Police oversight, left and right
A couple on Avenue G and 45th Street got a rude awakening last Friday morning when they awoke to the sound of someone breaking into their home. The couple secured themselves in a bedroom closet and called 911. By the time APD arrived, officers said the suspect (identified Tuesday as 23-year-old Christopher Giles) was already trying to drive away, and fired a gunshot at the responding officers. Ofc. Matthew Jackson returned fire, hitting Giles, who died on-site.
Addressing press after the incident, Assistant Chief Troy Gay classified the burglary-turned-officer-involved-shooting as typical business, and said he did not expect the city's defunct meet-and-confer agreement to "have a bearing on the investigation. .... Our department has and will continue to be very transparent and open with the community, and we will work side-by-side with the new interim Police Monitor, as well as the D.A., as well as our special investigations unit."
But while Gay limited comment on the new monitor, Farah Muscadin, to the fact that she was present, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday confided to KXAN that while he understood Muscadin was welcome at the scene, her access to any formal investigation would be checked. He said Muscadin couldn't "ask questions, take notes, or sit in on officer interviews."
First Week on the Job
The Avenue G shooting kicked off the final day of Muscadin's first week as police monitor. When departing interim City Manager Elaine Hart elevated her to the post (to let Deven Desai resume his role atop the Labor Relations Office), she noted the "wealth of legal knowledge and professional experience with various governmental entities" Muscadin brings to the role. The Chicago native has more than 15 years of governmental experience, and worked for both the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender and as an assistant to former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. She left Chicago State University to move to Austin in 2016, and last April became a transportation policy associate for City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. Most recently, she served as a project manager for the city's Innovation Office.
Muscadin told me on Friday that running the OPM is her "dream job," and that her experience makes her a perfect fit. In past positions, she's been tasked with engaging stakeholders, taking stock of circumstances, and making recommendations for change. That in particular, she said, is what makes her such an ideal monitor during this particularly turbulent time. The OPM has never operated without a meet-and-confer agreement in place between the union and city, and both the APA and CLEAT (the state union) have already made moves to limit the office's power as a result. Muscadin cites her experience as a defense attorney, city liaison to the Chicago Police Department, and time spent in student affairs at CSU. "I have a 360 view of policing, and aspects of policing, and I do think that it's to my advantage that I come in with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective," she said. Though Muscadin will need more than five days to settle into the new role, she plans to be an active monitor. "We want the community to know that the office is available to take complaints and to be a resource," she said. "That part has not changed."
Another thing that hasn't changed is her and her office's presence at the scene on Friday morning. Though Casaday and CLEAT both believe that the OPM is now restricted in its operational capabilities ("Squished," Jan. 19), and have threatened legal action if Muscadin does in fact overstep what they consider to be a red line of police oversight, Muscadin emphasized that the office will continue to operate as outlined by Hart in a Dec. 29 memo to City Council: advising her (or Spencer Cronk, beginning Feb. 12) and operating as a watchdog over APD.
"It is our intention to execute that, and to be that resource and be that oversight that she expects," Muscadin said. "It doesn't surprise me that there's a difference of opinion; that's normal. They have a right to their opinion, but I've been directed by the city manager to do a job."
One change Hart couldn't avoid is the shuttering of the Citizen Review Panel, which she said in a Jan. 24 memo "simply cannot fulfill" its responsibilities without access to the confidential records Internal Affairs keeps on officers. The volunteer body won't meet again until a new contract has been agreed upon and ratified by City Council (should the CRP be included in those terms).
But last Friday, a few hours after Muscadin and Casaday stood together on Avenue G, Casaday sent Hart word that his membership had selected a meet-and-confer team and "will be ready to return to the bargaining table" whenever the city gets its team assembled and "in a position to make substantive proposals, both economic and non-economic" – something the city may be eager to do but surely won't get going until Cronk has moved his belongings into City Hall.