Knee Won't Let Fishing Cops Off the Hook

Police chief throws more than one book at the Decker Creek Six

Knee Won't Let Fishing Cops Off the Hook
Illustration By Doug Potter

Six APD officers have been disciplined by Chief Stan Knee for fishing at the Decker Creek Power Station at Walter E. Long Lake while on duty and supposedly guarding the plant as part of the department's Homeland Defense Unit. According to six disciplinary memos signed last month by Knee and filed with the city's Civil Service Commission, an APD Internal Affairs investigation began in June after an Austin Energy employee working at Decker Creek filed a formal complaint about the officers on May 30. In total, investigators "discovered that a total of ten ... officers were either fishing on-duty, or had personal knowledge that officers were fishing on-duty, but failed to report it as required" by APD policy, one memo reads.

According to the memos, the officers had been fishing at the facility -- on a restricted part of the lake, not open to the public -- for more than a year by the time the IA probe began. Further, the officers continued to fish at the lake, while in uniform, after being given a direct order to stop by HDU Sgt. Wayne DeMoss in February 2002. As well, several officers used their "position" to "allow or instruct" AE's own security guards to allow their "police friends into the facility for personal use -- fishing or fishing-type activities." The six officers disciplined by Knee got punishments ranging from a one-day suspension to demotion -- in the case of Lt. Michael Kimbro. In several of the memos, Knee wrote that the officer had avoided more extensive discipline only because most of the "fishing-type activities" took place last year, well past the 180-day deadline for disciplinary action under state civil service law.

The strength of Knee's response to the APD fishing expeditions -- which, though stupid and embarrassing, were fairly minor infractions -- is notable, given the longstanding charges (both on and off the record, including in several court cases) that APD selectively enforces its rules governing officer conduct. Knee's memos show a department going out of its way to find infractions, in addition to the fishing itself, committed by the Decker Creek Six, and piling on the punishment accordingly. Yet APD has shown a marked reluctance to discipline or reprimand officers who have been credibly accused of, or have even admitted to, seemingly more serious offenses than fishing -- like Detective Howard Staha or Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman or officers implicated in the long-running Mala Sangre affair.

Kimbro, the former supervisor of the HDU, was demoted to detective on Oct. 22; Knee wrote that Kimbro went to the power plant to fish at least twice while on duty, but Kimbro's major infraction was in failing to discipline or report the officers under his command. According to Knee's account, Kimbro offered excuses for failing to take action -- including that he didn't want to be considered a "snitch." "Kimbro told me that a 'snitch' is someone who reports every little thing," Knee wrote. "This statement made it clear to me that Kimbro does not understand two critical issues: the seriousness of this misconduct he witnessed and ... his responsibilities as a supervisor."

Kimbro was "derelict" in his duties, Knee wrote -- and it wasn't the first time. Kimbro had already been demoted once before, from lieutenant to sergeant, in 1998 -- after initiating a relationship with a sexual-assault victim whose case he was supposedly investigating, and for falsifying timesheets so that the city would pay him for time he actually spent working off-duty jobs. Though Kimbro later was repromoted to lieutenant, Knee wrote that this time, he was demoting Kimbro down below sergeant, to the rank of detective, so that he would no longer be a supervisor. "A demotion to the rank of sergeant ... will not erase my lack of trust and confidence in him. A demotion to a nonsupervisory position ... is required to maintain the good order and efficiency of [APD], as well as the continued trust of the community."

Meanwhile, Sgt. Dana Brockington got a 30-day suspension, which ends Nov. 20, for fishing on duty and for failing to enforce DeMoss' order to not fish at the Decker plant. "Brockington allowed this misconduct to continue for more than a year, without taking corrective action," Knee wrote. Officer Joseph Lorett admitted to fishing at various times since early 2002 and as recently as April 25, and got a five-day suspension. "Officer Lorett used his affiliation with the [APD] to influence the on-duty security guard to give special consideration to his friends or associates" and let them into the restricted area, Knee wrote. "Officer Lorett's friends and associates received personal benefits -- the fishing activity as well as being allowed to keep the fish they caught."

Officer Christopher Moore got a two-day suspension, which ended Oct. 21; while being investigated by IA, Moore disobeyed a direct order from IA Detective Melissa McGrath not to discuss the investigation with any "potential witnesses or other involved employees," Knee wrote. It was Moore's discussing the case with Kimbro that netted him a suspension; his own line-dropping at Decker Creek, which happened more than 180 days ago, earned a written reprimand. Under similar circumstances, Officer Steven Shedd only got a one-day suspension for failing to report the misconduct of the other angling officers.

And Sgt. Paul Rhodes got a 15-day suspension for failing to report the fishing officers -- even though he was a supervisor not in the HDU but the Downtown Area Command. "Rhodes admitted that one day ... while he was on-duty and riding with [Sgt.] Brockington ... he observed on-duty, uniformed officers, cleaning fish," Knee wrote. "Rhodes stated that he did not take corrective action because these officers did not work for him." According to Knee, the fact that Rhodes was riding with Brockington in the first place was an infraction -- leaving his downtown duty assignment without notifying his chain of command -- that in part justified his suspension.

When asked about the fishing incident, APD spokesman Kevin Buchman had few answers; he did not know whether the HDU gets any federal funding, or whether the fishing expeditions could affect that funding. He also did not know whether any of the officers had state fishing licenses or what kind of fish they caught.

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