There’s another vacancy in City Hall.
The City of Charlottesville announced Wednesday that Hansel Alejandro Aguilar, the first executive director of the Police Civilian Oversight Board, has resigned effective Oct. 21. That’s just 12 months after Aguilar assumed the position last fall.
Aguilar, who has been hired for a similar position in Berkeley, California, joins a growing list of recently departed officials including the city manager, police chief, and the fire chief.
“It was a challenge for sure when I arrived in the city,” said Aguilar. “Chief [RaShall] Brackney had just been terminated, and then there was the scandal with the text messages from the board members. And then Mr. [City Manager] Chip Boyles left.”
The text messages showed infighting among the members of the board.
The revolving door at City Hall began after recriminations in the wake of 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally, at which a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
Aguilar’s resignation comes mere days after filing his first formal report, a 63-page review of an internal affairs report on a 2020 arrest of an allegedly drunk homeless man on the Downtown Mall.
Attorney Jeffrey Fogel sought the review on behalf of the man.
Aguilar pronounced the three-charge arrest of the man appropriate, including a felony charge of assault of an officer.
However, Aguilar also noted that “this evaluator found significant investigative gaps and deficiencies that could impact how the community continues to relate with the [police] department.”
Aguilar said that since Fogel alleged that he wouldn’t get fair hearing from the full board, he agreed to perform the review himself.
“I would essentially do the hearing in writing, and this is basically what that is,” said Aguilar, who examined the police department’s own 100-page internal investigation of the arrest and other materials including videos.
“While for the most part the department maintained an objective and impartial approach to the investigation, there were instances where the objectivity and impartiality of the department’s investigation could reasonably be called into question,” he wrote.
Aguilar, who is in the dissertation phase of a doctorate degree with a focus on the intersection of transnationalism, crime and human rights, concluded his report with eight pages of suggestions for the police and City Hall.
Aguilar came to Charlottesville with experience as a misconduct investigator for the Washington, D.C. police force and as a member of the civilian review panel in Fairfax County.
He has also served 21 months as a campus police officer at the place where he earned his master’s degree in sociology and where he’s working on his Ph.D., George Mason University.
Aguilar admits to some misgivings over leaving Charlottesville so soon after his hiring, but he was found by a search firm and offered $200,000 annually, twice his starting salary in Charlottesville, plus a housing and relocation bonus to make the move to Berkeley.
“Ultimately, I had to make the right decision for my family and myself,” he said.
Last December, City Council amended its initial ordinance to upgrade the police oversight board from “civilian review” to “civilian oversight” and later provided it with a $362,677 budget. Aguilar hopes the board gets the powers to match the name.
“We’re at a pivotal point,” said Aguilar. “The onus is on the city council to pass the operating procedures that will allow the board the powers and duties to investigate, to audit, to subpoena, and even look at the annual expenditures under the amended ordinance.”