Officer Suspended for Excessive Use of Force

Officer Christopher Gray gets 70-day suspension for excessive use of force and acts bringing discredit to APD for his role in September arrest

Christopher Gray
Christopher Gray

In a disciplinary letter dated April 25, Austin Police Chief Stan Knee handed Officer Christopher Gray a 70-day suspension for excessive use of force and acts bringing discredit to the APD for his role in the September arrest of 25-year-old Ramon Hernandez. Gray was one of three officers indicted for official oppression for their handling of Hernandez's arrest on Sept. 19, after Hernandez fled from the scene of a minor traffic accident. An APD in-car camera recorded a portion of the arrest; the video depicts Gray, along with Officers William Heilman and Joel Follmer, pinning a handcuffed and sometimes-squirming Hernandez face-down on the ground, while Gray intermittently delivers a total of 14 blows to Hernandez's lower back/kidney area.

A Travis Co. grand jury in December indicted the three officers on the Class A official oppression charge (which carries the possibility of up to a year in state prison and/or up to a $4,000 fine). Gray and Heilman were tried and acquitted of the charge last month; Follmer's trial is scheduled to begin this month. Nonetheless, based on the results of an Internal Affairs investigation, Knee last week handed Gray a 70-day suspension for using excessive force. "Independent witnesses and another officer on the scene considered the amount of force used by Officer Gray to be excessive," Knee wrote in a four-page suspension letter filed with the Civil Service Commission. "After reviewing the evidence, I have determined that the amount of force used by Officer Gray was excessive, and his actions have brought discredit upon himself and the [APD]." Specifically, Knee found that Gray violated the department's general rules on use-of-force, mandating that an officer "shall only use the minimum level of force that is reasonably necessary to bring an incident under control."

Knee was apparently swayed by Gray's untarnished record on the force, his record as a "well-respected" Field Training Officer (responsible for mentoring rookies on patrol), and his demeanor and candor during the Disciplinary Review Board hearing, in determining that Gray should not face an "indefinite suspension" – the Civil Service equivalent of termination. "Gray acknowledged that he could have and should have handled the situation differently, and would do so when confronted with a similar situation in the future," Knee wrote. "Finally, Officer Gray's chain of command spoke well of him, and those opinions weighed heavily in my decision to impose this agreed suspension." Indeed, an officer must agree to any suspension over 15 days – and must agree to waive the right to appeal the disciplinary decision to civil service commissioners or to an independent arbitrator. The suspension also requires Gray to "confer" with the APD's staff psychologist, to "successfully complete" any recommended course of counseling, and to complete additional use-of-force training prescribed by his chain of command; Gray's suspension will end July 5.

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