Staha Sex Case: The Story According to Knee
The police chief confirms key details in a 10-year-old misconduct case
The official word from the Austin Police Dept. is that Chief Stan Knee is still "reviewing" a recommendation from the Office of the Police Monitor's citizen review panel that he revisit APD's internal inquiry into charges that a veteran detective forced a woman to perform oral sex on him. But a "confidential" APD memo obtained by the Chronicle suggests that a decision has already been made. Indeed, in the June 27 memo to accused Detective Howard Staha, Knee wrote that "it is evident that you violated two General Order Policies in effect at the time," including a mandate that officers "Obey All Laws."
Lucy Neyens, a local law-enforcement officer and the wife of another APD officer, alleges that Staha, a veteran APD detective, forced her to perform oral sex on him nearly a decade ago in return for protecting her teenage son, who, in the early Nineties, was an APD confidential informant. According to Neyens, her son's life had been threatened after his informant status was leaked to several of the criminals he was trying to help catch. He had become suicidal, and when she reached out to Staha, for whom her son had been working, the veteran officer took advantage of her, forcing her to perform oral sex on him while the two were in his police cruiser parked behind a bar on Ben White Boulevard.
Neyens did not file a complaint with the APD in 1993, she said, because she was afraid for her son's life and didn't trust the cops to police the matter. She finally told her story -- "blurted" it out, she says -- in late 2000 while eating lunch with her husband and several other APD officers. The officers told her that, according to department policy, they had a duty to report her allegations, and Neyens said she agreed to cooperate with any Internal Affairs Division investigation.
When contacted by the Chronicle in May, Staha denied any wrongdoing. "I am stunned, because they are all false statements," he said. Yet Knee's memo suggests that Staha told IAD something else -- the chief quotes from Staha's own statements to establish that a sexual encounter did occur between Staha and Neyens. The IA investigation was protracted -- taking more than a year to complete -- yet ultimately "inconclusive," Neyens was told by investigators in January. This infuriated Neyens, who alleges that IA investigators failed to interview two potential witnesses, failed to schedule polygraph examinations for her and Staha, and otherwise dropped promising leads. In March Neyens filed a complaint with the Office of the Police Monitor, which presented the case to its police review panel in May. On June 16 the panel recommended APD reconsider the case in light of several potential policy violations -- including "acts bringing discredit to the department."
Since then, APD officials have said Knee has yet to make a decision, but the June 27 memo addressed to Staha and signed by Knee contradicts this. In it, Knee informs Staha that the IAD probe into Neyens' allegation "has been completed" and that according to Staha's "own statement of the incident, it is evident that you violated two General Order Policies in effect" when the incident took place. Those two rules concern "Operation of a City Vehicle after Consuming Alcoholic Beverages" and "Obey[ing] All Laws" -- and Knee offers outtakes of Staha's statements back to the detective as evidence.
"You stated, 'The only thing I can say is you know, I was in a ... city car, and uh, you know, I just wanted to make ... clear that it was just ... her and I having drinks, and that escalated into a one-night stand,'" Knee wrote. "You also stated, 'So I told her "get in the car." ... We went back behind the warehouse somewhere, and I gave oral sex to her, and then she gave oral sex to me. ... It was inappropriate, but ... it was two consenting adults.'"
APD spokesman Kevin Buchman says Knee is in fact still reviewing the panel's recommendations; the memo in question is merely Knee's response to Neyens' original "stand alone" complaint and was intended to inform Staha that, "Hey, that happened 91/2 years ago, and don't do it again," Buchman said. "That was just a response to the investigation." But this so-called "informational memo" contradicts the official IAD classification of the Neyens probe as "inconclusive," a finding reiterated in a June 6 letter written by Assistant Chief Rick Coy. According to that letter, written to Neyens in response to her request that administrators review IAD's work, the department had "determined that the classification of 'inconclusive' is the appropriate classification for this allegation."
While Staha's own statement, as quoted by Knee, disproves his earlier blanket denials of Neyens' charges, he does claim the episode was consensual -- a version of events that Staha also offered in late June when interviewed by Shelly Wilkison for an article posted to the Austin Police News Web site. But this evolution of Staha's story -- creeping closer to Neyens' version of events -- hasn't done much to convince Knee that the case warrants reinvestigation. Indeed, according to his June 27 memo, Staha merely needs to be sure that nothing like this comes up again. "This letter is intended to inform you that your actions, although occurring about 91/2 years ago, were inappropriate and any subsequent repeated violation of policy will not be tolerated and will result in disciplinary action," he wrote. "A copy of this letter will be retained in the Internal Affairs case file." The Office of the Police Monitor wrote its own memo on July 1 to ask Knee whether the "informational memo" could be considered a written reprimand of the detective. They have yet to hear a response.