More Disputes in King Case
The Dallas firm will be paid $40,000 for its work in the King case -- the first to test the city's police oversight process. In October a seven-member citizen panel voted unanimously to recommend an outside probe of the shooting, which has already been reviewed by APD detectives and a Travis Co. grand jury. Each review has cleared officer John Coffey (who fired the fatal shot) of any wrongdoing; though Knee has publicly concurred with those findings, he chose not to reject the panel's recommendation, which he has the power to do.
The city's "meet and confer" contract with the police union that created the oversight process includes a provision for an outside review, but it does not spell out the standard operating procedures for conducting one; a parenthetical statement claims that s.o.p.s are "to be drafted." Any amendment to the agreement must be approved by Knee, Police Monitor Iris Jones, and a majority of the APA's 20-member governing board. The city did proffer its draft s.o.p.s to the union but told the board, according to APA President Mike Sheffield, that it "didn't have time" to deal with issues raised by the APA.
Hence the grievance. "Despite the APA's attempt to continue negotiations concerning the s.o.p., the city of Austin has unilaterally adopted Standard Operating Procedures for Independent Investigation, and is using such s.o.p. in the independent investigation of the death of Ms. Sophia King," the grievance reads. "By its action, the city of Austin is in violation of the Meet and Confer Agreement." The city interprets the contract differently, Sheffield says, arguing that the parenthetical "to be drafted" clause means the s.o.p.s do not constitute an "amendment." (At press time, City Manager Toby Futrell had not returned phone calls requesting comment.)
The s.o.p.s proposed by the APA may actually allow for broader outside investigations -- and tougher questions about APD operations -- than would the city's rules. The APA proposes that an outside probe first "review the work done by the Austin Police Dept. Internal Affairs Division ... to determine whether the investigation performed was complete, fair, and unbiased." The union would also give investigators the power to contact outside agencies -- like the Travis Co. district attorney or the FBI -- without notifying Knee, Jones, or Futrell, should they "become aware of a matter of possible ongoing criminal activity" within the department.
Sheffield says these provisions would give city taxpayers a better accounting of what they're getting for their $40,000. As it stands, citizens know little about why the review panel called for an independent probe, and they'll likely learn little more once the probe is complete. The city s.o.p.s ask investigators to draft a public statement of their findings -- but this would be "reviewed" by the city before being released. "We have no idea what [the review panel] wanted to know," said Sheffield. "We've all been trying to guess."
Aside from legal questions about confidentiality, Sheffield says he doesn't know why that is, though last month Jones told the Chronicle that the secrecy surrounding the King review is firmly rooted in the police contract. Still, police sources suggest that the citizens' right to know may need to be addressed in the next round of contract negotiations, slated to start early next year.
Knee has 10 days to discuss the grievance with the APA. If it's not resolved, the APA could request the issue go to arbitration. The union may also file for a temporary restraining order, blocking the King review until the s.o.p. dispute is settled.