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Cole upset no live broadcasts planned for Olsen hearing

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Council Member Sheryl Cole, who sponsored a resolution to broadcast police and firefighters disciplinary hearings held by the Civil Service Commission, was surprised and disappointed to learn Monday that the city’s television station, Channel 6, would not be doing any live broadcasting of Sgt Michael Olsen’s appeal hearing.

Police Chief Art Acevedo fired Olsen on Nov. 28 after a review of the June 3, 2007 shooting death of Kevin Brown at Chester’s nightclub.


In the disciplinary memo announcing Olsen’s indefinite suspension, Acevedo wrote that Olsen had “abandoned common sense, good judgment and proper police tactics” in chasing and shooting Brown. The evidence showed that Brown, who was unarmed, was face down on the ground when Olsen fired a second shot.


Cole sponsored a resolution approved June 21 directing city staff to facilitate televising civil service disciplinary hearings. At the time, she understood the resolution to mean that the hearings would be broadcast live although the resolution did not explicitly say that.


Last week, the commission voted to delay broadcasts of the evidentiary portion of the hearing until after both sides had presented all their evidence and witnesses.  Each side has 20 hours during which to present witnesses and other evidence. The hearing is scheduled to run Feb. 19-24, a Tuesday through a Sunday.


Cole said after hearing about the civil service commission ruling, she had at least expected the final arguments and decision portion of the hearing to be broadcast live. However, Cole learned Monday that the final arguments and announcement of a decision—scheduled for Feb. 29—would also be delayed.


Gene Acuña, the city’s Public Information Officer, said the location for the hearing, the City of Austin’s Learning and Research Center, 2800 Spirit of Texas Drive, is not equipped for Channel 6 to broadcast live.


Cole said, “I’m highly disappointed that it’s not going to be telecast live. I hope that we are able in the near future to equip the location for live broadcasting.”


Channel 6 could begin running the recorded portion of the evidence on Monday, Feb. 25. Acuña told In Fact Daily that the city plans to air all of the hearings sometime during that week but he was uncertain about the schedule because Channel 6 did not plan to pre-empt any previously scheduled live meetings and because the hearings should run during a time when most people could view them.


The hearing is open to the public. Acuña said attorneys for the commission, APD and for Olsen wanted to prevent the evidentiary portion of the hearing from being broadcast before all the witnesses had testified in order to prevent witnesses from being tainted by watching one another’s testimony on television. All the witnesses will be instructed that they are to avoid talking to one another or taking other actions that might result in them hearing about others’ testimony before they testify.

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