Ruling: Austin’s Office of Police Oversight went too far investigating complaint

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A few weeks before contract renegotiations start between the Austin Police Association (APA) and the City of Austin, an arbitrator ruled that the city’s Office of Police Oversight (OPO) overstepped its authority within its current agreement with APA.

The dispute was brought before Lynne Gomez, an attorney from Houston, stemming largely from a complaint that an Austin police officer discriminated against a Black man while on patrol. As a result of that complaint, the OPO reportedly contacted the department’s internal affairs department requesting body-worn camera footage from the day of the incident, according to documents posted by the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT). They also reportedly spoke to potential witnesses.

The APA, which is associated with CLEAT, claims that the OPO compared footage of the officer’s interactions with different people during the day and issued a notice of formal complaint against the officer, who testified that the situations viewed by OPO were not comparable.

According to those documents, the officer was not disciplined by the police department regarding the complaint and as a result, the OPO director, Farah Muscadin, sent an email to the police chain of command overtly disagreeing with the department’s decision and threatened that the officer would be watched closely moving forward by the OPO.

The APA claims the OPO was fabricating allegations against the police officer and said the OPO had overstepped its authority by investigating complaints and gathering evidence in the case, though that’s explicitly not allowed in the agreement with APA.

“We had been warning city leaders about the illegal activities of the Austin Police Monitor for quite some time, but they didn’t care and they wouldn’t listen so we had to file a grievance to force them to follow the law,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.

In its position argument, the City of Austin did not argue that the OPO had done what APA claims, but said an OPO staff member reviewing body-worn camera footage of an officer or asking questions of witnesses about a complaint does not constitute an investigation and is within the bounds of oversight.

“While the City disagrees with some of the arbitrator’s factual determinations and conclusions, at the end of the day, the decision was based on a narrow set of specific facts, and does not change the fundamental language and requirements in the negotiated contract, including the requirement for civilian oversight,” a spokesperson for the city wrote to KXAN in part.

Gomez sided with APA, saying the city had indeed violated an article of its agreement with the APA and ordered that the city stop investigating complaints, interviewing or contacting witnesses, demand a question be asked during an interview, threaten members of APD, among other remedies.

“As the City analyzes the case and its next steps, the parties will continue to operate under the terms of the contract, and will comply with the requirements outlined in the arbitration decision,” the spokesperson for Austin wrote. “The City remains fully committed to civilian oversight and the Office of Police Oversight will continue to operate pursuant to the City’s authority and the negotiated contract.”

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