"We want to know when our city leaders are going to settle with the people of Austin and fix our broken system of police accountability so this does not happen again."
- The Austin Police Accountability Coalition (APAC)
Austin city council members have a choice to make on Thursday, July 29.
At 11:45am APAC is hosting a Rally for Reform at City Hall. At noon, John Bush will address council about police accountability as part of citizens communications. Later in the afternoon or evening, the city council will vote on whether to accept the $750,000.00 Sanders family settlement for the death of their son at the hands of Officer Quintana. Citizens of Austin can sign up to address city council regarding the settlement and public comment is expected.
This is on the heals of the Austin police union issuing an angry letter to the mayor and city council members pleading with them to reject the settlement.
It will be interesting to see what message each of our city council members will choose to send about the series of headlines that have continued to fuel discussion while they were away on summer break. Whether each of them votes the settlement up or down is the current obsession of the police union, but more citizens are concerned about the systematic failures that have become obvious and how our leaders are planning to fix them.
Consider participating or watching events unfold yourself on July 29 at City Hall. Action will pick up at 11:45am and continue until the Nathaniel Sanders votes are cast. The Sanders vote is Item 107 on the agenda. If you can't make it in person, please watch live online or on TV or listen on the radio, or if you miss it check out the archives.
HERE ARE SOME EXCELLENT RESOURCES
This video keeps it real. John Bush with TAGTexas.org "7/29 Austin City Cncl Mtg Preview Part 2:Austin War Machine & APD Accountability":
Scapegoating is Not Accountability
Let’s review: the most widely reported critical incident under our present police Chief, the shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders, II on May 11, 2009, spawned the most controversial cover-up in recent Austin history. Now three people involved have left the City:
- Christopher Dunn, the APD investigator fired for “bias” when third party entities exposed his ill-advised email suggesting Internal Affairs (“IA”) use the victim’s criminal history as a means to justify the shooting (his firing was upheld by the independent arbitrator last week).
- David Smith, the former City of Austin Attorney/head of the City’s Legal Department, who did his utmost to keep the independent investigation under wraps through questionable legal wrangling, resigned once the report was eventually leaked to the media, as it exposed that lethal force was not, in fact, justified, and that an independent investigation’s results are only disclosed by the City when it serves the police.
- Leonard Quintana, the APD officer who shot Sanders, but not for the shooting, for an off-duty DWI where he had tried to flee the scene because he was in a hurry to get busy with the stripper he picked up that night (his appeal hearing is in Sept. – many suspect his firing won’t be upheld as there is no precedent for firing a cop over one DWI off-duty, meaning he may well be back at APD)
Dunn Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Over
Chief Acevedo came off the starting line convinced it was a justified shooting, stating on the day of the shooting, on camera, that he was "confident in the legality of the initial shots fired."
Dunn and a few other detectives had just been transferred to IA and were given no training or simple instructions about how IA investigations differed from criminal ones. Chief Acevedo poo-pooed needing to train them when I questioned him on it, yet two years earlier sent other investigators to LAPD for training there (yes, you heard me right: LAPD as a “model” for internal affairs). Ironically, his new IA head recently instituted training as he recognized the need for it. Dunn and his colleagues were assigned this controversial case, despite being new – demonstrating questionable judgment in and of itself.
They prepared an investigative report and when their supervisor, Johnson, returned from vacation, he took one look and said, “HELL no,” preparing a new report before submitting it to the Chief. This report cited the same violations found by the independent group the City hired, KeyPoint, whereas the Dunn/Harkin report only cited him having violated the camera policy.
The Dunn report was submitted by the Chief to the District Attorney, meaning this is what the Grand Jury relied on AND was the report the Chief relied on in assigning discipline to Quintana and the other two officers at the incident. Quintana got a slap on the wrist and the others, a tap on the finger, despite some questionable disciplinary history that came to light, mainly on Quintana. It’s rare to get that history because of laws and contracts and police union power being what they are, so the ones we can see raise many eyebrows. If we had more of that history, I suspect we’d be wondering why Quintana was still on the force by the time he arrived on a sleeping Sanders and Sir Smith.
The Dunn email wasn’t exposed until months later and the Chief fired him for “bias” shown in the investigative process and making APD look bad. But he used that very “biased” report as his guide in responding to the case! He tossed Johnson’s report in the trash, because it didn’t match his Day 1 story…and because to recognize those other violations would have not only seriously raised doubt about the conclusion of that report (that lethal force was justified), but raise questions about training and supervisory processes that the Chief wasn’t prepared to answer for.
He even got rid of the other investigators in IA and brought new ones in (with any better credentials?), but has never explained why Dunn should be canned, the other investigators not, but that the report built on bias should be considered valid regardless.
The other investigators saw the email…they admitted that at Dunn’s disciplinary hearing…and thought nothing of it. Attacking the victim to excuse the officer has been modus operandi in IA for its entire existence. They all used Sanders criminal history to justify shooting someone who may or may not have even had a gun, much less had it in his hand. That’s precisely why they only found him in violation of a policy prior to the shooting. Johnson was just smart enough to recognize this would have intensive public scrutiny and they needed to add more violations or risk outcry.
