A Blue Year: Top 10 APD stories
By Jordan Smith, Fri., Jan. 5, 2007
1) Schroeder Fired: In August an independent arbitrator ruled against former Austin Police Officer Julie Schroeder, upholding her termination in connection with the 2005 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha. Schroeder did not have a "reasonable belief" that Rocha posed a "threat of deadly or serious" injury to her or her supervisor at the time she shot him, meaning Schroeder violated the department's policy on deadly force.
2) Knee Goes Native and Ducks!: In May, APD Chief Stan Knee announced he would retire his position as chief to take a new job, working with government officials in Afghanistan. (No matter how many times we say it, it still sounds funny.) Fortunately (or not), Knee already knew a few folks overseas including former APD Officer Tim Enlow, who Knee earlier fired, allegedly for racial profiling, and who now works as a sniper charged with protecting Afghan officials.
3) Ellison Succeeds: Knee's parking space and comfy Fifth Floor desk chair were inherited by interim Chief Cathy Ellison, the first African-American to head up the department. Whether Ellison will be permanent will be decided sometime this year, after the city completes a nationwide search.
4) Sheffield Shuffles: After leading the Austin Police Association for eight years during which time the union became cohesive and politically powerful President Mike Sheffield announced in November that he will retire from his role as union boss and as an APD detective. In 2007, Sheffield becomes a statewide organizer for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
5) Excessive Force? (Part One): In March, a Travis Co. jury acquitted APD Officers Christopher Gray and William Heilman on charges of official oppression in connection with the September 2005 arrest of Ramon Hernandez, when the officers continued to pummel Hernandez even though he was face down and handcuffed, as recorded on in-car video (insufficient to convince a jury to convict). Ultimately, Gray was handed a 70-day suspension, Heilman resigned his position, and a third cop involved in the event though not tried in court, rookie Joel Follmer, was fired. In December, Hernandez filed a federal civil rights suit against all three.
6) Thou Shalt Not Taser the Elderly: In December, former APD Officer Ramon Perez filed suit against the city, claiming his supervisors concocted a plan to use his faith as a nondenominational evangelical Christian as a basis for firing him, after the officer refused a supervisor's order to use his Taser on an older man in questionable health. According to a psychologist's report, Perez's religious beliefs make it difficult for him to follow orders including those that, like the command to use the Taser, appear to violate APD's own policy. Go figure.
7) Excessive Force? (Part Two): According to an August APD report, while the number of arrests increased 6.7% in 2005, the rate of police use of force actually declined 4.5%. Nonetheless, the rate of force used specifically against black suspects jumped 6.8%. According to the APD, that was explained by the fact that there was a "significant increase" in the number of black suspects using "aggressive actions" against police. Local NAACP President Nelson Linder countered that the APD simply has more work to do to reign in its aggressiveness against black citizens.
8) Patric Poured Out: In February a federal jury ruled against actor Jason Patric in his civil rights suit against the APD, claiming Officer Joshua Visi violated his civil rights when Patric was arrested in March 2004 in the Warehouse District. According to Visi, Patric was drunk and aggressive toward cops who arrested him for public intoxication; Patric countered that he wasn't drunk and that it was Visi who was overly aggressive. In the end, the jury declined to convict Visi.
9) Eight-Liner Craze: In June the APD announced its largest seizure of illegal gambling machines, more than 1,000 eight-liners during the Operation Flatliner raid at 23 gaming rooms. The raid also netted the department a little flak after officers told the Chronicle that most of the machines were ruined (and useless as evidence) after being stored outside for more than a month. Nonetheless, the department undertook two more raids before year-end.
10) Brown It Is: In November, city officials announced they'd selected Travis Co. prosecutor Cliff Brown to take over as the city's third police monitor. Brown wowed the a meet-and-greet session with the three finalists for the job vacated by Ashton Cumberbatch. Cops and activists have complained that the monitor's office has been too easy or too hard on cops accused of misconduct; both groups were smiling about Brown's accession we'll see if he can keep the love alive.
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