Archive for the ‘Austin’ Category

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

A quick roundup of some police related news, mostly for RoadRich, but perhaps of interest to my regular readers.

APD’s latest officer-involved shooting. There don’t seem to be any updates since late last night, but so far this is sounding like just another sad story: police responded to a call in South Austin, a woman in her 20s fled, tried to run over offices, crashed, exited her vehicle and brandished a knife at one of the responding officers, and…

By way of Hognose over at Weaponsman: the chief of the Punta Gorda, Florida police department has been charged with “culpable negligence” and one of his officers has been charged with felony manslaughter. This is related to the citizen’s police academy shooting that I’ve discussed previously in this space.

(Interesting note: my mother and I started the Lakeway Citizen’s Police Academy last night. The officer who was teaching last night (also the second-in-command of the Lakeway PD) mentioned the Punta Gorda incident in the context of “things we won’t be doing in this class”.)

(I might discuss the Lakeway CPA in more detail at some point down the road. My initial impression is that there are a lot of differences between it and the Austin CPA; some of those are probably do to the relative size of the departments, the available resources, and the length of time the programs have been in operation. My class is the 14th for the Lakeway CPA: my Austin CPA class was the 87th, and I’m currently helping out with the 91st class.)

The city of Cleveland has agreed to pay more than $13.2 million to settle lawsuits involving police misconduct since the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an officer-shooting death that came at a time when the public started scrutinizing police actions.

(Hattip: Tim Cushing.)

I wish there was more context in this article. $13.2 million over 26 months sounds like a lot of money, but how does this compare to other cities over the same time frame? How much have cities like Chicago, New York, and Austin paid out over the same period? How does this break down on a per capita or per officer basis?

(Wikipedia estimates the current population of Cleveland at just under 400,000. Let’s take that as a base number. That’s $33 per citizen. “More than 1,600” people are on the police force: just for grins, let’s round up to 1,700. That’s $7,764.70 per employee, which would include both sworn and non-sworn.)

(The population of Austin was about 931,000 in 2016, and there’s about 1,800 people on the APD staff, both sworn and non-sworn. It’s interesting that the Cleveland PD has somewhere between 100 and 200 fewer officers for a city with less than half the population and a third of the area. But I digress. Unfortunately, I don’t have a figure for settlements paid out by the city since November 2014. But I will note, since I haven’t previously: last week, the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to the family of the naked 17-year-old shot by an APD officer.)

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#35 in a series)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Lawrence beat me to it, but only because I have to wait until my lunch hour to blog.

According to “a person with knowledge of the case”, state representative Dawnna Dukes has been indicted by a grand jury.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, faces two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity and 13 felony counts of tampering with public records, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

She could get 28 years in prison, but we all know there’s no way in heck she’s going to get that much of a sentence if she is convicted. (I know, these are state, not federal, charges, but Ken’s principle still applies.)

You may remember Rep. Dukes was playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with DA Lehmburg late last year. Ms. Dukes decided she wasn’t going to resign after all because “the people” wanted her to stay (in spite of her poor attendance record).

Politics.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

I’m working on getting the lists updated, but I’m a little frustrated.

If you go to the city’s list of council members, they’re all there.

But if you click on Alison Alter or Jimmy Flannigan, you still get the information for Ann Kitchen and Don Zimmerman. I’m doubtful the street addresses and PO boxes have changed, but I can’t be sure of that, so I’ve struck through those temporarily.

The “contact council member” pages for the two new members do look like they’ve sort of been updated, in that the links now show “Send Email to District (X)”. The pages for the other council members still show ‘Send Email to (Council Member Name Here) District (X) Council Member”.

So I’m not just being a lazy, shiftless blogger. I am working on these pages, but I’m in “waiting on the city council and the webmaster” mode right now.

(I probably need to work on the county commissioners and the legislators, too. I’m hopeful I can get that done this weekend.)

Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou.

Monday, January 9th, 2017

One thing the Citizen’s Police Academy “suggests” is that you should reserve judgement on incidents involving the police – if not until all the facts are in, at least until we’re past the initial reports stage.

With that said, this doesn’t look good.

Yesterday, the APD arrested a man at one of our local malls. He was charged with shoplifting, but APD couldn’t determine his identity and suspected he had open felony warrants. So they loaded him into the back of a squad car and headed downtown for fingerprints.

