A Consent Decree for APD?

Civil rights activists say it's needed

A Consent Decree for APD?
Photo by John Anderson

Just more than a year after the U.S. Department of Justice closed it's book on a complaint about excessive force and other issues at the Austin Police Department, Nelson Linder of the Austin NAACP and Jim Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project, have asked the DOJ to reopen the case, alleging that excessive force is still a major problem within the APD.

The problem, says Linder, is that although the DOJ made 160 recommendations for improvements at APD – including a recommendation that the language in its use-of-force policy be clarified and strengthened (which to the DOJ's satisfaction has apparently happened) – the bulk of those recommendations haven't been fully implemented. Linder says the DOJ needs to ensure that its recommendations have been, and are being, followed. "The problem is, when you recommend 160 policy changes the issue is always going to be enforcement," he says. "You could give us 1,000 recommendations, but that only matters if they're enforced." To that end, he says he's hoping the DOJ will revisit it's Austin inquiry and file civil litigation against the city that would result in a consent decree – a binding settlement agreement between the feds and the department that would ensure that certain departmental failings will be addressed.

Indeed, Linder says he believes that since the DOJ closed the case on May 27, 2011, excessive use of force by APD against Austin's minority residents has actually gotten worse than it was when he and Harrington filed the complaint in 2004, and even more so since the DOJ began it's inquiry in 2007. "The excessive force has actually increased," he says. He points specifically to the killing in May 2011 of Byron Carter, shot while a passenger in a car driven by a 16-year-old that Officer Nathan Wagner said he believed would run over him and his partner, Ofcr. Jeffrey Rodriguez. Carter was shot five times; the teen driver survived, and a Travis County grand jury later declined to indict him on any criminal charges. Linder further points to the April shooting death of Ahmede Bradley, who fled from Ofcr. Eric Copeland who'd pulled Bradley over, reportedly for a noise violation; Bradley fled on foot and Copeland gave chase. The two ended up in a fight on a neighborhood lawn; Bradley tried to strangle Copeland with the cord to his shoulder mic, police say, and Copeland shot Bradley, killing him. Both shootings raise troubling questions about how APD polices minority residents, Linder says. Indeed, although Linder says that in the wake of the Bradley shooting he asked APD Chief Art Acevedo to review the department's foot pursuit policy, he says nothing has changed, but that in the uproar after the shooting of Cisco the dog, the department has changed the way it deals with animal encounters. Isn't a man's life worth as much as a dog's, he asks?

Frankly, Acevedo finds the latest complaint frustrating, he says. He inherited the DOJ investigation, and a "department in need of some reform," when he was hired in July 2007, and embraced it, he says – something that other cities have not done. He says he has adopted all of the DOJ recommendations, and notes that in the wake of the investigation the APD is "held up as a beacon of reform around the state and the country – everywhere except here." Ultimately, he says he believes that Linder and Harrington are "looking for a magic pill that would eliminate officer-involved shooting," and if one existed, he says, he'd definitely take it. "But that pill doesn't exist." He notes that the DOJ has already looked at the Carter shooting – the DOJ requested information for review and the APD readily provided it, he says. As for the Bradley shooting, Acevedo says that Linder and Harrington have ignored the fact that Bradley was exhibiting "violent aggression" toward Copeland that prompted eyewitnesses in the Northeast Austin neighborhood where the shooting happened to call 911 to ask that help be sent for the officer whose life they believed was in jeopardy.

Acevedo says he will wait to see what the DOJ has to say about this subsequent complaint, but suggests that working on the root causes of crime and putting concerted effort into dealing "with the circumstances in communities that lead children into a life of crime," he says. "That's what we should be focusing on."

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Cops, Courts, Nelson Linder, Jim Harrington, Texas Civil Rights Project, NAACP, Art Acevedo, APD, Austin Police Department, Byron Carter, Ahmede Jabbar Bradley, use of force, Department of Justice, DOJ, excessive force, officer involved shooting

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