A 17-year veteran Austin Police Department detective and Austin Police Association board member received a three-day suspension on Aug. 17 because of comments he made online about David Joseph, the 17-year-old boy shot by an APD officer in February.
In a four-page disciplinary memo, Police Chief Art Acevedo said comments made by Detective Jason Chiappardi on the comments section of a KXAN story back in March "could potentially damage the reputation and professionalism" of APD. In one comment, Chiappardi wrote: "My friends and family are glad to hear that the high school dropout drug using, neighborhood terrorizing, naked guy will never scare anybody else again." In another, in reference to Acevedo's decision to indefinitely suspend Ofc. Geoffrey Freeman, who shot Joseph, he wrote: "It's too fucking bad that the boss has no support for his officers. I hope he leaves soon."
This is Chiappardi's second suspension from APD. He was sent off the street in 2003 after being indicted for assault – a class A misdemeanor – while off-duty at a local bar. The charge was dropped in 2004 after state witnesses gave prosecutors inconsistent accounts of what occurred, according to his attorney at the time.
This time Chiappardi was cited for violating APD policy pertaining to Prohibited Speech, Expression and Conduct, which requires department personnel to avoid "speech or expression that, while not made pursuant to an official duty, is significantly linked to ... the Austin Police Department and tends to compromise or damage the mission, function, reputation or professionalism" of APD. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday confirmed to the Chronicle Thursday that Chiappardi, who currently serves as secretary for the APA, plans to take the suspension to arbitration.
Chiappardi did not make the comments under his official, legal name, but rather under the moniker "Jason Paul," the name he uses for his personal Facebook account, according to Casaday. (Chiappardi's middle name is Paul. Casaday said he believes a friend of Chiappardi's recognized the name and alerted Internal Affairs.)
Casaday said that he didn't agree with the sentiment expressed by the tenured detective, and that – despite it coming from a board member around the time that the public learned of Ofc. Patrick Spradlin's opinions of black people from his discussion with Breaion King – Chiappardi's comments aren't representative of the feelings throughout his membership. He noted that Chiappardi made the comments as a private citizen – off-duty and out of uniform – and used a pseudonym "because he realized it could be an issue, since he worked for the City of Austin."
Casaday said he looks forward to Chiappardi's arbitration and hopes the issue of what is and isn't allowed to be posted from officers' social media accounts (especially those that don't employ the officer's full name) goes before a state judge. He believes APD policy governing off-duty use of social media to be outdated and thin, and too often leaves decisions up to the interpretation of the chief. Police Monitor Margo Frasier agreed, saying Thursday that she's noticed a significant "inconsistency in terms of what gets you in trouble and what doesn't. ... The problem is that I can't talk about the ones that don't get disciplined," she said – another policy issue for another day.
In addition to the policy on prohibited speech, expression, and conduct, APD's Employee Handbook stipulates that employees "forfeit any expectation of privacy with regard to anything published or maintained through ... any Internet site open to public view." Still, Casaday stressed that officers often post less-than-flattering comments on the internet, and routinely face no repercussions. Chiappardi was reported to Acevedo for comments he posted to his now-defunct Twitter account (@ATXYankee) in Nov. 2014 about former officer Jermaine Hopkins, but Acevedo chose not to act on the allegations. (Ironically, part of the reason why Hopkins got terminated from his position was because of comments he posted on Twitter about the chief.) Frasier recommended that Acevedo "either tighten up the language or tighten up the way [he] applies the policy."
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