Archive for the ‘Austin’ Category

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

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
Blogger, with occasional chief.

Blogger, with occasional chief.

This reminds me that I owe you guys a longer post on the Citizen’s Police Academy: thoughts on the academy itself, and the aftermath. I’ve had that stewing for a while now, but various things have gotten in the way.

Adult supervision needed. Inquire within.

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

This one got past me earlier in the week: I was sort of avoiding media because Orlando and stupids, and the Oakland/SF papers aren’t part of my usual daily media diet anyway. And as it turns out, Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man beat me to this as well…

So, followup, for the historical record and folks who don’t read BRM: remember the Oakland PD fired their chief, Sean Whent? So of course they appointed an interim chief.

The interim chief lasted five days.

“I have just received information that has caused me to lose confidence in Ben Fairow’s ability to lead the Oakland Police Department at this particular moment in time,” the mayor said in a statement on Wednesday, announcing Mr. Fairow’s departure. She did not elaborate on specific reasons for her decision.

I’m not trying to seem like Judgy McJudgerson here, but this might potentially be relevant to the mayor’s “loss of confidence”: Fairow apparently had “an affair with a consenting adult while married more than a decade ago”, according to the BART chief (who, by the way, has also “welcomed back” Fairow to the BART PD).

The interim chief was previously a deputy chief for BART. So they brought in a new interim chief, who was currently an Oakland PD assistant chief.

He lasted two days.

Mr. Figueroa said in a statement on Friday that he was taking leave and would return to the department as a captain.

More from SFGate:

In a move in which the mayor indicated she had lost faith in police leaders to run the department, she disclosed that she would not appoint another interim or acting chief to the top post. Instead, the department will have no chief, and for the time being command staff will report to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth as Oakland conducts a national search for a new chief.

“a national search for a new chief”. Hmmmm. Hmmmmm. Hmmmm. Gee, is there anyone we can think of that’s from California originally, has experience running a police department that’s even larger than Oakland’s, in a city much larger than Oakland, has been going through some friction with local politicians, and might be interested in a change?

Nope. Can’t think of anyone.

(Sarcasm aside, would Art, dammit, Art even be willing to take over this dumpster fire of a department?)

Followups.

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Lawrence’s backlink for my DNA lab post reminded me that I intended to link to this Grits For Breakfast post on the same subject.

More on MP Jo Cox: NYT. The Guardian (current live blog, historical live blog). Express.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mr. Mair sent about $620 to the National Alliance for items from its publishing imprint, National Vanguard Books, including works that instructed readers on the chemistry of powder and explosives. Also purchased was a copy of “Ich Kampfe,” a book published by the Nazi Party in the early 1940s.
Heidi Beirich, the director of the center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks and produces reports on extremist groups, said in an interview that it had found the invoices in a database of records it maintains.
When Mr. Mair’s name surfaced on Thursday, Ms. Beirich said, the Intelligence Project matched it with invoices in its possession. She said those records were authentic because they had been leaked by members of the National Alliance. Further, she said, she was confident the records were linked to Mr. Mair because the address on the invoices matched his home address.

You know, I dislike Nazis as much as the next guy or gal, but: does this bother anyone else? The SLPC apparently has a database of people’s book orders that was “leaked” to them? And they, in turn, are providing those records to the press?

Setting aside our individual lack of love for the Nazis, isn’t it possible that there are people on that list – students of modern day extremism, university libraries with collections of extremist literature for reference purposes, etc. – that would object to having their purchases revealed to unrelated third parties?

And where does this stop? Anyone remember the Tattered Cover case?

Random notes: June 11, 2016.

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

This is shaping up to be a busy weekend, but I have a little bit of time this morning and wanted to make note of one major and one minor story.

Major story: the Austin Police Department has temporarily suspended DNA testing at their lab.

This is the same lab that RoadRich and I toured as part of our CPA class; they may have been blowing smoke, but one of the things that stood out to us was how seriously the APD lab took their certifications, and how much effort they put into getting things right.

So what’s going on? It looks like three things:

1) Unspecified concerns raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Police officials, who were working Friday to determine how best to proceed, said the commission raised concerns about calculations and formulas the lab was using in conducting DNA analysis, but said they didn’t know specifics.