On the way, the handcuffed gentleman told the officer he was feeling suicidal. The officer asked him if he had the means to kill himself…

…whereupon the gentleman in question pulled a gun out of his waistband and, after a brief standoff, shot himself in the head.

The obvious question is: how did police not find the gun?

An Austin police officer did not conduct a thorough pat-down of a man who shot himself Sunday in the back of a police car because the man already had been handcuffed by mall security, a preliminary investigation of the incident has found.

Other than the obvious lesson about assumptions getting you killed, I’m also wondering: how big was the gun? If it was a full-sized 1911, that’s one thing: Ray Charles probably wouldn’t have missed that. Then again, if it was a full-size 1911, the guy would probably be dead, instead of critical. If it was something like a NAA .22, or possibly even a Ruger LCP, missing it is a little more understandable to me.

APD. DNA. FUBAR.

Friday, December 16th, 2016

The Austin Police Department has abandoned plans to reopen the DNA and forensic serology labs.

“We have failed in the area that is under question now with some of our DNA operations and some of the issues that came forward through the Forensic Science Commission audit,” [Police Chief Brian] Manley said. “For that I take responsibility and I am working with a team of leaders to push this forward so that our community has a system that works for them.”

Props to Chief Blast HardCheese for stepping up and taking responsibilty. But:

Since the DNA began operating in 2004, it has passed 17 audits and held national accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors.

Question number 1: how did the lab manage to pass 17 audits and get accreditation if it’s been badly run since the beginning?

Question number 1a: did the problems just start recently? If so, how and why?

Question numero dos: The lab opened in 2004. Chief HardCheese has been chief for about two weeks now: before that, he was an assistant chief, and I’m not sure how much day to day input he had into lab operations.

You know who did have a lot of input into lab operations? You know who was the HMFWIC when things went to hell in a handbasket? Yes, you do know, don’t you?

By the way, that’s not the only lab news today. The guy that was hired to run the lab? He’s no longer running the lab. And not just because the lab isn’t reopening:

Milne was hired to be Austin police’s chief forensic officer and earned $111,384 a year, police officials said. Manley said he has heard concerns from within the criminal justice community about Milne’s background and qualifications. Manley said he pulled Milne’s academic transcripts, which led him to conclude that Milne did not have adequate qualifications to run the functions of the lab.
“This individual has been removed from his role overseeing any functions at the lab and he is not associated with the lab at this time,” Manley said. “His future at this point is something we are working on determining how we will work through that.”

Perhaps I am a little biased here, but I’m starting to like Chief HardCheese more. I actually heard him speak last night, and he’s a pretty good speaker. He hasn’t done anything to irritate me yet. He hasn’t made any stupid public statements on guns. He’s a St. Ed’s graduate. (Hilltoppers represent!) And he actually seems to be making efforts to clean up this mess.

Lab watch.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Lawrence forwarded a story from “Community Impact”, one of those free neighborhood papers, that I thought was worthy of note.

The gist of it is that the Capital Area Private Defender Service (CAPDS from this point forward because I don’t want to keep typing that) is willing to get involved with fixing the DNA testing issues in the APD forensics lab.

CAPDS is proposing a 5-year process to review the city’s DNA cases to determine how what happened with the lab will affect past and pending court cases, and to look forward at best practices for DNA testing, Strassburger said.

Well, that sounds great. But what do they need? Money. And what does Travis County not have a whole lot of? Money.

[county judge Sarah] Eckhardt said she has asked the city to take $1.4 million identified in the city’s budget process for additional personnel in the DNA lab and apply it toward these efforts.

Meanwhile, the Statesman is saying that fixing the DNA lab problems could cost…well…

According to records obtained by the Statesman, models for such reviews involve varying levels of expert input and use of appellate attorneys. The most expensive carries a $14.4 million estimated price tag while the least expensive is about $6 million.

More:

According to the organization, county officials could assign an attorney to each case that used DNA evidence analyzed by the lab to review it and “file appropriate motions” for a minimum cost of $13.2 million. Or it could choose a more expensive option in which attorneys would do a deeper review of cases using two attorneys from the outset to learn which might have potential issues — for $14.4 million.
The last option — at a cost of $6 million — would involve the county or city hiring new lawyers to handle the cases instead of using outside attorneys.

Oh, by the way, this doesn’t include the costs associated with actually getting the lab up and running again.

And, in an also related story: after the lab was closed, the APD asked the Texas DPS crime lab to do retraining of some of the DNA analysts.

