Naked City

Suspicion vs. Evidence: Earle Rejects Officer's Allegations

Shortly after the Chronicle went to press last week, Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle released a statement saying that there is "no evidence" to support the allegations of wrongdoing by city officials that were made by Austin Police Detective David New.

On April 13, New testified that APD Chief Stan Knee and City Manager Toby Futrell may have compromised an ongoing criminal investigation into the business dealings of city contractor Bonding and Technical Services, or BTS. According to his sworn deposition – taken in connection with APD Detective Jeff White's 2002 whistle-blower lawsuit – New believes that in September 2003, Knee and Futrell may have inadvertently, or even intentionally, alerted BTS that police investigators were planning to execute search warrants at company offices, several days before the warrants were carried out. New, one of the lead investigators in the BTS case, testified that police found at least one empty file cabinet at one of the BTS offices, which caused him to believe that the investigation had been compromised. New said investigators reviewed city phone records that showed a call from Futrell to two city executives several days before the warrants were served, and then a string of seven phone calls from the city to BTS over the two days prior to the execution of the warrants, which led him to believe that BTS had been tipped off about the warrants. Futrell and lawyers for BTS each denied the allegations. (See "Did Knee and Futrell Leak APD Warrants?" April 29.)

Last week police failed to return numerous calls requesting comment; finally, on May 2, an APD spokesman sent the Chronicle an e-mail saying only that "Chief Knee will not be commenting on anything Officer New said in court or the ongoing BTS investigation." One aspect of the BTS investigation (regarding charges of illegal corporate campaign donations in city elections) is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the DA's office, but that didn't keep Earle from weighing in last week in a two-page statement that rejects New's allegations. Earle wrote that his office "reviewed whether any city employee, including [Futrell], inappropriately used any information from the [police] criminal investigation" to tip off BTS to the impending warrants. "[Futrell] and her employees were questioned about this matter and we concluded that no information was disclosed or otherwise inappropriately used by any City employee." Earle said that his office also reviewed New's deposition and "found no evidence or factual basis to support the allegations over leaked information. … There is a difference between suspicion and evidence. The purpose of an investigation is to gather evidence to answer questions raised by suspicion."

But Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield took exception to Earle's characterization of New and his testimony. "When I read the deposition, it was easy for me to determine when Detective New was stating suspicions, when he was stating opinions, and when he was stating facts," he said. "I've known Detective New for many years, and I have always found him to be a very honest person and a very capable investigator."

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Austin Police DepartmentCity Hall, Austin Police Department, APD, Stan Knee, Ronnie Earle, Bonding and Technical Services, BTS, Mike Sheffield, David New, Jeff White, Toby Futrell

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