AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted an apology Wednesday night to the family of an Austin police officer killed during an off-duty crash after the officer’s widow said she felt “crushed” after seeing photos that circulated online Monday of the mayor possibly falling asleep at the funeral. When KXAN reached out after the photos surfaced, the mayor said, “I want to express my deepest apologies to the family of Officer Martin.”

The Austin Police Association shared a statement on Twitter Tuesday morning attributed to Amberlee Martin, whose husband Senior Officer Anthony “Tony” Martin died last week when a driver struck his motorcycle in Liberty Hill. The Austin Police Department said the wreck happened as Martin drove home from his night shift.

“I have been trying to be the strong woman Tony would want me to be. But this Mayor Adler, was crushing…I am crushed,” Amberlee said in the lengthy statement posted by the police union.

She concluded, “My family needed to see him honored not disrespect. My husband, their father who doesn’t get to ever come home again, doesn’t get to go to SLEEP next to me EVER again, doesn’t get to RETIRE in four years from now, who doesn’t get to enjoy these golden years with me. I know he doesn’t mean anything to you but could you have at least pretended for just one hour.”

The photo in question first appeared on Austin police officer Justin Berry’s Twitter account and shows Adler with his head slumped onto his chest, his eyes closed and hands folded on his lap. Next to him in the picture are city leaders, including Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk and City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly. In a Twitter thread Monday afternoon about the picture, Berry wrote, “You have time and time again shown nothing but contempt and utmost disrespect towards the men and women of the Austin Police Department but also our families.”

Additional photos shared with KXAN appear to show Adler seated in the church with his eyes closed.

Adler apology

Adler issued an apology Monday afternoon to the Martin family but did not address another question from KXAN about whether he actually fell asleep at the funeral. KXAN reiterated that question and also asked Tuesday if he had a response to Amberlee Martin’s statement. His office said he had reached out to her privately.

“Officer Martin died 10 days ago and will forever be honored as a hero,” Adler said in a statement. “This moment should be about him and his family, including his two daughters whose words today pierced my heart as a father. I hold Officer Martin in the highest regard. May his memory be a blessing to his family, and to the city he served.”

He posted an additional statement Wednesday night on his Twitter account saying, “I want to again express my deepest apologies to the family of Officer Tony Martin, who will forever be honored as a hero. I regret that my actions distracted attention away from a somber moment. May his memory be a blessing to his family, and to the city he served.”

Thomas Villarreal, the president of the Austin Police Association, also addressed the situation on Twitter, writing, “Today’s memorial was a time to honor and pay respect to Officer Tony Martin and his family. Unfortunately, the mayor’s actions distract from those underlying reasons for the memorial service. I have expressed my frustration directly to Steve and will deal with that issue at a later time. For now, I ask everyone to please keep Tony’s family in your prayers.”

Police funding and morale history

The mayor’s office did not comment about something else Berry wrote on Twitter, which brought up the years-long tension over police funding. He wrote, “If you’re going to defund and destroy a police department as their mayor then attend a highly respected officer’s funeral, perhaps do not continue to disrespect that officer’s family, friends, and other officers by falling asleep.”

Berry, who lost the Republican primary runoff in May for a Texas House seat, is one of 19 Austin police officers currently facing a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant related to the use of force during the 2020 racial injustice protests in downtown Austin. He recently became the governor’s newest appointee to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the state’s regulatory agency for law enforcement.

Two years ago, following the mass protests that erupted over the police killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos, the Austin City Council voted to divert $150 million from the police department to other areas as well as start on a process to “reimagine” local law enforcement. That included halting and then restarting cadet classes after instituting new curriculum for trainees.

The city’s budgeting decision eventually led Texas lawmakers to pass HB 1900, which allowed the state to punish large cities that cut funding for police by capping property taxes in those communities, deducting sales tax revenue or stripping annexation powers. Gov. Greg Abbott ultimately signed the bill into law.

Austin approved record funding for police in 2021 — a new budget of $442 million. That included money for two more cadet classes with updated training guidelines.

In September the Austin Police Department released a new report about how its officers responded during the 2020 protests and led to policy changes, which made the police chief promise the city “will not see a repeat of the events of 2020.” Of the 17 changes outlined in the report, Chief Joseph Chacon highlighted updated de-escalation techniques for cadets and current officers, improvements to preparing for crowd control and riot management as well as training to better coordinate among various APD units. He admitted that officers were unprepared and undertrained to handle what unfolded two years ago.

A KXAN investigation last week revealed the results of an APD workforce survey conducted last October, which showed a low level of employee satisfaction compared to the citywide average. Six hundred of its 2,300 employees participated. There was some positive feedback, but a number of the responses criticized the department, and several officers said they felt a lack of support from city leadership caused some of their best officers to leave.

“Our city needs to be constantly trying to improve working conditions and general morale,” Adler said in a statement sent to KXAN and included in the investigation. “It is important our workforce knows their appreciated, especially in departments experiencing the greatest changes.”

APD said it had already made some changes in response to the survey.