Has Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo barred KTBC (Fox 7) from any one-on-one interviews? According to a series of taped conversations a fired Fox employee sent to the Chronicle Newsdesk, the answer is yes.
The principals involved aren't talking.
The situation sparked from a Feb. 20 incident, when two Austin police officers arrested a jaywalking jogger, Amanda Jo Stephen, near the UT campus. A cell-phone video of the bust – in which the cops can be seen grabbing Stephen to stop her, and she goes limp – went viral, sparking international backlash over the alleged force used by the officers. A media fracas followed Stephen's arrest, one that grew so wild that Chief Acevedo was asked to respond during an unrelated press conference. He made a rhetorical mistake that day – a big one – by attempting to dismiss the backlash, saying, "In other cities there's cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas." (Acevedo would later apologize, citing the emotional context of the same-day conviction of a cop-killer, the actual subject of the press conference.)
Phillip Perea was a promotion producer at Fox when this all went down, and he teased a story on Facebook by aligning a picture of Stephen crying next to one of Acevedo reacting. But the one he used of the chief was more sensational than informative, and Perea's superiors didn't like it – because, apparently, neither did Acevedo.
Perea provided the Chronicle a recorded conversation he had with KTBC Vice President and General Manager Michael Lewis concerning the Facebook posting. Three months afterward, in a May 24 meeting concerning his imminent suspension (levied, based on the same recordings, due to alleged inappropriate behavior and an alleged general inability to follow directions), Perea recorded Lewis saying that Acevedo hadn't agreed to an individualized interview with Fox since the subsequently deleted photo had been Facebooked.
"He was so offended by that, that we're on the outs," Lewis (as identified by Perea) apparently told Perea. "He won't come on our station anymore." He said Acevedo was letting Fox sit in and record group media interviews, but avoiding one-on-ones – and added that the photo had made Acevedo "look like a buffoon."
The Chronicle couldn't confirm directly that it was Lewis speaking on the recording. Attempts to speak with the GM were thwarted by a press liaison from Fox's New York-based headquarters, who ignored a couple of questions about Acevedo's track record with the network before coming back with a canned GM-issued statement: "We have a great relationship with Chief Art Acevedo and the Austin Police Department." Asked for clarification on Lewis' particular choice of verb tense, the press liaison stayed mum.
Acevedo's response wasn't much more helpful. He responded via a public information officer last Tuesday, while the chief was in Fairfax, Va., accepting induction into the Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame (yes, that's a thing – established by the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University). Acevedo's spokeswoman offered that he's never received a complaint from KTBC, and that "every time we've had a press conference, he's addressed their concerns in the same manner in which he's addressed other networks." Which doesn't exactly speak to his willingness (or lack thereof) to sit down mano a mano with the station.
In this case, it appears that there's precious little communication going on.
Copyright © 2017 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.