Officials had already scaled back lab operations in recent weeks — its staff were only screening evidence for DNA but were no longer doing analysis — and asked state forensic experts to evaluate the lab’s operation amid concerns about its operations.
Gay said Friday that he hasn’t received a formal notification from the state about the outcome of the experts’ inquiry, but that, based on phone conversations, “there are some challenges in front of us”.

2) There’s also a leadership gap. Apparently, the civilian lab supervisor (who goes unnamed in the Statesman) recently passed away, and had been out on leave for a while before that.

3) I’m a little confused by this part, and would love to find an “explain like I’m 5” piece on it: apparently, the Feds have issued new standards for doing DNA probability calculations, and a lot of labs – not just Austin – are struggling to implement them. This is something that was specifically mentioned as an issue on our tour:

FBI officials last year notified crime labs across the country that they were using outdated methods to examine samples containing genetic material from multiple people — methods that often led expert witnesses to greatly overstate the reliability of that evidence in court.
The use of outdated protocols to interpret test results means an expert witness might have told jurors that the chances are 1 in more than a billion that the genetic material in question belonged to someone other than the defendant, when those odds are more like 1 in 100.

So the lab has to go through and do a bunch of recalculation on a bunch of existing cases (around 1,300). And that apparently requires things like software updates (which I gather aren’t as simple as “download a .ZIPed EXE file and run it” when you’re dealing with forensic gear) and additional new training for the people doing the work.

All of this is going to take time: they’re speculating four to six months. In the meantime, DNA samples are going to be sent either to private labs or the Texas DPS lab for analysis.

…the lab’s backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis has risen to about 1,300, the most in the past five years.

Minor story:

First reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, posted a “sources sought” solicitation for non-standard weapons on a federal contracting site early last month. In April, the command posted a similar notice for non-standard weapon ammunition. The term “non standard” is used for weapons not frequently employed by the United States or its NATO allies.

What kind of “non-standard” weapons and ammo? AK-47s. Yes, WP, yes, journalist’s guide to firearm identification, but it seems like this is for real AK-47s:

SOCOM’s solicitation includes weapons such as the iconic “AK-47″ rifle, a catchall designator for Kalashnikov-variant rifles designed to fire a certain type of ammunition and often identified by their distinctive curved magazines. Other weapons include the SVD, a unique looking sniper rifle that has likely killed thousands of U.S. troops since it was first introduced in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Additionally, Russian medium and heavy machine guns as well as 14.5mm aircraft guns are included in the notice.

This makes sense, in a way. As the article explains, we’re arming foreign troops, but giving them distinctively US-made weapons (like the M4) puts a target on their back: “Although likely more accurate than their Soviet-style counterparts, U.S. weapons can make the fighters carrying them targets for other factions.” Plus: “U.S. weapons can also be difficult to maintain,” (Really?!) “prompting Special Operations Command and the CIA to procure and supply weapons that their allies are used to fighting with, such as Kalashnikovs.”

The thing that makes me wonder about this story: I’m sure we’ve all heard (I’ve even linked to) stories about secret CIA/SOCOM warehouses filled to the rafters with captured AK-47s intended to arm foreign troops while maintaining plausible deniability. So why does SOCOM need contracts to produce new ones? Are the warehouses running low? Are the ones in the warehouses poorly made or shot to heck, and SOCOM thinks they’re better off getting new ones that are assembled to tighter tolerances? (Sort of a Smith and Wesson vs. Taurus comparison, but for AK’s? Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

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

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

I was hoping to have something else to put here. Maybe that will be #AA, or #AB.

But I digress. Remember a few weeks ago, when I commented, “…in my experience so far with the Citizen’s Police Academy, the rank-and-file seem to love the guy.”

Here’s the flip side of that:

A total of 883 police officers — representing more than half of the department’s officers — participated in the survey released Thursday. Four hundred and eighty respondents — or 54.5 percent — described morale at the department as “poor.”

I quibble slightly with the Statesman‘s headline, “Survey: More than half of Austin police officers say morale is poor”. If memory serves, the authorized strength of the APD is just over 1,800 officers, and they told our CPA class they were about 100 officers short. They did give an exact figure: it was in the 1,700 range, but I don’t remember exactly what, and it has certainly fluctuated some since then. Point being: 883 officers is just over half of the department, and that’s just the number that responded to the survey. The actual number that described morale as “poor” – 480 – is more like 28% of the department, not half.

