Outside probe in Jacobson case
On Dec. 20, Austin Police Chief Stan Knee announced that the department has changed its own investigation into the motorcycle wreck deaths of APD Cmdr. Shauna Jacobson and her husband, retired Det. Malcolm "Kurt" Jacobson from an "administrative inquiry" to an "independent investigation," undertaken by a private law firm at a cost of approximately $50,000. In less than a week, the original APD inquiry one that spokesman Kevin Buchman had said was intended merely to dispel rumors circulating in the wake of the Dec. 11 accident became a probe crafted to assure the public that APD takes seriously its responsibility to police its own. The APD probe is one of three ongoing investigations into the circumstances surrounding the Jacobsons' deaths.
During a press conference, Knee told reporters he was responding to public concern that any internal APD investigation of the accident might be tainted by bias. "With all of the public pressure and public concern," he said, the question has been "could we, in fact, conduct an unbiased investigation?"
Shauna and Kurt Jacobson were killed shortly after leaving the Cedars Bar and Grill on Texas 71 near Spicewood, in western Travis Co., just after 7pm on Dec. 11, when their motorcycle crashed into a guard rail, apparently at high speed. Cedars was the fifth of five stops in a charity poker run in which players retrieve a card at each stop and aim to build the best poker hand organized by APD officers to benefit a colleague suffering with multiple sclerosis. Jacobson, who retired from the department in 2002, also had MS, with which he'd been diagnosed in the early Nineties. Preliminary toxicology reports revealed that Kurt Jacobson's blood alcohol content was 0.24, three times the legal limit of 0.08, and that Shauna Jacobson's BAC was 0.33, just over four times the legal limit. Neither was wearing a helmet.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is investigating the wreck and on Monday released its completed accident report. And the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has filed an administrative action against Cedars' owner Bobby Joe Bailey. The TABC seeks to revoke Bailey's liquor license for selling alcohol to intoxicated patrons and has asked Travis County attorney David Escamilla's office to file criminal charges against two of Bailey's employees for the same reason. Meanwhile, the APD is investigating which of its officers were at Cedars, what those folks saw, and what they did or did not do.
In the wake of the deaths, Knee said, he "noted a genuine concern" as he "moved about in the community" that the Jacobsons' deaths "involved much more than just a single couple drinking and driving and could possibly have involved multitudes of police officers involved in acts that were inappropriate," he told reporters. That, of course, is the rumor Buchman was referring to that dozens of off-duty cops, including ranking members of the force, were at Cedars, drinking with the Jacobsons just before they died. This rumor appears to now merit something more serious than an "administrative inquiry."
But whether this independent probe will in fact answer the public's questions remains to be seen. APD has turned to outside investigators in two recent high-profile cases the shooting death of Sophia King by APD Officer John Coffey in 2002, and allegations of potential perjury last year against retired APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman. In the King case, even though Coffey was exonerated which would normally mean the case file was sealed the city released (eventually) reams of information. But in the Chapman case, which the outside investigator ruled "inconclusive," the details have been kept secret.
The difference can be traced to certain provisions in the city's contract with the Austin Police Association, which says normally confidential information in an indie inquiry can't be released unless the officers involved agree, which Coffey did and Chapman did not. So, unless the still-to-be-chosen investigator of the Jacobson case uncovers infractions that are then sustained against individual officers which would, by default, make the information public or unless the officers at Cedars speak publicly or authorize the release of information, the probe may produce another $50,000 press release.
Nonetheless, Knee assured reporters that the indie inquiry is the only way to go: "The results of that investigation can be made public. My officers will know [and] the community will know that it was a thorough investigation and what the findings were."