One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
APD fires two cops for excessive force and ushers in new de-escalation policy
Two cops lost their jobs this week after being found to have used excessive force in an arrest last summer, and then lying about it to their sergeant. Word that Bryan Richter (known for his violent arrest of schoolteacher Breaion King in June 2015) and a colleague were facing discipline made news on Sunday, but APD didn't formally address the indefinite suspensions (civil service for "firings") until Monday afternoon, when interim Chief Brian Manley held a press conference to hail the department's new de-escalation policy, a byproduct of work with community groups.
According to disciplinary memos released Monday, Richter and Det. Steven McCurley received indefinite suspensions for a string of incidents that took place as part of an Organized Crime Division narcotics operation last July. The two were pursuing a suspect they ultimately apprehended in the parking lot of Barton Creek Mall. Video footage from a trailing helicopter indicated that Richter made initial contact with the suspect, taking him to the ground. With the suspect on the ground, hands behind his back, McCurley kicked him in his abdomen. The memo indicates that Richter then "placed his right foot on the subject's head ... [and] took a stutter step that made his left foot completely leave the ground while his right foot was still on the subject's head." That's when McCurley kicked the suspect a second time.
The two failed to report their use of force to their chain of command, according to the memos, and the next day relayed conflicting accounts of the arrest. Richter wavered between whether he "guided" or "took down" the suspect, a red flag to his supervisor, who later reviewed the helicopter footage and concluded both that Richter minimized the event, and that McCurley withheld that he kicked the man while he was on the ground. Their chain of command also reported being disturbed that the suspect wasn't given any obvious commands before being taken down.
The two were found in violation of the department's administrative policies determining objective reasonable force, reporting guidelines, and honesty. Both have a right to appeal. The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) has already indicated that they will. Manley said Monday that he couldn't comment on specifics because the case is still being reviewed by the Travis County District Attorney's Office.
The news of the firings arrived in lockstep with Manley's purpose for the presser: to speak to the new expectation that officers bear in mind the many methods they can employ to temper a situation before reverting to using their hands or Taser. Austin Justice Coalition co-founder Chas Moore called the new language "a huge step" in the right direction, but emphasized the department must now actually hold officers accountable under the new system. "Although we don't think all officers are assholes, we know these incidents are going to come up," Moore said. "So, it's like, how do we be proactive and try to minimize and mitigate as many of these situations as possible?"
On hearing Richter's name in the news again, Moore returned to the accountability and transparency reforms he and his cohorts sought to include in the city's police contract last year. "People are going to continue to do what they can do as long as they get away with it," he said. "Until you address cultural or behavioral problems within the department, no, they're not going to stop. You have to nip it in the bud ASAP."