The Austin Chronicle

APD Racial Bias Controversy Now Includes Lawsuit

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

By Austin Sanders, November 29, 2019, News

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.

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.

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