APD Mistake Leaves Austin Woman Shaken
Real estate broker's confrontation destroys her faith in Austin and the police
Austin real estate broker Kim Riddle knows a lot of Austin cops. She's sold them houses, played rugby with them, and opened her North Central-area home to them for shift-change parties and as a place where patrol officers can stop for a drink of water or to use the bathroom. She considers many of them friends. But last fall she was knocked off her sense of balance with the blue. As Riddle tells it, on Oct. 9, one wrong phone number ended with four cops surrounding her in the entry hallway of her house, their hands on their guns, asking her to prove she was not the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant.
In fact, Riddle was not the suspect the officers were looking for nor is it likely that Riddle would easily be mistaken for the suspect, Kim McGee. Each woman has the same first name and each knows one person in common, a client of Riddle's who is also McGee's aunt, but that is where the similarities end. Riddle is a 45-year-old black woman and a veteran Austin small businesswoman. McGee is a 26-year-old white woman who was wanted on a charge of felony credit card abuse, for fraudulently charging nearly $400 worth of goods to a former employer's card.
But those obvious differences apparently weren't enough to convince the cops. For Riddle, the encounter exposed not only the shortcomings of police training, but also the shortcomings of the Office of the Police Monitor, where she said she was rebuffed when trying to file a complaint. "I was used as sport," Riddle said, "plain and simple."
According to Riddle, she was at home watching football just after 9:30pm on Oct. 9 when she got a phone call from her client, who called to say that she'd made a mistake when APD officers came to her house looking for McGee. "She said that in her effort to help them locate [McGee] she looked through her cell phone directory and saw the name Kim and mistakenly gave them my phone number," Riddle said. Her client said she'd tried to call the cops to explain, but was unable to reach them. Riddle said she asked what McGee looked like. Certain the cops would quickly realize the mistake on their own, Riddle went back to watching football.
But less than 30 minutes later, Riddle said she heard "banging" on her front door. "I opened it and said that [the client] had called," Riddle told APD Internal Affairs investigators on Feb. 27. But the one black and three white officers standing outside cut her off, she said, while "lunging" forward into her front hallway and surrounding her, forcing her up against a wall. "I thought [McGee] had committed murder, the way they came into the house," Riddle said. She tried to explain that they weren't looking for her, she said, and told the black officer Cpl. James Dixon, according to an APD dispatch report obtained by the Chronicle that her client had just called. "'So she warned you,'" Riddle recalled Dixon saying while swaying back and forth toward her, his hand on his gun. "He said, 'Kim, we know who you are, Kim McGee.'" Riddle said she was scared, tried to keep from touching the encroaching officers, and began to recite repeatedly her driver license number, hoping they would confirm her identity and that the confrontation would end.
Instead they asked to search her home. "I said, 'Search,' meaning, 'Go ahead,'" she told IA, but the "officers did not search and just kind of stood there." Riddle said she pointed the officers toward her purse, in an effort to get them to physically check her ID. Dixon used his flashlight to look into the purse, then pulled back, hand on gun, asking her to get it for him. "I started to cry ... and felt like I was going to have a panic attack," she told IA, and asked the officers if she could sit down.
Once she was in her recliner, she said, the three white officers surrounded her again, and Dixon, now holding her license, demanded more identification and asked to see Riddle's gas company credit cards. He looked into her purse again, then backed into the hallway "and started pacing," she said. "I felt like he was trying to figure out how to make me a criminal to save himself or to justify what was going on," she said. "This is when I said that I don't understand this, [McGee] is white and she is 23 years old," Riddle told IA. "This is when he slid my driver's license on the coffee table toward me, and he walked out." The other three officers quickly followed, she said, and they were gone, leaving her sitting in her living room, scared and angry.
Crying, Riddle said she called her client. "I said, 'Why didn't you tell me they treated you like that?' I was naive enough to think they would've treated her the same way they'd treated me." But they hadn't. According to Riddle's client, the officers that came to her home were friendly, offered their business cards, and explained why they were there. "If they found out what house to go to, you'd think they'd do enough to find out that they were looking for a twentysomething-year-old Caucasian," she said.
Riddle said the experience has scarred her. "I can't forget it," she said. "I'm angry, and I can't believe I can't get past it, but I can't." And, she said, she hasn't had much help. Riddle said she called the OPM about filing a complaint but that she was rebuffed. "Their attitude was, 'You weren't arrested, what's your problem?' I kept explaining, 'That is the problem,'" she said. "They're just a preattorney for the police."
Ultimately, Riddle said, she blames APD Chief Stan Knee for what happened. It's Knee's responsibility to make sure his officers are well trained and that they treat everyone with respect regardless of skin color. "This is his responsibility, but this is how our city has evolved," she said. "My first name is Kim, and I'm a black woman, and they jacked me up in my own home."
APD spokesman Kevin Buchman said he wasn't aware of Riddle's complaint and Flynn Lee, a compliance specialist with the OPM, said he could not comment on or confirm that Riddle contacted the office with a complaint.
Frustrated and still frightened over her mistreatment by APD both on Oct. 9 and after Riddle says she is in the process of shutting down her business and moving out of Austin. "The joy of being here has been taken away from me," she said. Still, she said she hopes that others including the police can learn from what happened to her. "I may go away, but I'm never going away," she said. "I'll make sure my story is told."