But Monday, DPS officials told the department they had lost faith in most of the staffers they were working with — and wouldn’t be returning.
Instead, according to a one-page letter obtained by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, only a select two from a staff of six DNA analysts are invited to a state facility to continue training in a “supportive environment.”

More:

In a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s office, Brady Mills, deputy assistant director of the DPS crime lab, wrote that the last four months of working together have shown that “there are significant challenges that impact confidence in the work product” of some of the lab’s DNA analysts.
“This has been demonstrated through our personal interactions with the group as well as the practical work product that has been completed and reviewed thus far,” Mills wrote. “Coupled with the expressed belief by your office that those senior analysts may no longer be utilized for expert testimony, APD and DPS plan to move forward with a new course of action.”

The position of DNA analyst (which requires a bachelor’s degree) in the APD lab starts at $23.44 an hour. I believe when I started doing enterprise tech support at Dell, I was making $22 an hour and that was in 2006: I would expect that by now, Dell’s paying closer to $23.44, if not more, and I also suspect enterprise tech support is easier than DNA analysis.

I want to be very very careful with what I say here. I don’t want to seem like I’m sneering at anyone. I couldn’t do this work, and I believe the people who do are motivated by things other than pay. But when DPS says 2/3rds of the people sent over for retraining, can’t be retrained? Is the DPS training that much more demanding than APD’s? Is there something else going on here? Or is the simple explanation also the correct one: APD’s been hiring people who are wrong for the job, and it finally caught up with them?

On the legal beat.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, as promised, did not seek re-election. Margaret Moore is the new DA, and will take over January 3rd.

But she’s already making her mark: she’s fired 27 people.

Seventeen attorneys, 12 investigators and six administrative staff are retiring or have been told they will no longer have jobs when Moore takes over on Jan. 3. Additionally, 13 lawyers are being bumped to a lower classification and will take paycuts. And more changes may be coming. Moore told the American-Statesman on Tuesday she still has decisions to make on some administrative positions after wrapping up interviews this week.
in all, 48 people in the 238-employee agency have been affected by the moves. Twenty-seven were told their services will no longer be needed; they will not receive severance pay.

Is this good or bad? The DA’s office seems to want to spin it as “good”:

The shakeup marks the most sweeping personnel shift at the DA’s office in decades, with Moore carrying through on her campaign promise to reorganize after 40 years of a continuous administration that began with Ronnie Earle and continued with Rosemary Lehmberg.

And it isn’t unprecedented for a new DA to want their own people. See Pat Lykos. Okay, maybe that was a bad example…

But there also seem to be some possibly legitimate concerns:

District Judge Karen Sage questioned Moore’s decision to reassign a prosecutor who had been tasked with handling complex mental health cases. Others in the legal community were surprised when Moore appointed defense attorney Rickey Jones to a key mid-management position despite Jones’s two bar sanctions — one for giving questionable legal advice and another for questionable advice as well as intermingling his money with his clients’ funds held in a trust account. The sanctions were lifted in 2007.

,,,

Moore said she will reassign the attorney who prosecutes mental health cases, Michelle Hallee, which caught the attention of Judge Sage, who says the move has her “deeply concerned.” Several years ago, Sage had a hand in creating a court program for mentally ill people accused of minor crimes that decreased the time they spent in jail by 50 percent. Sage said it would be a mistake for Moore to assign mental health cases to prosecutors who are not sensitive to the needs of the defendants and are more interested in securing a conviction than creating a path for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.

In other news, here’s an idea: why don’t we separate the crime lab from the APD? This makes a lot of sense to me: one of my ideas for criminal justice reform is to make crime labs arms of the court system itself, reporting to the judiciary, rather than arms of law enforcement. I’m sure that the vast majority of people who work in these labs remain independent, but it still looks and feels unseemly to me to have that kind of reporting relationship.

It seems like Grits agrees, though he calls for the lab to be “truly independent, as was done in Houston“.

I could live with that. They might need a new building, which probably means more bonds and more taxes, which does not excite me. But I think I could vote for that, too, as long as they put two quotes over the doorways:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

(See also.)

Memo from the police beat.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

The APD officer who shot and killed a naked 17-year-old earlier this year, and who was fired by Chief Acevedo, has settled with the city.

