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Naked City

Charges Dropped in APD Case

By Jordan Smith, January 9, 2004, News

On Dec. 19 the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office dismissed all charges pending against Austin Police Department Officer Michael Olsen, who was facing prosecution on three counts of tampering with a government record. Olsen was accused of providing false information in a police report in connection with a June 2002 altercation on Sixth Street. According to the grand jury's August 2003 indictment, Olsen wrote several false statements regarding Jeffrey Thornton in a police report about a June 20, 2002, incident. In December 2002, Olsen received a 60-day suspension from the department, which ended last February. According to the APD disciplinary memo, Thornton was near the corner of Sixth and Red River around 2:15am on June 20, 2002, where he saw Olsen responding to an altercation. "Thornton observed Officer Olsen take enforcement action and made a comment to his friend that he thought ... Olsen's actions were inappropriate," the memo reads. Olsen apparently heard Thornton's comments and responded by using "inappropriate language toward ... Thornton and grabbed his arms and escorted him to [another officer's] squad car," where Olsen intended to write Thornton a ticket for being a "pedestrian in the roadway."

While at the car, "Olsen used inappropriate force against ... Thornton, which caused ... Thornton to hit the ground and injure his head," the memo reads. "Olsen's actions enraged the crowd, which became hostile towards the police and EMS personnel." But in his police report -- and then later, during an interview with APD's Internal Affairs -- Olsen told a slightly different story, reporting that Thornton had approached "directly toward me and came very close to me," Further, he reported that Thornton followed him around, yelling at him. Olsen's account was challenged after IA investigators obtained a videotape of the event, recorded by cameras on the Texas Lottery Commission building on the corner of Sixth and Red River. According to the department's disciplinary memo, Olsen's "police report and ... affidavits do not accurately reflect what occurred," that night.

Still, the DA's office wiped Olsen's slate clean last month, citing insufficient evidence to prosecute the case -- a decision that angered Thornton's attorney Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Harrington fired off a letter to DA Ronnie Earle on Dec. 29, complaining that Thornton was not advised of the decision to dismiss the case, in violation of Thornton's rights as a crime victim under state law. "[I]t appears that, once again, officers who abuse their office are protected by your office," Harrington wrote, "and victims of police abuse are slighted by your office -- not all victims are treated the same." On Jan. 6, Harrington got a letter of reply from First Assistant DA Rosemary Lehmberg, who wrote that the facts in the Olsen case "did not rise to the level" of a prosecutable offense. The DA's office, she wrote, did not feel that they could prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Olsen's statements were "intentional misstatements" and not merely "misstatements."

Thornton's civil rights suit against Olsen, filed by Harrington last summer, is still pending in federal district court.

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