PRESS RELEASE: Austin Police Illegally Arrest Peaceful Streets Project Organizer Joshua Pineda; Continues to Wage War Against First Amendment
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 10th, 2016
The Austin Police Department continued their practice of violating the First Amendment rights of police accountability activists on Sunday morning. At approximately 12:58 A.M., Joshua Pineda, a lead organizer with the Peaceful Streets Project, was arrested while filming police officers harassing a young black man.
While filming the police downtown, Joshua Pineda and a half dozen other Peaceful Streets Project copwatchers observed Austin Police repeatedly shoving a young black man near the northeast corner of Trinity & 6th Streets. The young black man did not appreciate being repeatedly shoved, and began to legally voice his displeasure to the police. While most of the police turned and walked away, Officer Cameron Staff #6830 decided that he would escalate the situation. Officer Staff apparently didn’t like the young man’s protest, and proceeded to follow the young man across the street. By doing so, Officer Staff highlighted APD’s tendency to needlessly escalate situations as opposed to mindfully deescalating them.
With the Peaceful Streets Project following behind to document the situation, various other APD officers followed. Joshua legally went to a knee to film Officer Staff bullying the young black man. While Joshua Pineda never interfered by any stretch of the imagination or the law (TX Penal Code 38.15), Corporal Richard Mears #3564 walked over to him and ordered him to move back. In doing so, Corporal Mears violated APD Policy 302.2(c)6. Given an illegal order, Joshua Pineda continued to exercise his First Amendment right to document government officials engaging in racist policing. Corporal Mears then illegally arrested Joshua Pineda.
The Peaceful Streets Project has had previous contact with both Officer Staff and Corporal Mears. On November 18, 2015, a Peaceful Streets Project volunteer filmed Staff refusing to identify himself in violation of APD Policy 900.4.4. And on March 20, 2016, a Peaceful Streets Project volunteer filmed Corporal Mears defending Officer Cameron Caldwell #7408 who illegally assaulted a handcuffed, detained, young black man during SXSW. In the video, you can hear CPL Mears claiming that Officer Caldwell was a “great guy” who “took care of business” and “took the fight out of [his handcuffed victim].”
We have no doubt that these two officers have been emboldened by the cowardice of the Chain of Command up to and including Chief Hubert Arturo “Art” Acevedo, city and county prosecutors, City Manager Marc Ott, Mayor Steve Adler, and the City Council who have repeatedly turned a blind eye to the repeated and endless train of criminal acts by the Austin Police Department against the people.
The Peaceful Streets Project dares the Austin Police Department to immediately release the videos that Joshua Pineda took of the incident, as well as the HALO videos and body camera videos that will prove Joshua Pineda’s innocence. We want the people of Austin to see for themselves that the only criminals in this incident were the Austin Police. Or does the Austin Police Department have something to hide? The answer to that question will lead you to the reason that the Austin Police Department continues to wage war against peaceful activists who dare to exercise their First Amendment right to film the police.
The Peaceful Streets Project and her members have long been targets of the criminal cops of the Austin Police Department. Ever since the illegal arrest of founder Antonio Buehler on New Year’s Day 2012, the Austin Police Department, with the help and support of prosecutors, have attempted to bring Buehler and the Peaceful Streets Project down. Buehler has been arrested a half dozen times, while other members of the Peaceful Streets Project have been arrested an additional half dozen times — all for daring to try to hold the police accountable. Fortunately for the Peaceful Streets Project, we have had good representation for each bogus charge brought forth, and we have been cleared of all charges.
Unfortunately for us, the police have gone much further than just arresting us on the streets. For example, they had previously tried to have us labeled as domestic extremist threats, they have lobbied the District Attorney to attempt to indict us on trumped up felony charges, and they continue to slander us in the media. And these actions haven’t been led by a few “bad apples” in the department–they have been directed and led by the Hubert Arturo “Art” Acevedo, the Chief of Police.
Most recently, after the illegal arrest of Antonio Buehler and Mike Smith on August 2, 2015, Hubert Acevedo and his minions floated the lie that Buehler had gotten in the officers’ faces which would supposedly give the cops enough probable cause to arrest Buehler for Interference with Public Duties.
