Sweeping changes ahead for Austin Police Department after unanimous City Council vote on policies, budget
The Austin City Council unanimously approved a package of resolutions late Thursday aimed at rewriting the police budget, eliminating racial disparities, limiting use of force by Austin police, and stating "no confidence" in Austin Police Department leadership.
The council proposed the sweeping changes to the police department in the wake of violent clashes between officers and demonstrators protesting the police killings of Michael Ramos of Austin and George Floyd of Minneapolis.
The final vote was made a 9:39 p.m. at the end of a nearly 12-hour meeting.
"I'm just so proud we're finally taking this step," said Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria. "I just hope we can meet the dream of Martin Luther King, you know, where everyone's holding hands as brothers and sisters. That's what I wish for, and I hope that Austin just grows up."
The measures include a broad range of reforms, some of which—like bans on tear gas and chokeholds—can be implemented right away. Others, like an item directing reallocation of some funds and shrinking personnel at APD through attrition, won't happen until budget season in August. Council committees will be running in the next several weeks, but the council won't meet again until mid-July.
"In August we make (budget) decisions, we look at tradeoffs, and that's when the work will be really hard. But that's when we have a chance to make history," said Mayor Steve Adler.
Earlier in the day, as City Council members spoke on the need for change from the top down, Chief Brian Manley went on the offensive in a lunchtime press conference with members of JUST America, a newly formed social justice group, to enumerate what his department has already done to reduce police violence and pledges to do after conversations with the group.
Manley later told council members later that he worried an outright ban on tear gas would tie police hands when they need to get violent criminals out of standoff situations, and hoped a clause reducing military-grade gear for police wouldn't strip the department's ability to be prepared for extraordinary situations in the future, such as school shootings.
Adler invited Manley to return to the council later with resolutions allowing for exceptions, if he determines through the work of the department that the bans went too far.
A discussion about Manley's own future at the department was laid on the table, however, when City Manager Spencer Cronk—who is tasked with making the decision about whether to remove Manley from his position—was asked by council members to give them an update on his plans at the Council Public Safety Committee late next week. An agenda for that meeting had not yet been posted late Thursday.
"We are going to give the manager a week to settle his thoughts on what we are about to implement here, and then we will be expecting some information and explanation on the path forward," said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, chairman of the new committee, which was created on Thursday night.
Supporters and opponents
Hundreds of people signed up to speak Thursday at the virtual City Council meeting on four items related to APD.
"It's been overwhelming in several senses of the word," Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who sponsored the measure rewriting the budget and rebuking the chief, said of the public engagement on the issue. "The message has been almost unanimous: Support these items we are bringing before us. These residents are demanding change."
The opinions of citizens who called in ranged from suggestions that some of the police budget go to solving the homeless crisis to threatening to vote out all members if the provisions were passed.
Supporters called the changes "transformative." Opponents called them "dangerous." Many called for Manley's ouster, while defenders said he was committed to change.
One caller wanted to know why there was no "White Lives Matter" rally. Another wanted to see immediate justice for two protesters who were hospitalized during demonstrations after being hit by less-lethal munitions fired by Austin police.
Much of the opposition was to a resolution cutting the budget for new officers, delaying the new cadet class and reallocating some 20%, or more, of the APD's $440 million-plus budget.
"Symbolic acts to cut cops don't solve our inequity, poverty, racism problems—[and make] the community less safe. It doesn't fix the failures in affordable housing or education or public health," said Cary Roberts, executive director of the Greater Austin Crime Commission.
Roberts said Austin police make contact with the public through 911 calls more than half a million times a year, and last year received just 155 complaints referred to Internal Affairs, a low percentage he said shows the overwhelming professionalism among the department's 1800 officers.
"I'm really struggling with recognizing the police department I've been hearing about these last two weeks with the police department I know," Roberts said.
Brenda Ramos, whose son Mike Ramos was killed by Austin police in April while he was unarmed and driving away in his car, gave a tearful statement on the phone in a moment so emotional that council members asked for a break to recompose themselves after she finished.
"The past 47 days have been the worst of my life," she said. "I have cried every day. I am heartbroken by the loss of my only child. He was my everything."
Ramos asked the council to pass the reforms and replace Manley, who she fears will defend Officer Christopher Taylor's use of deadly force against her son.
"My son did not deserve a death sentence, no way," she said.
(Note: The story has been updated to say there were 155 complaints about police that were referred to Internal Affairs.)