Continuing:

…90 percent of officers surveyed said that staffing shortages are affecting the department’s “ability to do its job effectively.” To make up for a shortage of patrol officers, the Austin police command instituted a rotation that is pulling detectives and nonpatrol officers away from their typical duties to fill vacant patrol shifts.

With all due respect to the fine men and women of the APD, and with the understanding that police work is different from technical support, this doesn’t sound too much different from my job. I’d prefer to have time to work on my existing cases instead of taking new phone calls. But if we’re shorthanded and there’s not enough people in the phone queue, guess what? My preferences don’t matter. And the city has some major issues right now, including a serial sexual assaulter and rock throwers on the interstate. I don’t blame the chief for wanting butts in the field.

Lower-ranking officers feel shut out of the decision-making process, Austin police union President Ken Casaday said, adding that there have been some recent improvements since the survey was conducted May 11-13.

See. Above. And yes, there probably are times when higher-ranking officers make stupid hasty decisions: I can’t think of ones from the APD, but The Onion Field is a classic example.

The survey also indicated that more than half of the officers surveyed believe Police Chief Art Acevedo is often politically driven in high-profile disciplinary cases, isn’t honest and relies on fear and retaliation in managing the department.

Note that it was the APD police union that ran the survey.

Obit watch and playing catch up: May 21, 2016.

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Alan Young.

Yesterday was kind of a busy day. There were multiple things that I intended to make note of, but I got stuck into something I can’t discuss right now, and…well….anyway:

Morley Safer, for the historical record.

San Francisco police chief “resigns” “at the request of Mayor Ed Lee”. I think we can call this one a “firing”.

The precipitating incident here seems to have been the SFPD shooting of a woman in a possibly stolen vehicle: she fled from the officers and crashed into the back of a truck.

The car crashed into a utility truck a short distance away. Although no weapon was found on the woman and the car was wedged under the truck, a police sergeant fired a single shot, killing her, police said.

It sounds at first like there was a bit of a rush to judgement on this: the shooting took place Thursday morning, and Suhr was canned Thursday afternoon. But as the linked SFGate article notes, this wasn’t the first problem under Suhr’s administration: there had been two previous controversial shootings, plus a scandal over “racist and homophobic text messages”.

Great and good friend of the blog and occasional guest poster RoadRich sent a series of thoughtful comments yesterday on the Suhr firing: I’m hoping he’ll let me post those as a guest post, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him yesterday because of [redacted] and he’s busy today.

In other California news, remember Maywood? How could you forget the nearly broke municipality of Maywood, “the second-smallest city in Los Angeles County”?

But that didn’t stop municipal leaders from granting themselves, the city treasurer and the city clerk $250 monthly mileage stipends.
If Maywood used the Internal Revenue Service’s suggested reimbursement rate for business travel of 54 cents a mile, city officials would need to drive 463 miles a month to reach the $250 mark.

More:

Councilman Ricardo Villarreal said he didn’t think twice about voting in favor of the monthly stipends because he thought the roughly $550 a month they get for serving as council members didn’t cover other costs like meals with other officials and mileage.

I wonder if the councilman and other officials are eating at Tacos Los Desvelados.

Turning our attention to Austin:

Albert “Matt” Arevalo was fired in September after being charged with DWI last May. Arevalo was stopped after driving 91 mph in a 55 mph zone, and his blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit, police said.

Mr. Arevalo was an officer with the Austin Police Department. Given that knowledge, would you care to guess what happened next? Yes: he got his job back!

The arbitrator mandated that Arevalo should only serve a 180-day suspension and receive back pay for any days over that period, said Austin police union president Ken Casaday in a letter members of the Austin Police Association.

I know sometimes you wanna let go…

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Me and my people:

Somewhat related: APD homicide detective Kerry Scanlon is retiring today.

Detective Kerry Scanlon has spent 26 years at APD, 14 of those years as a homicide detective. He’s investigated more than 500 deaths, 50 of them determined to be homicides.

I think this is a pretty good story (and I’m not just saying that because Nadia Galindo was one of our CPA classmates).