Basically, what’s going to happen is that:

  • The arbitration process stops. So the officer won’t get his job back.
  • His firing gets reclassified as “a general discharge”. In theory, this means that he could get a job in law enforcement somewhere else. At least, according to the Statesman.
  • The fired officer gets $35,000. That seems kind of low to me, even if his lawyers aren’t getting a percentage.

Why settle, though? Well, the city may have felt like $35,000 was a cheap price to pay not to go through the hassle. And what if…

The public arbitration process would have held the fatal police shooting in the headlines for several days with hearings throughout next week. It also would have forced Mayor Steve Adler to testify in the hearing after Freeman’s attorney subpoenaed him.

So you get the mayor, you probably get Acevedo, maybe you get Chief Manley (no idea how involved he was in the decision making…

…and I hate to play the “I know more than you do” card, but I’ve heard some things through the grapevine that indicate the arbitration hearing could have gotten complicated and possibly embarrassing for some of the parties involved. The circumstances under which I heard this make me uncomfortable going into detail, but let’s just say: it seems like there was a chance (and not a “Chicago Cubs winning the World Series” chance; oh, wait, never mind) that the chief’s decision could have been overturned, and the fired officer placed back on the force.

It would have been interesting to see how that played out: does the APD need two people on pager duty? (Actually, by now, that guy would have 29 or 30 years in: he’s probably retired and collecting at least 76% of $98,000 a year, if not more and if I remember my APD pension math right.)

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AD of a series)

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Chief Acevedo’s last day on the job was Tuesday. Yesterday, he was officially confirmed as Houston’s police chief, and takes over today.

Before he left, Chief Acevedo did an “exit interview” with the Statesman. It is fairly short, but there’s one interesting quote that I’ll pull:

The (closure of the police) DNA lab really bothers me. I wish that we wouldn’t be here today where we’ve had to shut it down for so many months because our scientists decided to go onto an island to themselves. The lab is not reopened, and it probably won’t be open until early next year, so that’s the one thing I kind of leave undone, understanding that the work never ends.”

Why is this interesting? Well, there’s a story that came out in the past day or so. Seems like the DNA lab had a problem with a freezer that wasn’t working.

The lab subscribes to a service that is supposed to alert staff when a freezer gets too warm, but because that system failed, officials said the samples were at an improper temperature for eight days — instead of a few hours.

This is the kind of thing that could compromise the integrity of the stored evidence. So what did the lab do about it?

… they decided to keep mum. They alerted no one outside the lab — not investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.
“If, in the future, the laboratory determines that a sample has been affected by this incident, the customer will be notified,” interim DNA technical leader Diana Morales wrote in a March 16 letter to her bosses.

That’s…not good, in my opinion. I might even go so far as to say:

Public service announcement.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Partly as a reminder to myself, partly as a warning to any Austin area readers who may not be aware yet:

The weekend of December 3rd through December 5th, MoPac is going to be completely hosed going northbound.

A short stretch of northbound MoPac south of Enfield Road, for the last several months already reduced from three to two lanes, will be closed completely from midnight to 6 a.m. early Dec. 3 and 4, and midnight to 5 a.m. on Dec. 5. During the day and evening on Dec. 3 and 4, starting at 6 a.m., a single northbound lane will be open.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AC of a series)

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

I don’t think this is going to be the last one, but we may be nearing the end.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo is expected to be named Houston’s police chief, a source told the American-Statesman early Thursday, ending a 9 ½-year tenure that has made him one of Austin’s most visible figures while presiding in a time that ushered both progress and setbacks in relations between law enforcement and the community.

I have reservations, given that this is so far just “a source” said and there’s been no official announcement. Also, if he is taking the Houston job, I may want to continue the Art watch: it isn’t like he’s going to be on the other side of the world…

If this does become official, I’ll throw an update in.

Edited to add: The HouChron is quoting Mayor Adler as making it official.

Appearing comfortable before the cameras when Austin crime made national headlines, he became a national face for Texas’ capital city and in recent years had been mentioned as a candidate to head several other law-enforcement agencies – for the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as a finalist for police chief in Dallas and San Antonio.

Yeah. I had a theory (which was poo-pooed by others) that if Clinton won, he’d be moving to some sort of government position in homeland security. I guess I wasn’t too far off after all.

Edited to add 2: official statement by the Chief. (Hattip: RoadRich.)

Noted.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

I voted early today.

There was almost no line. This was at around 12:30 PM at the Randall’s in Lakeway.

Just a data point.