AUSTIN (KXAN) — A coalition of local social justice groups are calling for action after a recent external review of the Austin Police Department found officers used force unnecessarily in more than 100 cases.
Kroll Associates, Inc. prepared a final report for the City of Austin on Jan. 21 on APD’s use of force, public interactions, recruitment, selection and promotions.
Researchers did a qualitative review of incident reports for a six-month window in 2019 and found out of the 1,321 cases of use of force, the majority were appropriate.
Researchers compared incident reports with video footage to independently analyze whether use of force was necessary.
The report found 112 “problematic” incidents involving 141 neighbors “who had force used against them that raised a variety of concerns,” according to the report.
Problematic, the report states, means officers used inappropriate force or the use of force was “caused by an unnecessary escalation of the encounter by APD officers.”
A problematic incident could also mean there was another APD policy violation, according to the report.
“Even once is too often,” said Kathy Mitchell, policy coordinator for social advocacy group Just Liberty.
Mitchell represents one of four groups, including Austin Justice Coalition, Texas Fair Defense Project and MEASURE, calling on leaders to act based on the Kroll report findings.
In letters sent Monday to the mayor, city council, city manager, Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon and the district and county attorneys’ offices, the coalition asks Chacon to release incident reports and evidence for all problematic incidents, and the DA and CA review those, as well as current ones related to resisting arrest charges.
“There may very well be individuals with false resisting charges against them right now … in our court system,” Mitchell said.
They also want the DA to place officers involved in problematic incidents on their Brady List — officers who have had some issue that puts their credibility in question.
The groups also want an amendment to APD’s General Orders to make sure problematic incidents aren’t dismissed by supervisors.
In all of problematic cases, the report states APD supervisors “were notified of the use of force and
approved any resulting arrests.”
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said review protocol has already changed since those problematic incidents occurred in 2019; supervisors no longer review use of force incidents.
“It’s sent to a group of sergeants in a unit that do nothing but review all use of force in the department,” he said. “So they have continuity, and they’re able to make a educated opinion, and they’re separated from the officer.”
Casaday is also against involved officers being placed on the Brady List or the DA getting to review all 2019 problematic cases and current cases that have similar charges.
“Here’s the deal, we’re not going to have a police officer left in this city if we continue down the road we have,” he said.
Casaday said some of the use of force issues may be due to a problem in training.
“And in most cases are our training issues, that they’ve identified the need to be fixed in our department, and I believe they were over the last year and a half. So yeah, I think that’s a little ridiculous that you’d ask the DA to go back and investigate all these cases,” he said.
Kroll also “found that resisting arrest is over-charged to ‘justify’ officers’ actions,” and in most problematic cases, “APD officers frequently ‘escalated’ citizen encounters by not informing individuals why they were being stopped.”
“Failure to de-escalate isn’t just about choosing a taser over a gun,” Mitchell said. “It’s really about treating people with dignity and respect in all situations, from the small to the large.”
Attorney Brian McGiverin said he’s represented clients in cases like those outlined by Kroll.
“Arresting someone and then charging them with resisting and nothing else seems to be a pretty common strategy for police officers who are upset with someone talking back to them,” said McGiverin, who is also executive director of the Austin Community Law Center.
He showed KXAN 2018 video from one of his former clients whose resisting arrest charge was dismissed in 2019. Officers had asked his client to leave an area of Sixth Street.
‘Unless an officer’s arresting you, or there’s some dangerous situation, they can’t lawfully control your movements,” McGiverin said. “And then they seem to get frustrated when the person doesn’t listen to them, and so they decide to usually grab them, forcefully take them to the ground, arrest them and then accuse them of resisting arrest.”
That’s what he said happened to his client after he refused to leave, saying body camera footage shows officers pounced on him, punched him and tasered him before charging him with resisting arrest.
“The actual legal definition of resisting arrest under Texas law is using force, directing force towards an officer,” McGiverin explained. “If a person doesn’t immediately become limp as a fish, regardless of whether … they’re tensing up unconsciously or not, but they regard that as resistance.”
McGiverin thinks placing officers on the Brady List after incidents like this may provide an incentive for officers to stay away from the behavior.
He also said he thinks it’s important videos from those incidents are reviewed “by someone from outside the chain of command.”
Austin Police has not yet respond to KXAN’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for the City of Austin said city staff is expected to update council members on the Kroll report at a work session on Tuesday, along with possible next steps for action.