Boulder’s police oversight panel process draws second complaint

Zayd Atkinson, right, the black student confronted by police while picking up trash outside his home, addresses the crowd at Sunday’s March for Boulder Police Oversight.
(Photo by Shay Castle / Boulder Beat)

Friday, Jan. 27, 2023 (Updated Tuesday, Jan. 31)

Boulder’s much-scrutinized process for picking new members of its police watchdog group has drawn another complaint — this time, from the Black man whose confrontation by police was the impetus for creating the civilian body in the first place.

Zayd Atkinson on Thursday filed an official complaint against members of Boulder City Council for twice delaying the vote on new members of the Police Oversight Panel. In it, Atkinson accuses elected officials of failing to follow procedure.

View the full complaint here

A vote on nominees — recommended by two members of the POP and representatives from the NAACP and El Centro Amistad — was first delayed in December after resident concerns over two of the appointees. Council instructed the selection committee to reaffirm and explain its decision, taking into account new information about candidates.

That violated city code in two ways, Atkinson alleges. First, council should have exercised its authority to “call up” or review and discuss the nominees. Secondly, instructions to explain their selections violated city code protecting the committee’s deliberations as confidential, Atkinson wrote.

“The public officials’ action jeopardized the deliberative process of the selection committee by imposing disclosure requirements in violation of the code, thereby harming present and future efforts to make the best possible selections for the police oversight panel.”

A third allegation is against council members Aaron Brockett, Mark Wallach, Tara Winer, Matt Benjamin and Bob Yates, who voted to again delay final approval on January 19, in light of a complaint against the selection committee. That complaint was filed by resident John Neslage.

Council should either have exercised its call-up authority or voted to ratify, Atkinson argued.

“Both of these votes constitute a failure on the part of City Council to follow the requirements laid forth in the ordinance and as such both votes are a violation of the legal duty City Council has to follow the terms of the city’s municipal code.

“These public officials’ action in failing to fulfill these duties … put at risk the work of the police oversight panel, and undercut its credibility, harming its future efforts.”

In a Tuesday interview, Atkinson said council’s delays put the POP in jeopardy of not being able to continue the work. That should never happen, he said.

It’s disrespectful to the sacrifices that people have had to make in order to create this program (and) to the people who have suffered at the hands of police officers in this country, and specifically in this community,” Atkinson said. “We have had enough serious police issues, even in the past year. It just doesn’t make sense how the council would consider that we don’t need to be supervising or having a process into the activities of the police.

“The POP should be always there. They should never not be. When I hear delays, I think there it goes again, authoritarianism at its finest.”

Atkinson in 2019 was accosted by armed officers while picking up trash outside his Boulder home, on the grounds of Naropa University. They asked for identification, which Atkinson supplied, but police remained until two white peers from Naropa confirmed Atkinson was a student there. The events were detailed in the complaint, including the fact that the responding officer drew his Taser and gun during the encounter.

The event sparked protests, a city council listening session on racism and, more than a year later, the creation of the oversight panel.

The civilian group has been operating without fanfare until recently. New oversight panelists were approved Thursday in a 6-3 council vote.

Atkinson’s involvement has waned in the last year, when he graduated from Naropa. He has kept up with the POP’s activities through friends and community contacts, and is gearing up to become more involved as city council seeks changes to the ordinance governing the POP.

“I definitely want to do everything I can to be part of this process,” Atkinson said. “I don’t want the forward momentum that we’ve built to fizzle out.”

In a written response to a request for comment, councilwoman Rachel Friend wrote that she was “crestfallen” about Atkinson’s complaint.

“I would never want to cause him additional pain,” Friend wrote. “Zayd is a model of bravery, and a human who I admire and respect deeply. The Police Oversight Panel is … an incredible legacy of his, and I’m grateful that he is staying engaged and reminding us of the importance and consequences of the decisions we are making for our community.

“I hope he continues shining the light and criticizing the powers that be, including me, as he sees fit.”

This article has been updated with comments from Zayd Atkinson and councilwoman Rachel Friend.

— Shay Castle, on Twitter @shayshinecastle or on Mastodon at

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