AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a press conference Wednesday about the South by Southwest festival in 2019, Austin Police Chief Brian Manely was asked whether a report from a woman who says she was drugged on Rainey Street should be a larger concern as the Spring festival season approaches.
Manley didn’t indicate whether this incident should pose a larger concern for SXSW but took time to highlight safety reminders.
“I think that’s part of the safety message — not just during festival season, but year round — we talk about being responsible when you go out and enjoy yourself, planning ahead, having a ride home, but there is another factor to that is: don’t take drinks from strangers because you don’t know whether or not there might have been something placed in that,” Manley said. “And if you’re at a large venue and you’re not with a group that may be watching your table, then don’t leave drinks unattended.”
KXAN has covered this woman’s report and she has requested to remain anonymous. She said she went out on Rainey Street on February 17 with her friends. After visiting two bars, she and her friends took a ride back to one of their houses. Over the course of the ride, she became agitated, spiraling into fits of screaming and then not being able to move. First responders took her to Dell Seton and an APD officer met her there the following day as she filed a police report.
This woman said that an initial urine screen from the hospital came back normal — meaning no signs of drugs — but she has taken another test and is awaiting the results.
“We are aware of the one incident that we have right now and there’s an investigation ongoing,” Manley said of her case.
APD told KXAN Wednesday that there are no new updates to her case to report. Last week APD said that while there has been no physical evidence gathered that the woman has been drugged, more medical results are pending. APD is investigating this case as an assault.
Tuesday, a physician who works in the Dell Seton ER, explained to KXAN that she and her colleagues have noticed a trend of ER patients coming from downtown bars who show bizarre symptoms which are not caused by alcohol alone. These patients, she noted, usually find that urine screen tests they take do not show any drugs in their system. She believes it’s possible these patients may be drugged with substances that aren’t showing up on a typical urine screen test.
This doctor also indicated that she hopes medical staff, first responders, and law enforcement can work together to see if they can track this issue.
“As a community, we have to work together to find solutions and answers at the same time, and I think that’s the most imperative way to deal with these kinds of issues in the community,” said Dr. Hemali Patel, the internal medicine physician with Seton who spoke to KXAN about this trend.
KXAN asked Assistant Austin Police Chief Justin Newsom, who oversees the downtown district, what he thought of the doctor’s comments in the report. He wasn’t aware that doctors might be seeing an increase in possible drugging cases but said that there are reasons why that information might not get back to APD.
“That could very easily be a case, where a person goes to the emergency room where they’re having physical symptoms that they believe are due to the introduction of some type of substance to their body and not make a police report from that,” Newsom said.
“There’s no automatic reporting from the doctors required in those cases, so we don’t always know that they’re happening, so it’s very explainable that the doctor could be seeing those and we’re not seeing them at the same rate,” he continued.
Dr. Patel explained to KXAN on Tuesday that while she encourages her patients who experience these unusual symptoms to report them to the authorities, that it is the patient’s choice to do so. Additionally, Patel noted that unlike communicable diseases, there is no requirement for doctors to report suspected druggings or unusual symptoms to government entities.
Newsom explained that at APD, it is very challenging to specifically track cases that could be tied to a drugging.
“It all gets mixed in with the details of the case, so there’s not a specific title for that offense, and there’s not a very easy way for our data folks to pull that data up,” Newsom said. “So it’s really complicated and complex, you have to go through individually each report to find that one out and how do you even know where to start?”
KXAN also heard from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Wednesday, they said Wednesday morning TABC has opened investigations into Icenhaer’s and Bungalow on Rainey Street, the two bars this woman said she visited before she started displaying unusual symptoms.
TABC spokesperson Chris Porter explained that the agency will be, “looking for any evidence that the bars’ practices or policies may have contributed to the alleged drugging.” The TABC will look into whether these businesses were aware of any illegal activity and whether they protected their customers.