The Austin Chronicle

'Leak' on Recommendation to Fire Officer Prompts Complaint From Police Union

By Jordan Smith, November 18, 2005, News

Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield has filed two formal complaints with City Manager Toby Futrell, alleging that someone from the city's Office of the Police Monitor and/or the Citizen Review Panel leaked the panel's disciplinary recommendations in the officer-involved shooting death of Daniel Rocha to Statesman cop reporter Tony Plohetski, in violation of the union's contract with the city. According to a contract grievance authored by APA attorney Tom Stribling and filed with Futrell last week, the CRP's disciplinary recommendations, which the contract mandates remain confidential until after Austin Police Chief Stan Knee has made his disciplinary decisions, were "leaked" to Plohetski by a confidential source sometime shortly after the panel's Oct. 31 deliberations. Although the grievance details conversations among Plohetski, Stribling, and Sheffield that occurred in the wake of the CRP decision, during which Plohetski allegedly said he knew of the panel's recommendations and was seeking union comment, the daily sat on their scoop until Nov. 16, when they reported that the panel allegedly recommended to Knee that Officer Julie Schroeder be terminated and that Sgt. Don Doyle be demoted.

Eighteen-year-old Rocha was killed by a single round from Schroeder's gun, fired into his back shortly after 11pm on June 9, during a "traffic stop" made in connection with an undercover drug operation in Southeast Austin. According to the officers' official statements, Rocha fought with Schroeder and Doyle, a struggle that ended with all three on the ground. Schroeder says she shot Rocha because she thought he'd grabbed her Taser from a Velcro pocket on her police vest and was preparing to use it on Doyle.

Under the union's contract, which also creates and defines the city's police oversight office and its powers, the CRP's disciplinary recommendations aren't made public unless and until Knee determines that discipline is warranted. A decision in the Rocha case will not come until sometime after Nov. 18, when Knee is slated to conduct the officers' formal Disciplinary Review Board hearings. According to the grievance, the purpose of the leak was politically motivated. "Obviously the individual(s) who leaked the information did not believe the Panel's vote, alone, was sufficient to convince … Knee, and therefore sought to have the information published in the newspaper in an attempt to bring political pressure to bear upon the Chief," reads the grievance.

The city has agreed to appoint an independent "fact finder" to investigate the leak and report back to Futrell.

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