Ten Years Later, Police Misconduct Case Goes Public
Austin's police-review panel hears Lucy Neyens' allegations of "official oppression" against Detective Howard Staha.
The Office of the Police Monitor's city-appointed Citizen Review Panel on Monday heard testimony regarding an allegation of "official oppression" more than a decade ago by an APD veteran. Complainant Lucy Neyens, herself a local law-enforcement officer and the wife of an Austin police officer, told the panel about her charge that veteran Austin Police Detective Howard Staha forced her to perform oral sex on him in return for protecting her teenage son, who was at the time an APD confidential informant. (Contacted last week by the Chronicle, Staha called Neyens' charges "a lot of false allegations against me.")
Neyens believes APD has never conducted a thorough investigation into her allegations after she filed a formal complaint in January 2002. "Staha has been given preferential treatment by the department," she told the panel. "There was no restricted duty -- it was business as usual [as they investigated the complaint]." While officers under investigation by APD's Internal Affairs Division are often placed on administrative leave, Staha was not only not suspended but was indeed transferred into the same division as Neyens' husband. It wasn't until this past January, a year after filing her complaint, that Neyens was notified of the case disposition: Investigators apparently came up empty-handed, calling the investigation "inconclusive" -- which Neyens believes is because they failed to pursue several leads. In March, she filed a complaint with Police Monitor Iris Jones, who put the case on the review panel's May 19 agenda. (For more on this, see "Unfinished Business at APD?" May 16.)
Neyens told the panel members that her son had been working as an APD confidential informant in the early Nineties, but his life had been threatened after his informant status was leaked to some of the criminals he was trying to help nab. She said her son became suicidal, and when she reached out to Staha, for whom her son had been working, the veteran officer took advantage of her. According to Neyens, she met Staha at a bar on Ben White while he was on duty, and he forced her to perform oral sex on him in his car after repeatedly telling her that he didn't think he could protect her son any longer. "I feared for my son's safety and feared that if I didn't comply that some harm would come to him," an emotional Neyens told the panel.
Neyens kept her story secret until late 2001, when Staha's name came up in a conversation during a lunch she attended with several other APD officers. Upon hearing his name, she said, she just "blurted" her story. The officers told her that, according to APD policy, they would have to report the allegations to Internal Affairs; Neyens said she told IAD investigators she would cooperate with their investigation. But that investigation didn't amount to much, Neyens claims. She told the review panel that friends to whom she had told the story at the time were never contacted by IAD detectives and that she was never given a polygraph examination even though investigators asked her to take one.
After laying out her complaint, Neyens answered "clarifying" questions posed by members of the review panel -- including how she knew Staha was on duty during the alleged incident, whether she had contact with him afterward, and whether she would still be willing to take a polygraph exam. Neyens stated firmly that she would be open to clearing any remaining investigative channels -- including taking a polygraph. She said she was frustrated by the department's seemingly sluggish investigation of her claims. She told them that after nearly a year of "investigation," she was still trying to get APD to respond to her inquiries about the case disposition. After finally hearing on Jan. 14 that the department considered the complaint inconclusive, Neyens asked for a review by APD's assistant chiefs; as of press time, she has yet to hear anything further from the department.
After panelists finished questioning Neyens, Jones asked if anyone from APD wanted to make a statement -- although she firmly reminded the panel that neither Staha nor the department was required to respond. Although four assistant chiefs -- Rudy Landeros, Jimmy Chapman, Robert Dahlstrom, and Rick Coy -- and Staha's attorney Tom Stribling were all present, none chose to respond publicly to Neyens' allegations. Coy told the panel that he was prepared to offer a statement in private, but Jones noted that, according to Austin's police-oversight process, the review panel could not hear such confidential statements. After reviewing the department's investigative documents, the panel might choose to ask Coy specific questions regarding the detectives' work. Both the review of documents and any follow-up inquiries take place in private to protect the confidentiality of the IAD documents and privacy of APD officers.
The panel is now charged with deciding whether Neyens' complaint warrants any further action, either by APD or by an independent investigator. Any panel recommendations will first be presented to APD Chief Stan Knee before they are released to the public. According to Assistant Police Monitor Al Jenkins, the panel began reviewing the department's investigative file on Neyens' complaint during executive session after the Monday night public hearing but has not made any decisions. He said the panel would either decide the case in June during its regular monthly meeting, or could choose to hold an interim session to decide the matter.