his service weapon on him.

First responders couldn't wake Meier and had to break a window to get him out of the vehicle, the report says.

According to the documents released Thursday, three officers reported at least faintly smelling alcohol on his breath.

Officers treated it as an emergency medical situation and Meier was taken to the hospital. 

Chief Metz says he "strives to find a balance between discipline and support." He adds that his decisions do include termination "when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests this is the right course of action."

Metz cites the stress and trauma police officers are subjected to, and says officer wellness "has been a huge part of my mission during my tenure here in Aurora." He says he will take criticism that comes from the media, the community and law enforcement if it means getting an officer the help they need.

RELATED: Documents detail police response after Aurora officer found drunk, unresponsive in patrol car

RELATED: Body camera videos show drunk officer slumped over in driver's seat

You can read the entire letter from Metz below:

"I’m guessing many of you would agree with me that the inaccurate media spin this past week has been frustrating. I don’t want this to become a distraction from a message I want all of you to hear loud and clear, which is this: If you make a mistake, OWN YOUR S**T….

Since my arrival five years ago, I’ve made it very clear that when an employee makes a mistake worthy of adverse action, before imposing discipline I not only consider the actual offense, but I also take into serious consideration whether that individual owns their mistake, takes responsibility, and takes steps to right the wrong. It is often during the pre-disciplinary hearing that I am able to assess an individual’s sincere willingness to own up to their actions.

 I have always taken my responsibility to our officers, our department, and to our community very seriously and strive to find a balance, whenever possible, between discipline and support. Ultimately, I respect that my decisions will not always be well received by those that feel impacted by them. And yes, as you all know, this includes decisions to terminate employment on occasion when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests this is the right course of action.

Finding the balance between discipline and support is critically important …why?

Because I know cops are human beings. You are not perfect. You are exposed to higher levels of stress and trauma than the general public will ever truly understand.  We all know that trauma, suicide, and substance abuse continue to be huge problems in our profession. Are stressful and traumatic incidents “what you signed up for” and “part of the job?” Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its toll. After 36 years of doing this job, I get it. This is why officer wellness has been a huge part of my mission during my tenure here in Aurora. I also know that stigma still keeps officers from reaching out when they need help. We have to prove that it’s okay to use the resources we have in place (peer support, CAARS program, psych services, etc.) and the only way I can think to demonstrate that to you is through my actions. I will stand out front and take any criticisms the media, community members, or uninvolved law enforcement personnel want to throw at the department if it means an officer gets the help they need. This is certainly not the first nor last time my decisions have been criticized.

 I want you to know I unequivocally stand by my decision regarding the involved officer because I care about the human being who stepped up and owned his incredibly poor decision…and continues to courageously own it.

As my time as your Chief draws to a close, know that I truly do hope all of you take care of yourselves, your families, and each other. Fight the stigma. Use the resources. Get help when needed. And come back stronger, more resilient, and more empathetic to those struggling both internally and out in the community. I’ll be cheering you on as your Chief for the next 18 days and as a member of the community you serve after that. 

~Nick"

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