However, there are two problems with such an assertion. First, all the video evidence that exists proves that the cops lied. Buehler never got in the cops’ faces. Instead, Buehler stood still as the police officers repeatedly approached him, violating his space, and intimidating and threatening him for exercising his First Amendment rights. In all, there are a half dozen videos that were taken by the Peaceful Streets Project, and HALO video and cell video taken by the Austin Police Department that proves that the cops lied.
Second, irrespective of guilt or innocence, the Chief of Police nor any other police officer should never comment publicly in a manner which could suggest guilt against a criminal defendant. On August 29, 2015, Hubert Acevedo violated basic decency and professional standards in sending out a tweet which suggested that Buehler gets in the faces of police officers when filming them. Through his unprofessional actions, Hubert Acevedo brought discredit to an already corrupt department and profession.
Buehler filed the official complaint with the Office of the Police Monitor (OPM) on January 20, 2016. As with all complaints, we fully expect this one to be papered over. We post the contents of the complaint below, publicly, as a service to the people who the system does not represent. We will provide an update when Hubert Acevedo or one of his minions determines that he did not violate policy.
Narrative-description of what happened:
I am a member of the Peaceful Streets Project. We are a grassroots community activist organization that attempts to change culture so that police do not abuse people or commit crimes, and so that members of the public will hold the police accountable. One of our primary activities as an organization is filming the police (“cop watch”) while they are performing their duties in public. On the night of August 1, 2015, I joined a group of Peaceful Streets Project volunteers downtown to cop watch in the Sixth Street area. During that cop watch, I was harassed on multiple occasions for filming the police, and ultimately illegally arrested for exercising my First Amendment rights.
More specifically, I was arrested by SGT Randy Dear, Officer Aljoe Garibay, and other police officers for Interference with Public Duties while I legally stood in a public street filming the police. SGT Dear had approached me in the moments leading up to the arrest, and at previous times in the night, getting so close that he placed his face in front of my camera. At no point in any of my interactions with SGT Dear did I ever move my body or my arm toward him to place a camera in his face. Every single time that my camera was in close proximity to his face he had moved his body and face toward my stationary or retreating camera.
In the days following the arrest we released multiple videos that proved that the claims made by Officer Aljoe Garibay in the probable cause affidavit, and by the other officers in their supplementary reports, were abject lies. It is apparent to even the most inattentive person that the only reason why a camera was ever in close proximity to SGT Dear or any other police officer’s face was because they approached me and stuck their face in my camera. I will be able to transfer those videos to a hard drive during my interview with IA/OPM. Furthermore, the HALO cameras that the Austin Police operates and controls also showed that the only time that my camera ever got close to any police officer’s face was when the police officer approached me while I stood my ground.
Despite having irrefutable evidence that I was not guilty of any crime, that the arrest was illegal, and that the affidavits and statements written against me were filled with lies, Hubert Acevedo chose to use his position as Chief of Police to mischaracterize my actions while there were pending criminal charges against me. On August 29, 2015, he reposted on Twitter a screenshot of a Peaceful Streets Project Facebook post I had authored. My initial post was intended to highlight the manner in which police and their supporters often slander the dead immediately after an officer involved shooting, and it also highlighted the hypocrisy of many police officers and their supporters who get offended at public information office tactics when used against police officers. In his tweet, Hubert Acevedo added, “This is how mind of so-called peaceful activist works & why police officers don’t want him inches from their face.”
My complaint(s) is/are:
1. Hubert Acevedo violated APD Policies 301.1, 301.2 by using his position and reach to perpetuate false criminal allegations against me. This was discriminatory in nature because he does not use social media to suggest other criminal defendants are guilty of the crimes they are charged with, but has repeatedly targeted me in his social media posts.
2. Through his actions, Hubert Acevedo violated APD Policy 301.3, further eroding APD’s standing with the community.
3. Hubert Acevedo violated APD Policy 455.5(b)1 by using Twitter to make comments suggesting that I was guilty of the fraudulent charges levied against me on August 2, 2015. At the time he made these comments, the charges were still pending against me.