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Texas Longhorns linebacker Jake Ehlingers' death this spring was the result of an accidental drug overdose, according to a statement by the late student's family.
According to the statement, the 20-year-old University of Texas student and Westlake High grad overdosed on pills believed to be Xanax laced with Fentanyl, an often-deadly combo that has resulted in thousands of accidental fatalities nationwide.
Ehlinger was found dead off campus May 6 in a tragedy that shook the Austin and UT community, as well as Ehlinger's family, including his brother, former UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who now plays for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.
An honorable mention All-State player and district defensive MVP while in high school, Ehlinger followed in his brother's footsteps and continued his football career as a walk-on at UT. He was also a sophomore in finance, a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and a member of the Texas Silver Spurs, a student organization that cares for beloved mascot Bevo the Longhorn.
Counterfeit Xanax pills have caused an increasing number of fatalities in the area with 1,000 deaths related to synthetic opioids in the state in 2020. Drug dealers have begun stuffing fentanyl, an opiod that the DEA said can be up to 60 times more deadly than heroin, into pills resembling the prescription anti-anxiety medication and selling them to unwitting customers.
"The spread of counterfeit pills is an ongoing and significant issue throughout our country, particularly in schools, colleges and universities," the the Ehlinger family said in a statement. "As our family continues to process Jake's death, we felt it was important to share these details with the hope that Jake will not have died in vain. We pray that sharing Jake's story will help shed light on this problem and prevent other families from also tragically losing a loved one."
To combat the surge of deaths, Austin police now have access to a supply of Narcan, a drug that can combat the effects of an opiod overdose. Though it's not mandatory, APD officers can now check out supplies of the drug when responding to calls. The department had almost completed training on the drug by June, according to a KXAN report.
"You can talk to a number of families that have had family members die because of opioid overdoses and if this was an option to help their loved one or save their loved one, I'm sure that every single one of them would tell you that it was incredibly important that we now have this incredible tool in our tool belt," Assistant Chief Scott Perry said in the report.
Ehlinger is remembered by his brother, Sam, his mother Jena, his sister Morgen and the University of Texas community. Ehlinger's father, Ross, died of an apparent heart attack while swimming in a triathlon in 2013.
"(Jake) was his dad's little buddy, and they shared an unbreakable bond," Jake's obituary read. "His father's spirit was alive and well in every part of Jake's life. Tragic life circumstances created a unique opportunity for Sam and Jake to uplift and empower each other. They were each other's biggest fans. Their mother, Jena, as well as their sister, Morgen, were the loves of Jake's life. Everyone will miss his giant hugs, but no one more than Jena and Morgen."
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Eight of the world's best Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes flew into Austin in September to be in the new hub for the sport. But after over a decade of fighting together, they'll no longer be under the same name.
The legendary Danaher Death Squad, which started in 2007 and was led by black belt John Danaher, made a highly-publicized split in late July while in Puerto Rico, with Danaher, legend Gordon Ryan and teammate Gary Tonon announcing the aptly-titled "New Wave Jiu Jitsu" as their new studio to open soon in Austin.
Missing from the new roster were former teammates Craig Jones, Ethan Crelinstein, Nick Rodriguez and even Ryan's younger brother, Nicky Ryan. The new crew announced that day that they would also be forming a new studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B Team Jiu Jitsu."
Jiu jitsu greats Craig Jones (left) and Gordon Ryan have opened rival studios in Austin.
Both teams chose to move to Austin, a hotbed for the sport that the B Team's Seth Belisle said is becoming a "mecca for jiu-jitsu." With plenty of renowned studios, jiu-jitsu enthusiasts like Joe Rogan coming into town and the presence of Flo Grappling, the sport's premier media outlet, Belisle said there's now "more jiu-jitsu here than anywhere in the world."
While Belisle, an Austin native, handles the business side for the crew, the team's coaching is headed by Jones, a leopard-print wearing Aussie who has been known to sport assless chaps and places importance on the lighter side of things (the studio advertises that they train "Mexican ground karate," a name they created for jiu-jitsu).
Rumors abound about the famed fighters' breakup, including money issues in the Ryan family or a well-rehearsed PR stunt, but Jones told Austonia that the split of the Death Squad simply comes down to personal differences between the fighters.
"It wasn't an amicable breakup at all," Jones said. "What Gordan represents is quite controversial... I would say there would be no line he wouldn't cross to promote a grappling match. So in that sense, we're sort of focused on a different, more positive sort of vibe."
