Did APD Review Panel Fumble Sexual Misconduct Complaint?
The Police Monitor's panel seemingly misses the point of the Lucy Neyens case.
On June 16 the Office of the Police Monitor's citizen review panel voted to recommend that Austin Police Chief Stan Knee review the department's investigation into an allegation that a veteran detective forced a woman to perform oral sex on him a decade ago. "Basically, the panel decided that they would recommend that the chief review and reconsider the [allegation] based on policies that were in place back then," said Assistant Police Monitor Al Jenkins.
As of press time there was no word from Knee as to whether he would accept the panel's recommendation, but the panel's decision hasn't entirely satisfied complainant Lucy Neyens.
Indeed, the recommendation did not address the overriding question of whether APD's Internal Affairs Division properly investigated Neyens' complaint in a thorough and timely manner, without exhibiting a bias toward the accused officer. "I am pleased that the panel has recommended that the files be reviewed by Knee with [specific policies] in mind," Neyens said. "And I hope he does review it."
Neyens, herself a local law-enforcement officer and the wife of an APD cop, alleges that in late 1992 or early 1993 (she cannot remember the exact date) APD Detective Howard Staha forced her to perform oral sex on him in return for protecting her teenage son, who was at the time an APD confidential informant. Neyens never reported the incident, she said, because she feared for her son's life -- she was worried about retaliation, she said, from either Staha, the criminals her son was informing on, or both. But she suddenly "blurted" her allegation against Staha, she says, when his name came up in conversation in late 2000 while she was having lunch with her husband (whom she married in 1997) and several other APD officers. In January 2002 a formal complaint was filed with the department, but it wasn't until January 2003 that Internal Affairs finally contacted her with the outcome of their inquiry -- that the case would be closed as "inconclusive." In a letter, IAD Lt. Jack Hines told Neyens she could appeal the decision, which she did. After six more months of waiting, on June 6 Neyens got a letter from APD Assistant Chief Rick Coy, informing her the department had "determined that the classification of inconclusive is the appropriate classification for this allegation," and closing, "Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention."
When contacted by the Chronicle in May, Staha said that he was "stunned" by the allegations, "because they are all false."
While she was waiting for a resolution of her appeal, Neyens decided to file a complaint with Police Monitor Iris Jones. On May 19, Neyens testified before the OPM citizen review panel. Last week, the panel voted to recommend that Knee review the case with an eye on two potential violations of what, in the early Nineties, were APD policies -- one forbidding officers from engaging in "acts bringing discredit to the department," another prohibiting officers from operating city vehicles after consuming alcoholic beverages. Since Neyens has never alleged, and did not testify to the panel, that Staha was drunk, that second issue clearly stems from something Staha told IAD investigators about the incident; IAD files, though confidential, are available for the panel to review.
It appears that "acts bringing discredit" include Neyens' allegation of sexual misconduct -- that this was the 10-year-old policy the panel decided covered whatever happened between Neyens and Staha. According to Jenkins, "We can't use today's [policies] against him, only what was available at that time. I think that's pretty fair." Fair it may be, but complete it is not. Even a decade ago, the department had a policy specifically banning officers from soliciting or having sex while on duty. More important, it's unclear whether the panel considered Neyens' more serious claim that Staha's actions constituted "official oppression" -- a felony violation of the Penal Code, covering offenses in which a person in power illegally uses that power to compel others to do things against their will.
Nor does the panel's recommendation address what motivated Neyens to go to the police monitor in the first place: the protracted and incomplete IAD investigation of her complaint. Neyens alleges that not only Staha, but the IAD and other powers within APD, acted against her interests. "Staha has been given preferential treatment by the department," she told the panel in May. For starters, she said, Staha remained on active duty once the complaint was filed, even though the department typically places officers on administrative leave in such situations. (Recently, in the fall of 2002, APD Officer Boren Hildebrand II was placed on administrative leave with pay while the department investigated two allegations of sexual assault filed against him. Hildebrand was subsequently fired.) In fact, Neyens said, after the complaint was filed Staha was transferred to the same detail as her husband -- a job in which officers routinely work with confidential informants. When her husband told a supervisor about the potential conflict created by Staha's transfer, he was told, "that it was [Assistant Chief] Jimmy Chapman's decision and that it couldn't be changed," Neyens recalled.
During the 18 months that IAD was officially investigating Neyens' complaint, she says, the division's detectives failed to pursue obvious investigative paths -- not contacting or following up with witnesses or subjecting her to a polygraph exam, for which she volunteered. In short, Neyens doesn't think that the department has taken her allegations seriously, and she isn't sure that the citizen review panel did either. "The department made their decision, and that's the bed they're going to lie in," she said. "I wonder if the panel even addressed the issue of [the APD's] handling of the complaint."