4. Hubert Acevedo violated APD Policy 900.3.1 by perpetuating the lie that I get within inches of police officers’ faces. If Hubert claims that he was ignorant of the ample evidence that proves that I wasn’t getting within inches of officers’ faces then he is either lying or profoundly incompetent.
5. Hubert Acevedo also violated APD policy 900.3.2. Hubert’s position as Chief coupled with his misuse of social media to attack the character of someone who was wrongfully arrested by his police officers is in every way a despicable act. Even if I were legally arrested, which I wasn’t, it would have still been improper for him to mischaracterize my actions in a way that could potentially influence a jury pool.
This is a formal complaint. This incident presents policy violations that warrant closer examination to identify, address and correct officer conduct. I request that Anthony Hipolito not be staffed on this complaint given his prior role misleading the media regarding my now infamous New Year’s Day 2012 arrest.
We have had a most remarkable several months to end 2015 and are thrilled to go into 2016 with tremendous momentum. This will be our best year ever – guaranteed.
To recap, we ratcheted up our cop watch actions in late summer. As we continued to legally cop watch to bear witness to police activity, deter police from abusing people, and to empower others to stand up for their community members, we found certain members of the Austin Police Department were eager to threaten us (e.g., SGT Randy Dear, SGT Adam Johnson, Ofc Dawn Leonard) or assault us (e.g., CPL Quint Sebek, Ofc Zachary Baldridge).
On August 2nd SGT Randy Dear, CPL Quint Sebek, and Ofc Aljoe Garibay assaulted and illegally arrested Antonio Buehler and Mike Bluehair (from Film The Police Portland) on Sixth Street in Austin. The arrest affidavits that were filed were filled with lies and were easily refuted by the numerous videos that the members of the Peaceful Streets Project took. Unsurprisingly, prosecutors dropped the charges against Buehler and Bluehair. The police have arrested Buehler and other members of the Peaceful Streets Project nearly a dozen times, but they have failed to secure a single conviction against us. Sadly, we will continue to get arrested because the police are never held accountable for their crimes. But this is a long fight, and we will eventually win. Until then, we will continue to shame these cops in the most public ways possible. We wrote up a detailed blog post detailing how the arrest affidavits were filled with lies, coupled with videos of the incident.
In November Playboy Magazine featured a story on copwatching, and Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets Project opened and closed the story. The author Frank Owen beautifully laid out some of the various approaches to cop watch and gave context to the August 2nd arrest that local media is apparently afraid to touch upon. This, coupled with endless puff pieces for the Austin Police by local media, made us realize that there is potentially much more value to working with national media or outlets with broad reach outside of Austin than working with local stations who seem to take their marching orders from APD. Since then, we have worked with two documentary series that will feature Peaceful Streets Project in upcoming episodes, and we are working with a documentary crew that will be following us for at least the next year. Stay tuned for updates!
With our increased actions we have also received support from donors to upgrade our cop watch capabilities. Thanks to generous donations we have been able to purchase 8 camcorders, 3 actions cameras, a livestream camera, a professional still camera, and a quadcopter, along with various other technologies that assist us in our work. The quality of our cop watch videos has really shot up, and we have already been able to provide high quality raw video to several victims of Austin Police so they can use it in their criminal defense and potentially in any future civil suits against the City of Austin and the criminal cops. We could certainly use more donations as we have some exciting plans for 2016, so please consider donating if you have the capacity and interest in doing so. We have a rally campaign set up, and you can find additional ways to donate on our webpage. Additionally, you can always purchase us something off of our Amazon.com wish list.
In December, six members of the Peaceful Streets Project had the great privilege of going to St. Louis to train with WeCopwatch. WeCopwatch had been cop watching for years before PSP formed, and in the past year and a half they have helped set up cop watch organizations in several cities. Of note, they helped set up the Canfield Watchmen in Ferguson after the Michael Brown killing, and WeCopwatch Baltimore after the Freddie Gray killing. While in St. Louis we were able to engage in joint training and cop watch with WeCopwatch as their first official Cop Watch College class. We also had the opportunity to go into Ferguson to rebuild a memorial in the spot where Michael Brown was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson. Although the memorial was taken down the next day, the experience was sobering, humbling, and inspiring. The Canfield Watchmen kicked the police out of the Canfield Green Apartments, showing us it can be done, and now WeCopwatch is building a central training space down the road for cop watchers nationwide.
