Acevedo: Chris Dunn Is 'Damaged Goods'
Two days after Nathaniel Sanders II was shot and killed by Austin Police Officer Leonardo Quintana, Internal Affairs investigator Detective Chris Dunn had an idea for how to approach the eventual administrative investigation into whether the officer had complied with policy and training during the fatal incident. "Let's get [Sanders'] probationary records," Dunn wrote to two colleagues. The investigators should see what kind of trouble the 18-year-old had been in before and whether he was potentially violating any probationary conditions imposed by a judge as a result of any other encounters with police. If Sanders was in violation of any conditions, investigators could then make Sanders "a causation of the entire [shooting] event," he wrote – an approach he explicitly described as clever: "Guezz I am so smart I scare myself," he wrote.
Unfortunately for Dunn, neither the officers in the detective's chain of command nor APD Chief Art Acevedo found the plan to be as smart as the detective thought. Instead, Dunn's plan earned him an indefinite suspension from the department (the civil service equivalent of termination) for violating Austin Police Department policy requiring police to maintain an "impartial attitude" and for bringing discredit to the department. Dunn is "damaged goods," Acevedo told reporters on Nov. 5.
The e-mail was first discovered in the Internal Affairs file by outside investigators with KeyPoint Government Solutions, the consulting firm hired by the city after a request by the civilian police oversight panel for an independent review. In KeyPoint's report, issued Sept. 30, the investigators concluded that bias permeated the IA inquiry.
In response, Acevedo tapped a group of APD leaders to form a special investigation team to review the IA file. Those investigators, led by Chief of Staff David Carter, discovered that Dunn had sent a second e-mail to a colleague in June suggesting that the investigators ignore a list of questions that Assistant City Attorney Michael Cronig wanted asked of Quintana, because, according to Dunn, Quintana's responses might incriminate him in the shooting. "I don't think we need to give him any ammo," Dunn wrote.
As a result, certain questions were never asked of Quintana, including questions Cronig had regarding Quintana's familiarity with the circumstances and issues in play in two previous police shootings. When asked on Oct. 19 about his failure to ask pertinent questions, Dunn told investigators that he failed to do so because "if the officer answered that question, it would somewhat ... incriminate himself and his actions that he took on that day." That, concluded Acevedo, was unacceptable behavior for an IA detective: to "deliberately not ask relevant questions in order to blatantly protect another officer," he wrote in his Nov. 5 disciplinary memo. "It is abhorrent to every principle of effective policing that any Detective would begin an investigation with a preconception of the outcome and fail from beginning to end to have and maintain an objective, fair, impartial and equitable frame of reference." Indeed, during a press conference, Acevedo said he really had no choice but to terminate a detective whose credibility would be forever damaged: "Have you ever heard of Mark Fuhrman? That is a name that will live in infamy," Acevedo said, comparing Dunn's actions to those of the former Los Angeles Police Department detective who lied about using racial slurs during his police work and who was accused of tampering with evidence in the O.J. Simpson murder investigation. "Chris Dunn" will now have a negative connotation "for years to come," Acevedo said. "I am not going to play Russian roulette with a detective whose name is [now] infamous."
Acevedo said it would not be fair to paint the entire Internal Affairs division with too broad a brush, but still he said that he has decided to make changes in the way IA operates. Every officer transferred into the division will now first be vetted by Acevedo, and the chief will be asking City Council to upgrade several IA positions from detective grade to sergeant, so that each investigator within IA would be ranked as a supervisor, a best practice for internal affairs operations around the country. That move would take council approval, however, which Acevedo said he hopes to secure.
Dunn will appeal his termination, pursuant to civil service law. The case will be heard and decided by an independent arbitrator.