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Aurora Council Members 'Appalled, Embarrassed' By Who They Just Put On Civil Service Commission

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)- When Aurora City Council voted unanimously this month to put retired Denver Fire Captain Harold Johnson on their powerful Civil Service Commission, they apparently had no idea about his history. The Denver Fire Department had terminated Johnson in 2015 for lying, compromising the safety of subordinates, "bullying" and "volatile" behavior and being "sexist and racist towards others."

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(credit: CBS)

"I am embarrassed and appalled at my vote," said Aurora Councilman Dave Gruber.

He said he only learned Friday morning of Johnson's employment history with the Denver Fire Department through news reports.

"I didn't know any of it. We made a mistake and we have to do something to rectify it."

Another council member, Juan Marcano, also told CBS4, "I had no idea about this. This is just unacceptable."

He had not seen any of the previous news reporting on Johnson until shown by CBS4.

"Wow, this is something else," said Marcano, as he read about Johnson's employment history.

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(credit: CBS)

Johnson had been with DFD for 21 years prior to his 2015 firing. In his termination letter, the department wrote he was being cut loose due to "Your repeated use of racial epithets; your pornographic and sophomoric comments at work; your demeaning treatment of women; your commitment to your personal cellphone over your duty to your crew and citizens; and your inability to tell the truth have no place in the Denver Fire Department or the Department of Safety."

At the time, Johnson either disputed most of the DFD findings, said he couldn't remember details of various incidents or said it was part of "firehouse culture."

Johnson told CBS4 he applied for the Aurora Civil Service Commission job at the urging of a friend but said he was "shocked" when they called him to tell him he was appointed to the five-member board.

"Are you sure?" he replied. "There's too much background. They're not going to hire me."

He told CBS4, "I didn't hide anything."

But it's clear Aurora City Council also didn't look very hard. Gruber said the hiring decision was made based on Johnson's interview with city council and his resume.

"All of his answers were good answers," said Gruber, who said he liked that Johnson had been a command officer with the fire department and had coached youth sports.

The Civil Service Commission has the last word over personnel decisions in the police and fire departments, including hirings, firings and other disciplinary affairs.

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Denver Fire Department Headquarters (credit: CBS)

The commission recently upheld the firing of Aurora police officers who took "selfies" near a memorial for Elijah McClain.

Gruber said they will now move to reconsider Johnson's hiring and replace him with another candidate.

"We all got taken advantage of," complained Marcano.

"This is embarrassing," said Gruber. "I own this mistake."

Calls and emails to the administrator of the Aurora Civil Service Commission were not returned.

Johnson said as late as Thursday, the Civil Service Commission brought him in to set up direct deposit for his paycheck, which he said was minimum wage, and get him an identification card. He fully expects his appointment will get rescinded.

"It's their loss," said Johnson who added, "You think they would do due diligence."


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