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Following racism investigation and a fatal shooting, advocates ask Austin to fire police chief

Tuesday, April 28, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The Austin Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership and other advocacy groups are asking city leaders to fire Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, Chief of Staff Troy Gay and Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano.

The call to fire the city’s highest-ranking police officer comes after Michael Ramos, 42, was killed when police shot at his vehicle as he drove away from them in Southeast Austin on Friday. But advocates for police reform say concerns over Manley’s leadership have been building for some time.

In a letter sent to Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk, Mayor Steve Adler and Council members on Monday, the groups said they felt hopeful at the beginning of Manley’s tenure nearly two years ago. The department adopted a new de-escalation policy and City Council asked police to curb arrests for low-level misdemeanors.

But then, the groups wrote in their letter, the department stopped being responsive to change.

“(I)t has become clear to us that actual change – as opposed to words about change or promises of future change – is not a priority for the current leadership of the Austin Police Department.”

Cronk, who has the authority to remove the police chief, did not respond to a request for comment.

Manley announced Monday that the Texas Rangers would be assisting in the investigation. In an emailed statement, he said he was aware that groups were calling for his removal.

“We are currently still handling the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tatum Law Report and the officer-involved shooting from last week. My focus remains on these priority public safety issues,” he wrote.

Gay and Arellano also did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, Manley and his department came under fire after state auditors found they had misclassified more than two dozen rape cases over a three-month period, meaning some cases had been cleared without police arresting an offender.

Then in November, the city ordered an outside investigation into complaints alleging former Assistant Chief Justin Newsom had used a racist term for black people numerous times over the last decade. While investigators said in a report released this month that they could not find text messages corroborating that claim, they did note “racist and sexist behavior” within the department and a fear of retaliation for speaking out.

A second investigation into the department, this one more expansive, has been delayed because of the pandemic. When Council members voted in favor of it, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said she had been let down by Manley’s leadership.

“I was an early supporter of Chief (Brian) Manley,” she said. “And I’ve been incredibly disappointed.”

In a virtual press conference Monday, Meme Styles of the nonprofit MEASURE said she felt tired.

“Tired of marching, tired of fighting, tired of saying the same things over and over,” she said. “Tired of standing in front of City Council asking for a resolution, getting it passed and not getting the results from it.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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