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Sexual assault victims’ suit dismissed

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 by Jo Clifton

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel dismissed a class action lawsuit filed in 2018 by eight survivors of sexual assault against the city of Austin, Police Chief Brian Manley, former Police Chief Art Acevedo, Travis County and current District Attorney Margaret Moore, as well as the former district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg. The plaintiffs complained that APD and the prosecutors failed to adequately investigate and prosecute their assaults. They asked for monetary damages as well as significant federal intervention in the activities of APD and the DA’s Office. Yeakel wrote in his lengthy opinion that he had put off making a ruling in the case until after the Legislature had met. He wrote, “Since the filing of this action, there have been significant changes to Texas law related to the policies, practices, and procedures associated with investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults. The passage of the new laws indicates a strong statewide interest in changing the current manner in which municipalities, law enforcement, and prosecutors address sexual assaults in Texas.” He also noted that prosecutors have absolute immunity concerning the decisions that they make about prosecutions. The city has gone through considerable turmoil over its handling of sexual assault kits and Manley ordered a review of APD policies and training on sexual assault more than a year ago. Since then, a number of policies and procedures related to sexual assault have changed. But victims are likely to remain angry and it is possible that the plaintiffs could try to take some of their claims to a state court. A city spokesman emailed the following response to the Austin Monitor‘s request for comment: “We appreciate the judge’s thoughtful and thorough deliberation in this matter, and agree that the case should be dismissed. Regardless of the court’s ruling, though, the City of Austin remains committed to treating all sexual assault survivors with dignity and respect, and will ensure our officers have the appropriate resources and training to investigate all such cases appropriately.”

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