AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Detective suing the city is still reporting to work and says it’s time for change. Detective Lamarcus Wells is accusing the department of racism.
“He hurts,” said Dan Ross, his attorney who specializes in employment law. “I think he feels betrayed.”
Wells says former Assistant Police Chief Justin Newsom called him the n-word and made racist comments about other African Americans. Wells also says that black employees were routinely passed over from moving up in positions.
Ross said Sunday afternoon that Wells was denied several transfers, almost a dozen, even though he had gotten strong performance reviews from his supervisors.
“He just wants to have the ability to at least have the opportunity to rise in the ranks, and those things frankly have been denied and we are going to find out why,” said Ross. “Our goal is to make it a place that everyone regardless of race or color can be promoted and make it to the top.”
Wells is suing for damages and attorney fees. The city is reviewing the lawsuit and an outside investigation is already underway.
“He feels it’s very important that everyone know he’s not saying everyone at the department is a racist. What he’s saying is that there is an institutional and systematic bias,” explained Ross.
The investigation comes after a complaint filed with the Office of Police Oversight claimed Newsom allegedly used derogatory language to describe African Americans. Newsom retired from APD right after that.
In an email sent to the department, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said he forwarded the claims of misconduct made against Newsom to the city as soon as he got them.
KXAN reached out to Newsom, but he says he’s not ready to make a statement.
In the past, he’s said he doesn’t remember making the alleged statements, but apologized for having used inappropriate language in private conversations with friends.
In a press conference on Monday, the Austin Police Association discussed its support of Wells’ lawsuit and claims.
APA President Ken Casaday said, “The troubling information that unfolded over the past few weeks, has shaken our department to the very core… The alleged allegations and complaints are disgusting — which includes language and behaviors that will not be tolerated by myself, the APA board of directors, or the members of our association.”
Casaday thanked Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk for granting an independent investigation into the allegations “into not only the racial comments, but a deeper look into the actions — or lack of actions — by the Chief of Police, Office of Police Oversight, Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano, and City legal.”
Meanwhile, APD Sgt. Chandra Ervin called out Chief Brian Manley’s “inaction”, asking where his “core values that he speaks about” were when the department learned about the allegations against Newsom.
“Chief Manley permitted Newsom to continue making decisions over minority officers, despite the racial animus toward African Americans,” Ervin said, “And what you permit, you promote.”
Ervin is the President of the Texas Peace Officers Association, which represents minorities within APD.
“Where was the courage to come forth and do the right thing? Why wasn’t AC Newsom held accountable for his actions? Where was the respect owed to the other officers on this department when this came to light? And where were the ethics in all of this?”
Ervin pointed to the department’s lack of African-American representation in its executive staff and command staff as evidence of the culture backing the claims and complaints made in the lawsuit.
“This has contributed to a negative impact on morale of African-American officers. Chief Manley had multiple opportunities to diversify the assistant chief position in this department and each time he opted not to place an African-American in the role. Instead he placed former assistant chief Justin Newsom. Chief Manley has solidified to the African-American constituents that he does not see the true value of diversity,” Ervin said.
Ervin also noted that for the first time in 20 years, APD has no African American leadership in its executive or command staff.
Chief Manley released a statement regarding the APA’s Monday press conference saying he looks forward to the outcome of the independent investigation.
I have been clear about my actions concerning these serious allegations. Again, the anonymous email was immediately forwarded to city management and the Office of Police Oversight when I received it on October 7 to determine if the person had possession of the alleged text messages. The email sender stated they did not want to be contacted for fear of retaliation, so I asked the Office of Police Oversight to make contact instead of the department. I followed up with the Office of Police Oversight on October 24, and the complaint with four alleged comments was received the following week. The former assistant chief named in the complaint was not aware of my actions at any time. I have apologized for any concerns about my actions and the damage caused by the alleged statements, which do not reflect our department’s or community’s expectations and values.APD Chief Brian Manley