A community leader who publicly criticized policing and previously sued the city will lose her place on Boulder’s Police Oversight Panel, the City Council voted Thursday.
The City Council’s 5-2 decision overturned the work of the commission charged with choosing panel members and a previous vote by the council to approve those selections. Council members who voted to remove her and explained their reasoning said they did not think the panelist, Lisa Sweeney-Miran, was unfit for the job but feared retaining her against the recommendation of an outside investigation would jeopardize the work of the panel as a whole and open its decisions to litigation.
“To be honest, removing Lisa is a slap in the face to the people who vetted and nominated her,” Councilwoman Rachel Friend said before voting to remove her.
Sweeney-Miran in a statement said the City Council acted against the movement for more just and fair policing in Boulder and silenced marginalized groups who helped select panelists.
“The city has broken their own laws, violated due process, and trampled on the First Amendment,” she said. “While this vote is over, we are not done with this fight.”
The decision follows an outside investigation prompted by two complaints from residents that social media posts by Sweeney-Miran criticizing policing represented anit-police bias and her participation in a lawsuit against the city about its forcible removal of people who are homeless was a conflict of interest.
The investigation — which cost the city $20,000 — found that the commission charged with selecting Sweeney-Miran failed to properly consider the lawsuit and the social media posts and recommended Sweeney-Miran resign or be removed.
“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,” the investigative report states.
The two council members who voted to keep Sweeney-Miran — Lauren Folkerts and Nicole Speer — as well as community members who spoke in her support during public comment warned removing her would send a chilling effect to other panelists.
“I question not only who will be left to speak but what they will feel comfortable saying,” Folkerts said.
Sweeney-Miran — executive director of Mother House homeless shelter and vice president of the Boulder Valley School District’s Board of Education — was added to the 11-person panel in January after a selection process led by two members of the existing panel and representatives from two local nonprofits, the NAACP of Boulder County and El Centro Amistad. The panel reviews and makes recommendations on police discipline investigations, recommends policy and training changes and suggests topics for the city’s independent police monitor to investigate.
Eight people spoke during public comment in favor of keeping Sweeney-Miran on the panel, and three spoke in favor of removing her, including one of the people who filed one of the complaints that sparked the outside investigation.
Jude Landsman, who served on the selection committee, said the council needed to “search their conscious of what bias means.”
“It appears to be being misused as a weapon for trying to remove someone who has been outspoken to the community about policing issues,” she said.
Boulder’s Human Relations Commission on Wednesday urged the City Council to keep Sweeney-Miran on the panel. In a letter, the commission said criticism is not the same as bias and warned against rejecting the decision by community groups chosen to pick panelists.
“With a Police Oversight Committee of 11 members, there is room — and there should be room — for a wide diversity of opinions around the role of police in Boulder: including opinions that are highly critical of law enforcement as an institution,” the letter stated.
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