AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Office of Police Oversight, an independent non-police agency, says it requested that the Austin Police Department investigate more than 200 complaints related to racial injustice protests.
Of these cases, only 27 were investigated by APD’s Internal Affairs. Separate from that, there were 21 complaints generated internally by APD — Internal Affairs investigated all of those.
Most of the complaints regarded over-use of force, neglect of duty and lack of de-escalation.
In summer 2020 alone, the OPO released 227 formal complaints related to actions by Austin officers during protests. The protests included the injuries of several Austinites who said their time at the rallies ended with injuries due to “less-lethal” ammunition deployed by Austin police.
Reported behavior by APD officers during the protests ultimately led to then-APD Chief Brian Manley announcing the department would no longer use bean bag rounds during crowd situations. Then, in August 2020, the Austin City Council voted to move about $150 million from the APD budget into other areas of public safety and health.
The decision was criticized and viewed by some — included Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — as “defunding” Austin’s police force.
In a tweet, Gov. Abbott said, “Austin experiences highest number of homicides in 20 years. This is why it is absurd that Austin is defunding police. It is also why Texas will act to roll back that defunding and consider taking over policing in some areas of Austin.”
Back in May, Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza said he plans to present 10 use-of-force cases to a grand jury in the fall.
Formal complaints are available to the public at atxpoliceoversight.org.
OPO Director Farrah Muscadin says after reviewing the cases APD did and didn’t formally investigate, she observed that many were dismissed when when protesters couldn’t identify the officers who used force on them, or because investigators determined protesters had engaged in what they called “riotous behavior” like throwing water bottles.
In response, Assistant APD Chief Troy Gay said the department worked to move cases forward when it could, but the volume of complaints was overwhelming. He said Internal Affairs couldn’t handle all of the complaints so a special task force was formed.
“There were 5,648 body-worn camera incidents that were reviewed by this task force over about a four to five month period,” Gay said.
Per APD’s contract, the department had six months to finish any investigations.
Muscadin says in the end, there were few consequences with just a handful of officers receiving education-based discipline and one being suspended for 10 days.
“For them to respond this way just shows us your lack of compassion and caring and accountability,” said Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition.
The Austin Justice Coalition is hoping city council will give the Office of Police Oversight more power.
“We have made some advances in transparency, but now there needs to be some real advances in accountability,” agreed Council Member Greg Casar.
Casar is making three recommendations:
- Making the OPO more independent by having it answer directly to council rather than the city manager’s office
- Asking the city to begin hiring civilian investigators to look into police complaints – rather than internal affairs officers
- Asking the Austin Police Association to come to a consensus on police accountability during contract negotiations next year
The police union’s contract currently limits the extent of the office of police oversight’s authority in these types of cases.
“We’re going to keep on working on this police union contract in a way that gives good cops a fair shake, and then gives us the ability that if somebody does something that is outside of the expectations that there’s the ability for us to intervene,” Casar said. “We know that good, hard-working cops want to see accountability for when somebody does something wrong, so that we can reward good behavior and and address when somebody does something wrong.”