The Austin Chronicle

Attorneys File Final Arguments in Dunn Case

By Jordan Smith, June 11, 2010, News

With a decision still pending in the civil service case of former Austin Police Department Internal Affairs Detective Chris Dunn, who was fired last year for exhibiting bias in an investigation into the 2009 police shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders II, Dunn's attorney Tom Stribling has made one final attempt to have the charge against Dunn tossed out.

In a closing brief submitted last month to an arbitrator considering whether Dunn should get his job back, Stribling argued the city failed to specify which actions Dunn took (or did not take) that led to Chief Art Acevedo's decision to fire him. The lack of specificity violates civil service law, said Stribling, arguing that the error warrants setting aside the main charge against Dunn – that he violated department policy pertaining to "impartial attitude." Instead of specifics, Stribling argues, the disciplinary memo describing the reasons for Dunn's termination is nothing more than "4½ pages of narrative fraught with conclusions and hyperbole."

In firing Dunn, Acevedo said the detective exhibited bias in favor of Officer Leonardo Quintana in a now-infamous May 13, 2009, e-mail Dunn wrote to colleagues two days after the shooting, in which he suggested that getting Sanders' probation records might help make him "a causation" of the deadly event. Further, according to the city, Dunn improperly attempted to bias the internal inquiry by compelling his colleagues to ignore certain questions that the department's legal adviser, Michael Cronig, thought should be asked of Quintana during his Internal Affairs interview. (For more on Dunn's case, see "Cutting on the Bias," April 30.)

But Stribling argues that the specifics of those two actions are not laid out sufficiently in the disciplinary memo – a memo he said was ambiguous and filled with "purple prose." Assistant City Attorney Constance Acosta counters that the facts in question are contained in the memo.

As for the alleged bias demonstrated in the May 13 e-mail, Stribling argues that Dunn was only looking to gather facts. For example, if the probation records had shown Sanders and his companions were in compliance with terms of probation, any notion of causation would be moot; Stribling wrote, "Obtaining factual information is not bias." More­over, he argued that Dunn understands the e-mail was "poorly worded" and "created a perception of bias" in some minds. As such, Dunn does not contest the other charge brought against him, that he damaged the credibility of the department. However, Stribling contends, Dunn's termination was excessive for that infraction.

Acosta countered that the e-mail did in fact exhibit actual bias and also demonstrated a "pattern based on previous practice." She noted that two county prosecutors testified at Dunn's arbitration hearing that they had problems with his work when he was a sex crimes investigator; one testified that Dunn had actually pressured a victim into making a false identification in a lineup. (Still unclear, however, is whether either of those prosecutors ever communicated their concerns about Dunn to their supervisors or to anyone at APD.) In the Sanders case, Acosta said, Dunn "took it upon himself to initiate a chain of events that would cause the singular most catastrophic damage to the APD in anyone's current institutional memory." (Given the disaster with the release of the KeyPoint investigation into the Sanders shooting and a handful of other recent APD low points, that assessment is certainly debatable.)

A decision is expected later this month.

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