APD Racial Bias Controversy Now Includes Lawsuit

Suit alleges “a pattern and practice of discriminating against African Americans”


Brian Manley (Photo by John Anderson)

Austin police Detective LaMarcus Wells filed a lawsuit against the city of Austin and now-retired Assistant Chief Justin Newsom on Friday, Nov. 22, alleging that systemic bias within the department prevented Wells from acquiring promotions and transfers.

The suit claims that Wells was denied multiple opportunities to advance his career over a nine-year period due to "a pattern and practice of discriminating against African Amer­i­cans ... through its [city of Austin] policies or customs." Wells told the Statesman that he was motivated to file suit after an anonymous complaint against Newsom alleged the former chief regularly used the N-word – including in reference to Wells.


Spencer Cronk (Photo by John Anderson)

That complaint, which also indicates that police Chief Brian Manley was aware of the allegations for weeks before taking action, has set off a wave of repercussions throughout the community. On Nov. 15, City Manager Spencer Cronk announced that former Bexar County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Lisa Tatum would lead an investigation into the allegations against Newsom and what APD leadership knew and could have done in response.

At a press conference on Monday, Nov. 25, a cohort of representatives from local police associations gathered to blast Manley for his handling of the complaint. The representatives focused on Manley's inaction and the effect they say it has had on officers of color in the department.

Chandra Ervin, president of the Texas Peace Officers Association, criticized Manley for not hiring any African Americans to serve on the department's executive and command staff, and said of the racist remarks Manley allegedly tolerated, "What you permit, you promote." Ervin, whose group represents black officers at APD, said Manley's alleged inaction "destroyed bridges and mutual trust" the department has worked to build with minority communities.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said at the press conference that he would not call for Manley's resignation while the investigation into his conduct was underway, telling us afterward that the chief deserved the "same due process as every other officer" on the force. But the pressure campaign against Manley is certainly growing; at the Monday press conference, Casaday said he requested the chief be placed on restricted duty pending the completion of the third-party investigation – a request Cronk denied.

Casaday also told us the police union filed a grievance against Manley for his response to the Newsom complaint; Manley had referred the matter to the Office of Police Over­sight, but Casaday says the contract between the city and the APA dictates that Manley should have first referred the case to internal affairs. That would be complicated, though, because Manley is technically the boss of IA investigators, and policy on how the chief would be investigated in this case is unclear.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Austin Police Department
Racial Disparities in Policing Persist, City Report Shows
Racial Disparities in Policing Persist, City Report Shows
Black, Latinx drivers overrepresented in APD traffic stops and searches

Austin Sanders, Nov. 27, 2020

With Unrest a Possibility, Has APD Learned Its Lessons?
With Unrest a Possibility, Has APD Learned Its Lessons?
Law and disorder

Austin Sanders, Nov. 6, 2020

More APD
APD's Lone Female Assistant Chief Retires
APD's Lone Female Assistant Chief Retires
Jessica Robledo was the only woman at the executive level during her tenure

Chase Hoffberger, Sept. 2, 2016

Ott Takes on Acevedo
Ott Takes on Acevedo
City manager reprimands police chief for comments

Chase Hoffberger, April 29, 2016

More by Austin Sanders
APD Officers Face Trial for Allegedly Beating a Suspect
APD Officers Face Trial for Allegedly Beating a Suspect
Overlooked 2019 case brought to grand jury by new D.A. Garza

Jan. 22, 2021

Mayor Pro Tem Contest Kicks Off New Council Storylines
Mayor Pro Tem Contest Kicks Off New Council Storylines
A leading role at City Hall?

Jan. 22, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Police Department, Justin Newsom, LaMarcus Wells, Brian Manley, APD, Spencer Cronk, Lisa Tatum, Chandra Ervin, Ken Casaday, racial bias, Texas Peace Officers Association, Austin Police Association

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle