AUSTIN (KXAN) — A video. A viral reaction. And now, a verdict. A federal jury has decided an Austin Police Department officer used excessive force during a 2015 jaywalking arrest on Sixth Street. The verdict highlighted larger community questions about APD’s ability to police itself.
In a February 2016 news conference, Jeremy King said, “I want the officers to be held accountable. I want there to be change within their department.”
Nearly two years after that statement, that accountability, King says, came through the jury.
KXAN spoke with King, who was visiting Austin from San Antonio at the time of his jaywalking arrest, via FaceTime on Saturday.
“I felt proud to be able to stand against what I felt was truly wrong,” he said.
On Friday, the federal jury found one of the APD officers involved liable for excessive force, but not selective enforcement. As a civil servant, the officer received immunity from paying damages.
“I really feel like what happened was unnecessary. There was excessive force. I did feel like I was selectively enforced,” because of his race, King said.
Before the verdict, King’s attorney, Brian McGiverin, said APD’s internal affairs had already cleared the officers of any misconduct.
“If there had not been a lawsuit, if there had not been litigation, this would have been just another example of a thing being swept under the rug,” McGiverin said. “I think it’s critical that we have genuinely independent oversight because as we’ve seen, when internal affairs is responsible for investigating these cases, sometimes really important situations fall through the cracks.”
King added, “It just makes me aware and I feel like they should be aware, that maybe there are some things that need to change.”
King told KXAN that for him, the case provided closure.
“I hope that anything that anyone goes through, they feel like they can, you know, go against a force that is maybe seeming insurmountable or too powerful to take on,” King said. “Just to know that you have something within you to really go against that, I think that’s what I want people to remember and take away.”
And, there’s one more message he wanted to share: “As we’re celebrating this Martin Luther King weekend with your family or friends, just remember the love that we should share, the forgiveness and the equality that I feel like everyone deserves on this planet.”
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told KXAN the amount of force used downtown is more than anywhere else in the city, something he attributes in part due to the difficulties of the Sixth Street atmosphere.
“The juries don’t always get it right,” Casaday said. “These are people that most likely have never in their lives judged use of force. I’m not blaming them. I’m telling you internal affairs always does a thorough job and I would be surprised if they made a mistake in this investigation.”
Community activists came out Friday against another similar case. Video showed police and Jason Donald in an altercation, after Donald was stopped for jaywalking. Police say an official review didn’t result in any formal discipline.
The department has been operating with no contract for weeks. That means there is no police monitor, who is designated to investigate any incidents. The civilian office has access to internal records and documents. It keeps an eye on internal affairs investigations when an officer is accused of doing something wrong, makes policy recommendations and takes complaints against officers.
“It would have been nice if council would have voted through the contract that the Austin Police Association and city management worked on for 11 months,” Casaday said. “Even though we feel like the city bargained in bad faith, we are prepared to bargain a new contract in 2018.”