Chapman out the door, off the hook
A surprise retirement spares the APD assistant chief.
In a surprising turn of events, Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman on Dec. 18 filed the necessary paperwork to retire from the department. Chapman, a 25-year APD veteran, will leave his post, effective Dec. 31, according to a press release issued by his lawyer, former Travis Co. sheriff and current state Rep. Terry Keel.
Chapman has been under investigation since August, when APD Chief Stan Knee hired an outside investigator to conduct an independent inquiry into an allegation that Chapman lied under oath during a July deposition taken in connection with a whistle-blower suit filed by Officer Jeff White. In his suit, filed in May 2002, White alleged that Chapman transferred him in retaliation for allegations White made about misconduct by Chapman in connection with the now-defunct mid-Nineties drug trafficking investigation code-named Mala Sangre. On July 10, Chapman was deposed in that case and testified that he had nothing to do with White's transfer, and that he was "shocked" by the allegation.
Further, Chapman said that he never tried to have APD Internal Affairs investigators remove a set of phone records (concerning calls made by Chapman's friend John Maspero, then an FBI agent, more recently the disgraced Williamson Co. sheriff) from the file of an unrelated 1997 investigation of now-retired Cmdr. Joe Putman. Indeed, Chapman testified that it would be inappropriate to even make such an inquiry into the contents of an IA file. Shortly thereafter, Knee announced that "a police department employee" came forward to allege that Chapman had lied about the phone records; and he hired James McLaughlin, head of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, to investigate the matter.
The phone records were not the only subject on which Chapman offered questionable testimony in the White case -- for example, Chapman's claim that he'd had nothing to do with White's transfer was directly challenged by Knee's own testimony, also in July. But McLaughlin was directed only to explore whether Chapman lied about the Maspero records. (Despite repeated requests for information and clarification, the city and APD have yet to indicate whether Chapman's alleged perjury -- a felony -- is to be investigated as a potential criminal offense.)
McLaughlin was originally given 30 days -- ending Sept. 22 -- to complete his inquiry, but the city authorized, in writing, one 30-day extension to the contract, ending Oct. 22. According to Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, the city has since verbally extended McLaughlin's contract twice, to end Dec. 22. Last week, Huffman told the Chronicle that while McLaughlin's final report wasn't ready yet, she anticipated the inquiry would be wrapped up "this week or next." According to Keel's press release, McLaughlin issued his final report to city officials on Dec. 17, the day before Chapman announced his retirement. At press time, there was no word from APD or City Hall on the result of McLaughlin's inquiry or the content of his final report. However, sources close to the investigation say that the report indicates the inquiry was "inconclusive" -- that Chapman's alleged perjury could be neither proved nor disproved, and thus the assistant chief would not be subject to any departmental discipline.
A read between the lines of Keel's press release supports speculation that Chapman is off the hook for now. "It should be noted that the City of Austin legal staff are of the opinion that, absent a finding of wrongdoing, internal affairs reports, including the reports of outside counsel, are not within the realm of public disclosure," Keel wrote. (Emphasis ours.) Under Texas civil service law, such disclosure only follows when an officer receives discipline (be it a one-day suspension or a firing); the findings of investigations that only culminate in a reprimand are not subject to disclosure.
This may change if city officials accept a proposal offered by the Austin Police Association (for consideration in the union's next "meet and confer" contract) to make the contents of all independent investigative reports public (minus specific "investigatory details" -- generally the subject of privacy concerns). In his statement, Keel writes that he would "welcome the release of the report concerning the administrative inquiry of ... Chapman." Huffman declined to discuss McLaughlin's conclusions, but noted that, "when someone retires, they are no longer subject to discipline" by the department. Chapman filed for retirement the day after the report was handed to city officials; had McLaughlin sustained any allegation against him, Knee would have had one day to hand down any potential disciplinary sanction.
But according to Keel, Chapman had been considering retirement well before McLaughlin's inquiry. "Before the issue of his deposition testimony arose as a controversy ... Chapman had intended to consider retiring in October of 2003," Keel wrote. "He purposely did not do so because he wanted this matter to be fully concluded before he retired. He could have, at any time, retired and ended the jurisdiction of APD to conduct this investigation, but being a man of integrity and honesty, he did not do so."
While Chapman may have gotten out from under the McLaughlin investigation, his retirement will not shield him or the city from scrutiny in White's whistle-blower suit. "To the degree that [Chapman's retirement] would make an immediate change [to the lawsuit], that is not necessarily the case," said White's attorney Don Feare. "Clearly Jimmy Chapman is a major participant and a major subject in this lawsuit, and I believe that his credibility has been called into question to the degree that I am not sure that it would serve the city to have him as a witness in any further proceedings."