Naked City

Mala Sangre Keeps Flowing

Austin Police Chief Stan Knee announced late last month that outside investigator James McLaughlin has been hired to review an allegation that Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman "provided inaccurate information" in a sworn deposition. The testimony came in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by Detective Jeff White, part of the ongoing fallout of the Mala Sangre narcotics operation of the 1990s (see "More Bad Blood," Sept. 5). But what the city wants McLaughlin to investigate, and how, has once again raised questions from APD officers and observers who feel the department maintains a double standard when investigating its own.

"The marching orders are the same for every single case," Knee told the Austin American-Statesman. "To find the truth and to see if there has been a violation. That is the way we do business here." At least it's the way they do business sometimes. According to an APD press release, Knee learned that Chapman may have lied under oath from a "police department employee," prompting the outside probe. As assistant chief, Chapman oversees (along with other investigative units) probes of criminal allegations against APD officers -- yet even though lying under oath would appear to be just such a criminal allegation, McLaughlin, executive director and general counsel for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, has been charged only with completing an administrative investigation, to determine whether Chapman violated any department policies. Late Wednesday, the Chronicle learned that Knee has placed Chapman on administrative leave.

The city's contract with McLaughlin requires him to immediately report, directly to Knee, any "credible" evidence uncovered by his probe that gives rise to a "reasonable suspicion" that Chapman may have committed a crime, said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. Then APD would decide whether to initiate a criminal investigation. "This is a very typical process," she said.

Not everyone thinks so. "I'd be placed on restricted duty," immediately, said one officer, "because once an allegation of perjury has been made, everything I do past that point is tainted" -- thus putting into jeopardy other police work, particularly the kind of investigative work that Chapman oversees at APD. In other cases involving allegations against officers, APD has initiated a criminal probe, or referred the matter to the Travis Co. district attorney's Public Integrity Unit (an obvious option here, given Chapman's position), before or during any parallel probe into violations of APD policy. But according to Huffman, an allegation of a criminal violation by itself isn't enough to prompt a criminal investigation. "The information is coming from a single individual," Huffman said. "So the investigator has to talk to more people, to frame up the issues and make an assessment" as to the veracity of the allegation.

This explanation is confounding to APD officers, observers, and critics. "I think it is very telling that [the department] would acknowledge publicly that there has been an allegation, but that they'll only initiate an administrative investigation," said Don Feare, the lawyer representing White in his whistle-blower case. "Is there such a thing where perjury is only ... a policy violation? Is robbery a policy violation? Is murder a policy violation? Any other officer would've been suspended. One has to ask why that did not take place here." Feare said the department's handling of the situation is telling. "It indicates where they plan to go with this -- which is nowhere."

McLaughlin has 30 days to complete his investigation, with the possibility for a one-time 30-day extension, and will be paid up to $30,000 for his work.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Bad Blood, Mala Sangre, Austin Police Department, APD, Jimmy Chapman, Stan Knee, Don Feare, Jeff White, James McLaughlin

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