“A homicide detective needs to be somebody that has curiosity,” he said. “[Someone] that gets the challenge and accepts the challenge.”

Detective Scanlon came down and spoke to our CPA class. He came across to me as a pretty good guy. (I’m a little biased: he gave me a spiffy APD Homicide coffee mug because I was able to articulate the difference between homicide and murder.) I hope he enjoys a long and happy retirement.

Quickies.

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Well, baseball season’s finally gotten underway with the ceremonial throwing out of the first manager.

Fredi Gonzalez out as manager of the Braves. The team was 9-28 so far this year; he was 434-413 overall while with the Braves.

The grand jury has decided not to indict former APD officer Geoffrey Freeman, who you may remember better as the officer who shot and killed a naked 17-year-old male. (Previously.)

Obit watch: Guy Clark, noted Texas musician.

Edited to add 5/18: More Guy Clark. NYT. South Texas Pistolero. A/V Club.

Kind of a day for followup.

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Back in February of 2012, I noted the firing of APD officer Michelle Gish, who was accused of striking a restrained woman who had spit on her.

Officer Gish’s firing was upheld by the police arbitrator. But she’s been suing the city. Her lawsuit was initially dismissed, but on Wednesday the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal and returned her case to district court.

Why?

Another officer, Jose Robledo, was also fired at the same time for lying about the incident.

…Gish’s lawyers said the city acted improperly when it provided a document about Robledo’s firing to the person overseeing her arbitration.
The document was the ruling of another arbitrator who upheld Robledo’s termination. Gish’s attorney said they should have had the chance to cross-examine or challenge the arbitrator’s opinion. Instead, lawyers for the city submitted the opinion after Gish’s hearing had been concluded, the ruling said.

So basically, the city submitted into evidence a document from a different case and didn’t give Gish or her team a chance to reply. Seriously, this seems even to me like a naughty no-no.

Well, isn’t this interesting?

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The Harris County DA’s office is apparently going to drop the murder charges against Chimene Onyeri.

You may remember Mr. Onyeri as the “person of interest” in the shooting of Judge Julie Kocurek. (Previously.)

Why are the charges being dropped? Reply hazy, ask again later. But:

1)

The dismissal of the charge against 28-year-old Chimene Onyeri will allow him to be brought to Austin — likely in the next few days — to face a motion to revoke his probation on a 2012 larceny charge in Travis County, Onyeri’s Houston attorney, Sam Adamo, said.

2)

Prosecutors have been investigating the case since the November attack on Kocurek but have not rushed to charge him since he has been behind bars on the Houston murder charge. It is unclear now if Austin police and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office will expedite their decision to bring charges.

This is still breaking and much of it is speculative, but it is a curious development. Why would the HCDA’s office drop a murder charge, just so Travis County could go after an alleged judge shooter? Was the murder charge weak to begin with, and is the evidence in the judge shooting better? Is is more politically palatable to go after him for shooting at (but not killing) the judge rather than killing a regular citizen? He’s more than likely going to die in prison no matter what. (Assuming he is convicted: Onyeri is at least entitled to some presumption of innocence.)

Cop watch.

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Two quick notes:

Remember the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy who thought his gun was a taser and ended up killing a guy last April?

Guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

Followup to the latest Art Watch: I usually don’t link to Statesman editorials, but I’m making an exception in this case. This one contains Chief Acevedo’s response to the reprimand, and the “he did not find any violation of APD or city policy” memo from the city manager.

In other news, it seems at least some members of the city council are not pleased…with the city manager.

Council Member Don Zimmerman said it was that lack of transparency that has led to his growing desire for Ott to be fired.
“When the city manager notified us, he didn’t even bother to attach the same documents that were sent to the media,” Zimmerman said. “I call that secrecy.”

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

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Remember my asking a while back, “Will we get to “Z” in the series?”

That question has suddenly become a lot more pertinent.

The Austin city manager has:

  • accused the chief of insubordination
  • fined him five days of pay
  • reprimanded him
  • and warned him that “he could be fired for future misconduct” (No!
    Really?)

