Civil rights groups seek another federal investigation into Austin police
By Patrick George
Saying that Austin officers continue to use excessive force disproportionately against minority residents, two community groups have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, asking federal authorities to reopen their investigation into the Police Department.
The Austin chapter of the NAACP and the Texas Civil Rights Project announced that they will again ask federal officials to examine whether police are systematically violating residents’ civil rights.
The groups say that since the Justice Department closed its investigation last year — an inquiry they called for in 2004 and received in 2007 — stops and searches of minority suspects have risen and two more fatal police shootings of minority suspects have occurred.
“Ahmede Bradley, Nathaniel Sanders, and Byron Carter Jr. are only a few victims that represent more than just isolated incidents of police misconduct. What exists in Austin is a pattern of police abuse against the African American and Hispanic communities.”
–View Press Release and Federal Complaint at TCRP Blog
Police Chief Art Acevedo said he welcomed any outside review but was very skeptical about whether the Justice Department would take up the complaint. He said his department adopted nearly all of the federal officials’ recommendations following their lengthy and thorough investigation.
“The Department of Justice did not give us a pass,” Acevedo said. “They put us through the wringer to make sure we do business in a manner that is constitutionally sound.”
In late May 2011, saying they could not find evidence that the Austin Police Department was violating the law or the U.S. Constitution, federal officials closed their four-year investigation into the department.
Federal officials did make several recommendations to the department, including the early identification of officers with a tendency to violate use-of-force policies and scrutiny of the department’s internal affairs process by the police monitor’s office.
Nelson Linder, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Austin chapter, said the biggest issue in the complaint is the fatal shootings of two black suspects, Byron Carter Jr. last year and Ahmede Jabbar Bradley in April.
Both happened after federal officials wrapped up their inquiry.
Brian McGiverin (right) with the Texas Civil Rights Project speaks at “Know Your Rights” training session organized by the Peaceful Streets Project outside Austin Police headquarters. (View Video at MyFoxAustin)
“We think that the Department of Justice ended their investigation too soon,” Linder said. “Since then, we’ve seen a new attitude of arrogance at APD. We see less cooperation with the community.”
Carter, 20, was shot and killed when officers fired at a car he was a passenger in May 2011.
Bradley was shot and killed in a confrontation with an officer, during which, police say, Bradley attempted to choke the officer with his radio cord and tried to take his gun. The struggle ensued after a car and foot pursuit when Bradley fled from a traffic stop, police have said.
Jim Harrington, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that police policies surrounding the shooting death of a dog named Cisco in East Austin received more department scrutiny than those surrounding Bradley’s death, something he called “pathetic.”
“(Austin officers) are still using too much lethal force too often,” Harrington said.
The complaint asks the Justice Department to withhold federal funding until changes are made.
But Acevedo said department critics ignore the circumstances that lead to officer-involved shootings, such as suspects running from and fighting with officers.
He said that when officers’ lives are threatened, they have the right to defend themselves.
“It’s kind of unnerving to me … that here we are again in 2012, a little over a year after they found we do not engage in the conduct we are accused of,” Acevedo said.