AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin Police Department officer was suspended indefinitely last week for helping a suspect avoid an arrest when a supervisor advised an arrest should be made, according to a city memo sent by Chief Joseph Chacon.
The suspension for Officer Andrew Upton took effect last Friday, March 18, the memo stated.
The incident for which he was suspended for took place on Aug. 11, 2021 when he and two other officers responded to a domestic dispute call.
Officers met a man and woman, who had differing accounts of what happened during a fight, according to the memo. Both claimed the other was physical toward them, with the woman telling police she had pain in her finger. Upton was talking with the man separately while the two other officers were speaking to the woman.
One of the officers speaking to the woman contacted a supervisor for guidance on how to proceed. As this was happening, Upton walked back over to the man, who let Upton know he was worried about being arrested. According to the memo, that’s when Upton “communicated nonverbally with [the man] — which was not discovered until days later — and this nonverbal communication prompted [the man] to go inside his residence.”
After this, Upton convened with the other officers, who relayed the supervisor advised them to arrest the man for family violence based on probable cause, the memo said. But when the officers went to arrest the man, he was inside his home and “refused to answer the door when they knocked.” No arrest was made, according to the memo, and the woman eventually left. The situation was documented in an incident report.
During a follow-up investigation the next day, the memo said it was found the woman had contacted victim services, saying the man later bragged to her that one of the officers on scene showed him a note, directing him to go inside his home.
After a review of Upton’s body camera footage from that day, the memo said a detective found a recording “possibly consistent with these alleged actions.” The detective noted while they couldn’t see Upton showing the note to the man, they thought it was likely it happened.
Days later, on Aug. 23, 2021, Upton’s lieutenant requested an administrative investigation from Internal Affairs, the memo said.
IA interviewed Upton several months after the incident on Dec. 9, 2021, the memo stated. In the interview, IA concluded Upton knew at the time he had a “lawful detention” of the man, and he also knew there was a strong likelihood the man would be arrested.
According to the memo, Upton told IA during his interview he was conflicted, and it was “gray at the time” regarding what should happen. He said, “I felt that it didn’t arise to the – the point where he should go to jail because of the unclarity of the situation…”
In his interview, Upton admitted to writing the note directing the man to go inside. The memo stated he told IA, “I knew it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing.” Upton also admitted the act was a bad reflection on the department and policing in general.
Chacon wrote in the memo Upton violated a number of APD policies, including the honesty policy, responsibility to know and comply, acts bringing discredit on the department, neglect of duty and impartial attitude.
“All officers, including Ofc. Upton are repeatedly placed on notice that a violation of the Honesty GO, by act or omission will result in an indefinite suspension for a first-time offense,” Chacon wrote in the memo.
KXAN has reached out to the Austin Police Department, as well as Upton’s attorney, about the memo and indefinite suspension. We will update this story when a response is received.