Like 'an outdoor crime scene after it had already rained:' APD investigator unable to confirm allegations
On Friday afternoon, the city of Austin released the findings of an independent investigation into allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia within the top ranks of the Austin Police Department.
While San Antonio lawyer Lisa Tatum was largely unable to confirm specific allegations, she did uncover a "very high level of fear of retaliation" among APD staff and "doubt there would be a substantive report from which the truth could be learned," according to her 46-page write-up.
Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, during a press conference Monday, said the report indicates a department "in dire need" of an overhaul.
"While the investigators never found that smoking gun, so to speak, the report is however packed with plenty of other bombshells, including evidence of racism, failed leadership, cronyism, and a prevailing fear of retaliation that keeps would-be whistleblowers silent," she added.
The investigation was announced Nov. 7 after an anonymous complaint alleging former assistant chief Justin Newsom had used "racial slurs and epithets" throughout his career "with the knowledge of other leadership at APD" was released to the public. Newsom retired Oct. 31 with no change to his pension.
Tatum was tasked with investigating a series of allegations—ranging from Newsom's use of racist and homophobic language to Chief Brian Manley's failure to report such behavior for investigation—and providing legal advice to the city about how to respond. She interviewed 58 witnesses, about half of whom required anonymity to participate.
"Lisa Tatum frequently described this task as like 'being named an honorary detective who was assigned to investigate an outdoor crime scene after it had already rained heavily - twice,'" according to the report.
Tatum said the allegations could not be confirmed or denied because witnesses were unable to provide specific evidence and certain records could not be accessed.
Despite these roadblocks, the report does arrive at some conclusions.
"Through all of these interviews it became clear that issues of race lie just below the surface," she wrote in the report. "Reports came to us, from different ranks, races and genders, advising of the fact that the racist and sexist name calling and use of derogatory terms associated with race and sex persists."
At the end of the report, Tatum issued a series of recommendations to the city, including a review of the union contract that governs discipline.
In particular, Tatum recommended the city reconsider the 180-day rule, which requires disciplinary action to take place within 180 days of an infraction.
"There was a high level of frustration expressed because complaints of discrimination are often known to fall on deaf ears, sit in files without action in excess of 180 days, then are discounted or disregarded," per the report.
Other recommendations include improving file management and record retention; management and unconscious bias training; and policies governing computer, mobile phone and social media communications.
In an April 17 memo, City Manager Spencer Cronk wrote, "It is my commitment to the City Council and the Austin community that action will be taken to ensure the Austin Police Department addresses the issues in a meaningful way."
In December, council directed Cronk to initiate a separate investigation into the APD and its culture, which is underway.
In an emailed statement about the report, Manley wrote, in part, "We will make all necessary changes to ensure our employees have a work environment and culture that promotes equity, fairness, and frees them from concerns of retaliation."
In the meantime, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said at yesterday's press conference that she hopes APD leadership changes how it responds to such allegations.
"I've been on council for six years now, and in that time I've seen leadership at APD fight us time and time again on reforms designed to promote equity and fairness," she said. "[The APD leadership] can choose finally to step up and take responsibility and earn the trust of all Austinites."
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."