Too bad Chief Acevedo didn’t foresee that. He knew the risks and took them to cover himself; this isn’t about covering for Quintana so much as a public relations maneuver to keep his own hands as clean as possible. His sending the KeyPoint report to his CHiPs buddy for “analysis” merely indicates his over-reaching to undermine the Johnson & KeyPoint charges. This unofficial and highly unprofessional hand-scrawled take, using terms like “bullshit,” provided the Chief’s talking points for why he thought the other charges weren’t valid, but he hasn’t explained this publicly, only in one-on-one conversations. He has still yet to explain why he fired Dunn for bias but relied on that biased report for Quintana’s discipline.
Johnson also failed. He failed in disciplining Dunn for the email, before it was exposed publicly. An appropriate response would have been to give him a short suspension, move him out of IA, or provide training and put him on probation to stay in IA.
The Chief is ultimately responsible for internal oversight, and Chris Dunn paid a steep price for failures and machinations above him, for exposing in writing IA's MO. If every officer on the force were fired for stupid actions, well…let's just say that's an overly broad termination justification.
Smith Gone but Ott Forgotten
It’s a bit harder to fathom David Smith a “scapegoat.” For years and on a variety of fronts, he’s put politics over the law to gain traction, both for the City and for his own department – forcing Council to be solely reliant on him for legal analysis. "The forced resignation of David Smith in light of the KeyPoint fiasco and resulting loss of confidence in the police and city leaders is a step forward. He has long substituted his own personal political judgment for sound legal advice to the city's leaders so that they can make appropriate decisions." (Texas Civil Rights Project, "TCRP")
Smith was close to retirement, had made too many enemies to be effective, and became a convenient scapegoat. City Manager Marc Ott, in response to the Mayor’s request, wrote up a long memo that was supposed to tell us “who knew what and when,” but didn’t AT ALL. I could have pieced that together from press clippings. He forced Smith out, wrote the memo and has long moved on, ignoring community pleas for real information and reforms.
Ott's, in fact, not responded to follow up questions from the Mayor's office on May 27, other than saying he would answer them the following week. So it's not just the community's list of questions and demands, also from May, that are being ignored.
The KeyPoint report was only “released” (too little, too late, it had already been leaked) after negotiations with the police union took place. Of course, NO conversations took place with the community or with third party legal entities---it took a lawsuit to force the issue. But the leak of the report to the press, by a still unknown source, rendered the lawsuit moot and the City settled for $12,000 to cover costs of the Plaintiff (TCRP, who said: "It was shameful we had to file suit to vindicate the citizens' right to see the report. There was no legal basis for the city to hide the report."). That means we paid $62,000 total to see a report that was meant to validate or correct APD’s investigation and was specifically meant for the public to see. The report has been dismissed by all officials as "just an opinion," but at the outset Ott said he had full confidence in this firm to give a fair analysis, that's why he paid them $50,000 of our money to do it!
Smith "should not be made a scapegoat about the KeyPoint mess. There is plenty of serious and substantial blame to go around. This should be only the first of a series of corrective measures." (TCRP) Ott should have had Acevedo immediately retract the statement he made on the day of the shooting and press him that he needs to call for no pre-judgment, that the investigation will be thorough and fair. For that matter, he should have questioned him cutting IA's investigation window in half. That was merely to stroke the public, who doesn't generally understand the intricacies of an investigation. It seems they missed a lot: i.e., ask why they didn't run the gun supposedly in Sanders' possession for fingerprints (there were none, which could indicate sloppiness or mean they already knew that and sought to keep it under wraps).
Acevedo’s Dug a Hole So Deep, He’s Drenched in Oil
As we now know, Leonard Quintana already had quite a disciplinary history before the shooting ever took place, but Acevedo actually overturned IA’s findings that he should have been disciplined for at least one of them. If the civil trial exposes more of that history, and we find he committed offenses he should have been fired or placed on restrictive duty for, then Nathaniel Sanders, II’s blood is on the Chief’s hands, just as Kevin Brown’s blood is on Chief Knee’s hands (which were, at the time of Brown’s shooting, used to train police in Afghanistan for the infamous DynCorp for a pretty penny) since he should have fired Michael Olsen four years prior for the unjustified brutality brought upon Jeffrey Thornton, all caught on the TX Lottery camera on 6th St.
His firing of Quintana for the DWI was purely a public relations move. It does NOT offer any semblance of accountability in Sanders’ shooting death, and if he is placed back on the force in September because of the poor calculation, and even worse motives, by the Chief, then he will have to answer to any future missteps by this dangerous officer.
Let me say that again. If the arbitrator places Quintana back on the force, it is not the arbitrator we should be angry with—it’s the Chief. If new information comes out about further faults in APD’s Sanders shooting investigation via the civil suit, the Chief and Ott will have to answer. If the City settles before trial July 19, is that an admittance of wrongdoing on their part or if the jury rules in favor of the Sanders’ family…should Acevedo remain our Chief of Police?