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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, February 28, 2018 by Jo Clifton
Police sue city over police monitor access
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, representing Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, sued the city of Austin on Tuesday, seeking to stop the police monitor from looking at internal affairs records or attending interviews relating to complaints about police behavior in 2018.
The police union is seeking a temporary restraining order first and then an injunction to prevent the city from what the union says is a violation of state law. Since City Council rejected a contract worked out between negotiators for the city and the APA, the old contract expired at the end of December with nothing to replace it. That means Austin police are now operating under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 143, which has no provision for a police monitor or other civilian oversight.
Casaday said Tuesday, “I was informed that (interim police monitor Farah Muscadin) would continue to have unfettered access.” He said Interim Chief Brian Manley and Assistant Chief Troy Gay told him last week that Muscadin would not be limited to looking at allegations made in 2017 but would also be privy to files and interviews with officers related to allegations made this year.
“It’s very unfortunate that we’ve come to this day,” Casaday said. “The city of Austin sat down with the association in the past year and worked out an agreement that the City Council failed to ratify. We just want the citizens of Austin to know that you and the city had the Cadillac of all police oversight. It was, hands down, the best in the state of Texas, and now they’re left with a Yugo,” a small car previously manufactured in Yugoslavia.
Casaday repeated, “You went from the Cadillac to a Yugo. So, no fault of the association’s, the city has taken pre-emptive action, letting us know that the police monitor will be monitoring 2018 cases, having unfettered access that we believe is a violation of state law. I just hope the City Council doesn’t put their own employees in danger by violating the law.” Representatives from the city and APA are scheduled to begin negotiations on a new contract today.
Activists who attended the December meeting that included consideration of the contract were organized and very vocal in their rejection of the contract.
According to a statement from CLEAT general counsel Michael Rickman, “The intended actions by the city are an affront to labor laws in this state that have been in place for decades.”
CLEAT Executive Director Charley Wilkison told reporters Tuesday that APA and CLEAT have a duty to their members to protect them by filing suit against the city. He said if they failed to take action, some of the officers could actually sue the organization. Wilkison said as far as he knows, this is the first time that a Texas city has tried to allow a police monitor to look at internal affairs records outside of a negotiated contract.
According to Casaday, 10 to 15 complaints have been filed against officers so far in 2018. However, that number includes all kinds of complaints, from the most minor to the most serious.
Interim City Manager Elaine Hart sent a memo to the mayor and Council on Dec. 29, the day the contract between the city and APA expired, setting out administrative directives related to the police monitor after expiration of the contract.
That memo states that the police monitor or her designee “may attend an (internal affairs) interview of any APD officer who is the subject” of an internal affairs investigation or an administrative inquiry. It is clear that the representative of the police monitor may request to ask questions or may ask the internal affairs investigator to ask specific questions, but the investigator would make the final decision.
In addition, the memo states that the police monitor or her designee could attend any APD dismissal review hearing or other hearing related to disciplinary action against an officer for alleged misconduct.
CLEAT attorney Houston Tower told the Austin Monitor that he expects a hearing on the requested temporary restraining order next week. However, he said if the organization finds out that internal affairs has scheduled an interview on the 2018 complaint, “then we would have to call the court and request (a hearing) immediately.”
Neither Manley nor Muscadin was available for comment. A city spokesperson released the following written statement: “We are aware of the lawsuit and we stand ready to defend the City. Our position on the Office of the Police Monitor has been consistent and we continue to strive to uphold the accountability of police actions to maintain and improve relations between law enforcement and the community. We will continue to operate within the law and the Office of the Police Monitor will continue to carry out its important work. We also look forward to returning to the bargaining table with the Austin Police Association tomorrow.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Austin Police Association: The organization that represents Austin Police officers.