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Chief addresses complaints, demotions

Thursday, October 27, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo on Wednesday strongly defended his decision to suspend and demote two supervisors for failing to appropriately investigate two high-profile use-of-force complaints. He also scoffed at Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday’s call for him to step down as chief, noting that the APA has “never seen” a discipline they agreed with.

Acevedo responded to questions from the Austin Monitor following his appearance before the City Council Audit and Finance Committee to discuss the city auditor’s audit of his department’s handling of citizen complaints. That audit, which was released last month, criticized APD supervisors for failing to forward all complaints to Internal Affairs, among other things.

Acevedo recently suspended and demoted Lt. Allen Hicks and Sgt. Scott Stanfield. It all came out of an incident on Sixth Street, in which an officer pepper-sprayed a handcuffed arrestee in the back of a police van. The video of that incident, recorded by the Peaceful Streets Project, went viral, and the officer involved received a 45-day suspension. A second officer, who Tazed the same man while he was in custody, was suspended for 20 days, the chief noted.

An internal review of those incidents and the department’s handling of investigations of those incidents determined that “they were not reviewed properly,” said Acevedo. “We also determined that it was not reviewed critically.”

Not only did those two employees fail to do what they were supposed to do in those particular cases, but when the department reviewed their work on a broader scale, investigating officers determined that Hicks and Stanfield had failed to take the appropriate actions in other cases as well, he said.

Hicks has been demoted by two ranks, from lieutenant to corporal/detective, and received a 45-day suspension. Stanfield lost one rank and received a 30-day suspension.

“And so I think the message to those (in) this police department that wear stripes and stars and bars – they better do their job, because the demotions that we finally did, as it relates to holding people accountable for looking into use of force complaints, the results are going to be significant,” Acevedo said.

He added, “They are going to be swift, and I think that when people see that, they’re going to rise to the level of expectations because the consequences are going to be pretty dire.”

Acevedo also sent a memo to the members of the Audit and Finance Committee to address concerns raised by the audit, including the finding that the Internal Affairs database did not include a number of incidents that had been brought to the attention of supervisors. Acevedo assured the committee that a new bulletin had been issued to make sure that that doesn’t happen in the future.

During the meeting with the Council committee, Police Monitor Margo Frasier explained that she is often hamstrung in her attempts to communicate with citizens when APD determines that their complaint is “unsubstantiated.”

After the meeting, Frasier told the Monitor that the APA had filed a complaint against her because she sat down with someone who had filed a complaint against an officer to explain why the citizen was never told the outcome of that complaint. Frasier said City Manager Marc Ott upheld the complaint.

Acevedo explained that the rules about what he and the police monitor can discuss with the public are controlled by a specific section of state law concerning civil service. However, Acevedo said, “What I can say or not say is governed by the meet and confer agreement (with the APA) and by statute.”

He added, “So if they want to be more transparent, they would have to negotiate that, and the officers would have to agree with it.” For example, he said, under civil service law, if an employee isn’t suspended for at least one day, “the entire file is considered protected. So if you wanted a sunshine clause in our city, they have to negotiate that, and I’m not sure the officers – I can’t speak for them – would agree.”

Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP, told the committee as well as the chief and the police monitor that he thought the community would benefit from simple human conversations between people about how they felt about the incidents without violating civil service laws or the contract.

The police monitor is prohibited by the APA contract from advertising her services. Acevedo’s memo to Council members states that the department will update its traffic citations to include information about how to file a complaint or compliment an officer. He also promised to have more frequent meetings with the police monitor, as outlined in the meet-and-confer agreement with the APA.

In response to a question after the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said that she believes the contract between the city and the APA is set to expire next spring. However, Tovo said she thought there would be an effort to simply extend the contract for another year because Austin will not yet have a permanent city manager by the time the contract expires.

Video still from YouTube.

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