Cop Fights Law ... Law Wins

APD officer suspended after defending Buehler

Jermaine Hopkins
Jermaine Hopkins (Photo by John Anderson)

On Oct. 30, Officer Jermaine Hopkins found himself out of a job with the Austin Police Department. Police Chief Art Ace­vedo suspended the four-year veteran for insubordination, unreasonable disruption of a workplace, and acts bringing discredit upon the department. News of the suspension came less than a week after Hopkins emailed Commander Andrew Michael and Chief Acevedo's Administrative Lieutenant Tyson McGowan to inform them of his Municipal Court subpoena to testify in defense of Antonio Buehler, who had been indicted on charges that he'd disobeyed a lawful order (see "Buehler Acquitted," Oct. 31).

However, the troubles between Hopkins and Acevedo began earlier, in Nov. 2013, when Acevedo issued the Army veteran an eight-day suspension for improperly arresting a woman in South Austin the previous May – APD had already put Hopkins on restricted duty and house arrest in Sept. 2013, but the suspension was a formal reprimand. According to a disciplinary memo filed at the time of the suspension, Hopkins was in the middle of arresting a man suspected of serving alcohol to a minor when a woman approached and he decided to detain her. The endeavor didn't come easily, resulting in the woman (later identified as Vanessa Price) being taken to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested for interference with public duties and resisting arrest.

Hopkins' commanders "had concerns regarding [his] handling of the call for service" and determined "that an Internal Affairs complaint would be filed." Further, his commanders contacted the county attorney's office to request the charges against Price be dropped. Hopkins issued a statement via Internal Affairs testifying that he "would have not handled the situation any differently, and that he believes that the charges filed against Mrs. Price were valid."

In April, after two previous medical examinations (one conducted by Hopkins' own doctor and another by a city-appointed specialist), the Civil Service Commission, at Acevedo's direction, ordered Hopkins to undergo an examination by a "three-member board of psychologists ... 'to determine his mental fitness for duty.'" Upon that summoning, Hopkins wrote an email to City Manager Marc Ott claiming the chief's order to be illegal. As Acevedo notes: "Contrary to APD policy, Officer Hopkins further claimed ... that he was 'required to disregard unlawful orders.'" Hopkins eventually complied and was found on May 28 to be "fit for duty." Acevedo reinstated him one day later.

Hopkins spent the time between that reinstatement and October's eventual termination in a constant standoff with the city and APD. On June 15 Hopkins' first term of restricted duty and house arrest ended. He returned to work the next day, but was again ordered to restricted duty and house arrest on June 23, after Acevedo cited him for insubordination – the result of communicating outside his chain-of-command. Alone, in solitude, and convinced that his initial suspension was an act of discrimination (Hopkins is African-American), he set forth with a series of formal complaints and open records requests, which Chief Acevedo continued to categorize as "harassing and antagonistic." Emails show he notified Lt. McGowan of his intention to testify on Buehler's behalf on Oct. 20. One day later, he learned of his eventual termination.

On Sept. 18, Hopkins filed an Internal Affairs complaint citing APD's failure to provide proper compensation for overtime hours, negligence on behalf of his chain-of-command, and improper distribution of unlawful orders. Nine days later, he learned that his complaint "does not rise to the level of a policy violation" and that it would be "administratively closed." He currently has two outstanding appeals – one for each suspension – as well as a formal complaint of discrimination filed through the Equal Employ­ment Opportunity Commis­sion. His attorney advised him not to speak to the press about his standing with APD.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Police Department, Jermaine Hopkins, Art Acevedo, Antonio Buehler, Andrew Michael, Tyson McGowan, Vanessa Price, Internal Affairs, Marc Ott

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