Black Colorado Parks and Wildlife employee targeted by “back of the bus” remark also on leave as her comments are investigated – The Denver Post
State officials investigating Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s director for an alleged racist comment made at the department’s annual conference last month are also looking into comments made by the Black employee who was the target of the director’s remark.
The investigation, which is being conducted by the Colorado-based Investigations Law Group, initially centered on a remark made by Dan Prenzlow, CPW’s director, toward the department’s statewide partnership coordinator, Alease “Aloe” Lee, at the department’s 2022 Partners in Outdoors conference.
As the director attempted to thank Lee, who is Black, for helping organize the conference in Vail, he allegedly said, “There she is, in the back of the bus, Aloe!”
The department placed Prenzlow on paid leave last month while it initiated an investigation into the remark, which harkens back to Jim Crow-era laws mandating Black people sit in the back of public buses, with the front seats reserved for white riders.
But a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Parks and Wildlife, said Thursday that the scope of the investigation goes beyond Prenzlow to include comments made by Lee and others at the conference.
The investigation “will involve looking into concerns raised about comments made by multiple employees and other incidents that occurred at the Partners in Outdoors conference and the days that followed,” Chris Arend, a department spokesman, said in an email. “Concerns about the comments made by Aloe Lee, Dan Prenzlow and others at the conference have been brought to our attention and are part of what will be investigated.”
Lee, along with Prenzlow, was placed on paid leave while the investigation continues. Arend did not answer when The Post asked why Lee also was placed on leave. He said “yes” in an email when asked if something she said is also part of the investigation.
Lee told The Post in a text Thursday, “I’m not working until I feel safe to.”
She was surprised when told the department was looking into her comments as well.
After the “back of the bus” remark, Lee sent a message on the conference app for all 600 attendees to read, addressed to Prenzlow.
“The kindest and most heartfelt thing I could ever say to you is: (expletive) you,” Lee wrote in the message, which was reviewed by The Post. “I do pray you shove that (expletive) apology so far up your (expletive) that it hits the hatred and racism where your soul used to be.”
That message, she said by phone Thursday, was simply an honest response.
“He can take a couple (expletive)-yous and be OK,” Lee said.
Since going public in late April, Lee says “it’s been rough.” She stopped checking her email as she continues to get racist messages.
Lee said she holds little hope that the investigation will truly hold anyone accountable.
“The government has not been in favor of Black women so I don’t expect them to be on my side now,” she said.
Lee, after the conference, sent an open letter to Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado General Assembly and Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s board of directors, demanding Prenzlow’s firing, along with myriad changes to the department’s whistleblower policies, hiring practices and pay disparities.
“I don’t want to harm the image of CPW,” Lee told The Post last month. “I stand firmly behind the mission and work we do. But this is (expletive)-up, this is a priority. Before I’m a CPW employee, I’m a Black woman and that needs to be stood up for.”
The firm retained to look into the allegations, Investigations Law Group, is the same used by Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education last year to investigate accusations made against one of its directors, Tay Anderson. State officials did not immediately disclose how much they are paying the third-party investigators.
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