What happened? You know that naked unarmed 17-year-old that got shot back in February? The city manager’s complaint basically amounts to: “I told you to shut up and stop talking to people about this, and you didn’t.” I apologize for the length of this quote, but I feel it is necessary to show the timeline of events that caused the city manager to lose his you-know-what:

Acevedo responded with a news conference Feb. 11 with representatives from several community groups, including Black Lives Matter — a decision that angered many officers and their union who thought the gathering showed Acevedo had already decided that Freeman erred.
Documents show that, several weeks later, Acevedo visited the department’s police training academy, where he again discussed the shooting.
That meeting prompted a formal complaint to Ott by the union, and Ott hired an outside investigator, Larry Watts, to look into whether Acevedo’s comments were inappropriate or showed a bias against Freeman.
Watts found Acevedo hadn’t violated any policies, but wrote that “while I do not find a policy violation, I do believe that the department and city of Austin would have been better served if he had refrained from discussing the Freeman case at that time.”
Soon after Acevedo’s visit to the academy, Ott met with Acevedo and, the city manager wrote, “I directed you to let the administrative investigation process proceed in its normal course; to cease meeting with groups, including APD officers and cadets, and talking about matters connected with the pending officer involved shooting investigation.” He also was told not to discuss the case with union President Ken Casaday, Ott wrote.
According to the memo, Acevedo proceeded to discuss the case with Casaday on March 3, and returned to the police academy March 4 to hold a mandatory meeting with cadets and training staff.

The Statesman goes on to say that, according to the city manager’s memo, he met with Chief Acevedo on April 12th, and “Acevedo agreed that his actions had been insubordinate.” However, the Statesman also quotes the chief:

“I respectfully differ with the city manager and Austin Police Association about my public remarks and response to the officer-involved shooting on February 8, 2016. I acted in the best interests of the City of Austin, Austin Police Department, and community after a tragic incident that cost a young life and ended a police officer’s career.
“While I disagree with the manager’s reprimand, I recognize his right to exercise that authority,” Acevedo said. “The manager and I have worked together for nearly nine years. Disagreements are inevitable. I look forward to putting this behind us and continuing a productive partnership.”

Some thoughts:

  • In case you were wondering, when the chief pulled out of the running for the San Antonio job, he got a five percent pay raise, plus an agreement to pay out “up to six months” of severance if he gets canned. The Stateman puts Chief Acevedo’s current pay at “about $206,086” (about?), and claims five days of pay “would mean a loss of about $4,000”. I’m not sure where that number comes from: the paper doesn’t specify that $206,000 is yearly, but I feel it is safe to assume so. Divided by 365.25 (to account for that pesky leap year) I get $564.23 a day, or $2,821.16 for five days. Anybody want to double-check my math on that?
  • The Statesman also spells out some additional background: briefly, Acevedo was hired by a former city manager (Toby Futrell) and the claim is that there’s been a simmering ongoing conflict between the chief and the current city manager (Marc Ott).
  • The documents show publicly for the first time dissatisfaction among some in city management for an official who has been arguably the most visible in local government since arriving in Austin in 2007.” On the one hand, in my experience so far with the Citizen’s Police Academy, the rank-and-file seem to love the guy. Yes, they could be blowing smoke up my you-know-what. And I suppose they wouldn’t pick people to come down and present if they knew somebody was going to publicly say, “Chief’s an a–hole.” But the feelings I’ve heard expressed seem heartfelt and genuine: the chief has made the department more professional, more accountable to the city, better equipped, and more transparent. Many people in high law enforcement positions (from what we’ve been told) look to APD as a national model, and are actually calling the chief daily looking for advice.
  • On the other hand, I’m sure there are at least some officers who are disgruntled by the disciplinary action taken as a result of the shooting. I’d like to express an opinion on that myself, but I’m still turning over some issues related to the use of force in my own mind. The question I’m wondering about is: if Acevedo is fired, how does the rank-and-file react? Also, what does this mean for recruiting in an already understaffed department?
  • I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not sure how the city government works in the case. Does the city manager have the absolute authority to fire the chief? Or does the council have to agree? And if the city council has to agree; give the current composition of the council, would they? How would the votes break down?
  • Finally, if the chief does go, I’m worried about me, Al Franken the future of the Citizen’s Police Academy, and of quite a few of the folks I’ve met through it. I’m hoping things don’t come to that. At least, not before May 19th, when we graduate.