Colo. chief cites LEO mental health in decision not to fire cop found drunk on duty

Chief Nick Metz said in an email to staff that Officer Nathan Meier took responsibility in the incident, which played into Metz's disciplinary decision


Elise Schmelzer and Shelly Bradbury
Denver Post

AURORA, Colo. — After days of intense scrutiny for allowing an officer found drunk on duty to stay on the force, Aurora police Chief Nick Metz sent an email to his staff explaining in part how he came to his decision and promising to take the brunt of criticism aimed at the department.

“I’m guessing many of you would agree with me that the inaccurate media spin this past week has been frustrating,” Metz wrote to begin his email, which was released by Aurora officials. “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…”

Chief Nick Metz is facing criticism for not firing Officer Nathan Meier, who was found intoxicated in his patrol vehicle while on duty. (Photo/David Zalubowski/AP)
Chief Nick Metz is facing criticism for not firing Officer Nathan Meier, who was found intoxicated in his patrol vehicle while on duty. (Photo/David Zalubowski/AP)

Metz said that the officer in question, Nathan Meier, admitted responsibility in the incident, which played into the chief’s disciplinary decision.

“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,” Metz wrote in the email, which was first reported by 9News.

The chief throughout the email wrote about how the nature of the job can cause serious negative impact on officers’ mental health, including leading to substance abuse and suicide.

“Finding the balance between discipline and support is critically important … why?” Metz wrote. “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.”

On March 29, two people called 911 to report an officer who appeared to be unconscious in an unmarked car in the middle of East Mississippi Avenue near Buckley Air Force Base. Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe — who will take over as interim chief when Metz retires Dec. 31 — was the first to arrive on the scene.

O’Keefe banged on the driver’s window but Meier drifted in and out of consciousness and couldn’t open the door. Meier wore his uniform and the car was in gear with his foot on the brake. Firefighters broke the window and at least three officers who responded to the scene noted Meier smelled of alcohol before he was taken to a hospital. O’Keefe also noted a “fleeting” smell of booze in the car.

O’Keefe first asked a traffic officer to investigate the case as a potential DUI, but later decided that Meier’s “physical demeanor was not what I thought was consistent with alcohol intoxication; it appeared more medical in nature,” he wrote in a report.

[Read Police1 columnist Chief Joel Shults' take on Chief Metz's actions and share your thoughts in the comment box below.]

Police did not test for alcohol consumption or seek a blood draw from Meier.

During an internal affairs investigation into the incident, Meier admitted he’d drunk vodka while on duty and blacked out. He said he had no memory of the incident until he woke up in the hospital.

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said last week that his office will look into the incident.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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