B Team and New Wave alike are opening at a critical time for jiu-jitsu, as the sport slowly becomes a household name. Now, top fighters can make a living from their sport while still maintaining a much lower profile than MMA fighters or boxers.
That name recognition and B Team's positive attitude drew in droves of new trainees, with many opting to move to Austin solely to train at B Team.
"Jiu-jitsu is a relatively new sport," Belisle said. "If you love basketball, it's impossible for you to say, 'I'm going to go play with LeBron James and learn from him this weekend... in jiu-jitsu, that's possible. You have access to the stars of the sport because it hasn't really blown up yet. It's something special."
After an open house that saw over 150 athletes show up, the team realized they needed to become more exclusive. Now, the studio trains only the "Olympians" of the sport, something that sets them apart from other local studios. They also frequently bring in celebrities of the sport for training sessions, including famed female fighter Ffion Eira Davies.
"We're obviously a new gym, but we're probably some of the best guys in the world," Jones said.
Meanwhile, New Wave is training at the famed Renzo Gracie Studio, Danaher's former trainer, as they wait for a new studio.
Will the world's two best teams soon have showdowns in the Texas capital?
While it's unclear whether or not things will get personal (no brother vs. brother matchup is on the horizon), trainees under each studio went head-to-head for the first time Wednesday as New Wave's Gordon Ryan announced his first match out of semi-retirement. Ryan, often lauded as the best grappler in the world, forced UFC fighter Phillip Rowe to submit four times in the 15-minute friendly exhibition match at Austin's Palmer Events Center.
But Rowe, who was first a jiu-jitsu athlete before switching to UFC, said he didn't know about the beef and was just looking to train under his favorite athletes, Jones and Rodriguez.
He competed for a few reasons—including a break from UFC and a chance to give BJJ a bigger name—but he mostly came into town for the fun of it. Ryan and Rowe talked often prior to the meet, with Rowe gifting Ryan a Bumpboxx, or decorated boombox, in honor of Ryans' father. The respect was mutual—Ryan shouted out Rowe after the match for coming out with a broken hand and the death of some loved ones a week prior.
The match was the first indirect competition between the two gyms. Jones said they won't be training with the goal of fighting any of their former New Wave compadres.
"I don't know what's going to happen ultimately," Jones said. "Because obviously, we're not friendly as it is right now, but I mean. I wouldn't go so far as to train someone that was going to compete against them directly."
But with B Team fighters like Nick Rodriguez expressing their interest in fighting in the future and both gyms training for the WNO Championships in 2022, it's almost inevitable that the former teammates will find themselves on either side of the mat sooner or later.
"'I'd be lying if I said that every day since I started jiu-jitsu my goal is to beat Gordon. I'd be lying if I was saying that isn't true," Rodriguez told the Jason Chambers podcast. "My goal is to be the best grappler in the world and nothing less. That's an old teammate that I have to go through to knock him out and get to the top, then that's fine with me."
Atop one of Austin's signature rolling hilltops, 1501 Ridgecrest Drive is similar to one of the plush palaces that one might find in Calabasas. For $10.9 million, the home has four bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms and caps at 10,498 square feet.
Park in the massive, fully air-conditioned garage before walking in, where you'll have eight full spaces to park your collection of cars. If you're not a collector, the garage makes an excellent studio space.
The wide-open living spaces will draw your eyes to the two-story ceilings, glass catwalk, integrated fireplace and wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the pool.
Though the house was built in 2011, it doesn't show its age. Sleek, clean lines lead seamlessly from the formal living area to an elite open-plan kitchen. Separated by a 25-foot waterfall island that can seat at least eight people, the kitchen is fitted with only the finest Miele and Subzero appliances. The custom cabinets are just as pricey as the rest of the place, finished with custom high-gloss Aston Martin (you read that right) paint.
Upstairs in the sprawling master's suite, there are enough amenities to never have to set foot outside again. Armani tile floors, space for living and a walk-in showcase closet lead into the resort-style bathroom, where you'll find dual vanities, a walk-in shower and a lounging bathtub.
The bedroom is a quick elevator trip away from the "party" room, complete with a bar, wine room and movie theater, only the best for entertaining. If your guests are staying over, rest assured they'll be comfortable with the kitchenette, washer and dryer and spa-like bath in their suite.
Though summer has passed, you can still enjoy the grand lap pool's unobstructed Hill Country views, many private lounging areas, grill a homemade snack at the outdoor kitchen or shoot some hoops at the newly-added court.
The listing is held by Compass' Gary Dolch.
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