Jermaine Hopkins' arbitration hearing concerning his Oct. 2014 indefinite suspension (civil service parlance for "termination") from the Austin Police Department is still a month away, but the exiled cop is already considering future sanctions. Last month, Hopkins received an email from Asst. Chief Brian Manley saying that APD was launching a new internal affairs investigation into his efforts to stand as witness in two separate criminal defense trials during the past three months.
According to Manley's email, and confirmed by the accused, Hopkins was financially compensated $700 for time spent preparing for and testifying as an expert witness in Judge Nancy Hohengarten's county court during a March trial. Hopkins was also barred by Judge Brandy Mueller from serving as an expert witness in Caroline Callaway's DWI arrest trial last month (see "Woman Suing APD Beats DWI," April 24). Manley's email says Hopkins' actions are in violation of APD Policies 949 and 935. Policy 949 pertains to secondary employment and bars officers from engaging in "any type of secondary employment which may bring the Department into disrepute or impair the operation and/or efficiency of the Department." (It also requires those seeking secondary employment to receive approval from APD's Real Time Crime Center, one's chain of command, and APD's Special Events Unit.) Policy 935, which covers court appearances, dictates that employees will notify their supervisors of any subpoenas or agreements they've made to testify in court, and mandates that officers will not receive compensation for testimony as an expert witness without the approval of Chief Art Acevedo or a designee.
At this point it's tough to fit Hopkins' disciplinary backstory into a relatively concise paragraph (full story available via "House Arrest," Dec. 19, 2014). In short, the Bay Area native and Army veteran-turned-APD cop responded so proactively to an eight-day suspension for his handling of the fallout from a May 2013 arrest – questioning the legality of each and every disciplinary decision levied upon him with vigor, rigidity, and thorough record-keeping – that he was eventually assigned to home duty (and told not to leave his house while on duty) for two stints of time totaling more than one calendar year.
He finally lost his job, last October, for a series of infractions including insubordination, unreasonable disruption, and acts bringing discredit upon the department – not surprisingly for attempting to testify as an expert witness at a criminal trial. Since then, he's filed multiple charges of discrimination against the city of Austin for harm suffered since last June, and, among other actions, has formally requested that District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg remove herself from investigating any of his complaints because she identified Chief Acevedo as a "friend" when she was popped for a DWI in the spring of 2013. Last Monday, May 18, in the wake of this new IA investigation, Hopkins filed his latest complaint of departmental retaliation with the Texas Workforce Commission's Civil Rights & Discrimination division.
The news that he's the subject of another internal affairs investigation – for his two latest efforts to serve as an expert witness – particularly concerns Hopkins, since he believes he's no longer actually employed by the Austin Police Department. That designation ended on Oct. 31, 2014, when he received his notice of indefinite suspension, handed his badge in, and stopped receiving paychecks, he says. He explained to the Chronicle that eight months will have passed between his suspension and subsequent arbitration hearing, and that he has to make money to sustain himself. He added that he believes the department's expectation that he read departmental emails is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets regulations with respect to minimum wage.
"This memo here says that I've engaged in work off-duty, but they're actually imposing the work on me by sending me work to my personal email," he said. "They want me to read these documents, and I'm not getting paid for that."
Public information officers and department administrators from APD and the city's Civil Service Commission were not able to explain the bureaucratic details, and a city attorney did not respond to requests for comment (nor did Asst. Chief Manley), but Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told the Chronicle that the discrepancy boils down to the stipulation that those appealing indefinite suspensions are still subject to APD's rules and standards of civil service. (He added that the APA supports Hopkins' right to appeal.) In any event, it's likely that any disciplinary action the department would try to levy upon Hopkins in the wake of the new IA investigation would only be considered if he wins his arbitration hearing in June. According to Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code, department heads are limited to the original written statement and charges on the officer's disciplinary memo, which may not be amended. Any disciplinary actions must be part of another hearing.
Hopkins' arbitration hearing is currently set to begin June 15. Examiner Tom Cipolla will preside over the hearing. Should Hopkins emerge victorious, it's quite possible that he'll face another round of discipline as soon as he's reinstated.
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