Advocates at the Austin Justice Coalition say multiple officers have faced retaliation for speaking out against racism within the Austin Police Department, after City Manager Spencer Cronk hired a third-party investigator to look into explosive allegations of racist behavior by some of APD’s highest-ranking leaders.
Chas Moore with AJC said at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday night, Jan. 14, that he knows the names of the officers involved, but can’t disclose them because doing so could put their jobs at risk. But he said it was more than at least two people and includes officers of color or those belonging to the LGBTQ community. The behavior described by Moore included both official department reprimands and peer-to-peer interactions – in some cases, the officers of color have been accused of racism themselves.
Moore implored the city to do all it could to protect those speaking out against bigotry within the department, saying doing so was critical to the integrity of the ongoing third-party investigation, conducted by former Bexar County prosecutor Lisa Tatum, as well as future Council-initiated investigations set to begin after Tatum’s work concludes. “We want to make sure that they're protected,” Moore said. “We want to make sure that the investigations are not tampered with by people being retaliated against.”
Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, a leading voice on the dais in confronting allegations of bigotry within APD, joined Moore to urge people to continue participating in any internal investigative work. She also shared concern that the alleged retaliation could discourage people from speaking out against bigotry within the force, but said, “We don't only encourage it; we require that racist behavior is spotlighted and reported.” She added that, “We have to root racism out of the Austin Police Department. There's no way around it.”
In an email to Council sent Tuesday night, Cronk acknowledged he knew the AJC’s revelation of these allegations was coming, and he took the opportunity to reiterate his commitment to finding out the truth about APD. “I am committed to working through all of the issues that arise in a fair and transparent manner,” he wrote. “It is my expectation that people can speak out about any issue within our city government, and can do so without fear of retaliation.”
Cronk also provided a brief update on Tatum’s work, which began in November after formal complaints alleged that recently retired Assistant Chief Justin Newsom regularly used the n-word, and that Chief of Staff Troy Gay encouraged a family member to participate in “conversion therapy.” The complaints also allege Chief Brian Manley supported Gay’s efforts and waited to act on the allegations against Newsom (allowing him to retire and collect a six-figure payout for unused leave).
Tatum’s investigation is expected to conclude in February, according to Cronk’s email. “Ms. Tatum has advised me that she is getting the assistance she needs from city employees, the witnesses have generally been cooperative, and she is making progress reviewing all relevant matters within the scope of her investigation,” the email reads. Once that investigation is done, Cronk will work with stakeholders to outline the shape of the comprehensive investigations directed by Council on Dec. 6. He wrote that he anticipates that work to last “the better part of 2020.”
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