In the coming year we are elevating our direct actions to the next level. The frequency of our cop watching has already risen, and we will continue to put more cameras on the street on a weekly basis. We will be hosting several Know Your Rights trainings, and we are looking for more opportunities to do so. We will also be collecting and analyzing data to identify improved ways of exposing police crime. We will also continue to file police abuse complaints and file civil rights suits, although we recognize that the system is a woefully inept way of trying to achieve justice – we will do it for documentation and discovery purposes. Also, we plan to host WeCopwatch in Austin in return for their hosting us in St. Louis.
You can get involved with the Peaceful Streets Project! We are holding public monthly meetings at Bennu Cofffehouse in E. Austin at 8p on the first Wednesday of each month. Our first monthly meeting for 2016 was held this Wednesday. We are holding public cop watches on the fourth Saturday of each month, as well. Our public cop watch events will initially meet at Bennu Coffehouse, as well, but at 9p. We also have ample volunteer opportunities outside of cop watch for those who don’t want to risk getting arrested. Come to a meeting to discuss! And once again, you can always donate to help us empower our volunteers to drive change in the streets.
On September 21, 2012, the Peaceful Streets Project came across a DWI stop on West 6th Street in Austin, TX, during a standard roving cop watch patrol. As you can see in both video that are embedded, the Peaceful Streets Project cop watchers (Antonio Buehler and Sarah Dickerson) quietly approach to film the interaction between the police officer and the suspect, while the police officer is still in the vehicle. That police officer is Patrick Oborski, the cop whose illegal arrest of Antonio Buehler on New Year’s Day 2012 helped spur the formation of the Peaceful Streets ProjectBy every measure of the law, none of the Peaceful Streets Project cop watchers were interfering with the stop. They were far enough from the stop that they were not impeding the investigation. Oborski calls out Antonio Buehler by name, and tells him to back up several times, to which Buehler responds by asking “how far” he has to move back. Oborski then said, “back up until I tell you to stop, back up.” Buehler backs up, then asks Oborski once again how far he needs to move back, but Oborski doesn’t respond.
SGT Adam Johnson then come on the scene. Johnson is Oborski’s supervisor who helped cover up the crimes of Oborski (and Officer Robert Snider) on January 1, 2012.
Johnson then begins to order Buehler and Dickerson to go in the opposite direction that Oborski ordered Buehler to go. Johnson told Buehler and Dickerson to go to the other end the block, on the other side of Oborski, which would have required them to approach Oborski, walk within feet of him in order to pass him and the suspect, and then continue on to the end of the block.
Buehler, recognizing the danger in walking toward the police officer who had previously illegally arrested him, and feeling that it was a trap, repeatedly asked Johnson why he was giving him such an absurd order, how far he needed to move back to not be “interfering,” and reminded Johnson how he could not be interfering at such a distance.
Despite constantly moving back while asking how much further he would have to move back, Buehler was ultimately illegally arrested by Johnson after Buehler asked Johnson why he was being a “bully.”
Johnson then arrested Dickerson who was further away from the stop than Buehler the entire time.
Despite having criminal charges hanging over their heads, the Austin Police Department and city attorneys prevented Buehler, Dickerson, or their lawyers from reviewing the video or retrieving the cameras the police confiscated from them for two years. The Austin Police Department and the city apparently didn’t want the world to see how their cops clearly targeted cop watchers and violated their civil rights by illegally arresting them for filming the police. It wasn’t until a judge ordered the City of Austin to turn over the cameras that Buehler and his legal team were able to see these video.
Johnson was never disciplined or charged for his violation of Buehler and Dickerson’s civil rights, or his crimes on January 1, 2012. Johnson was, however, celebrated for irresponsibly shooting and killing a mentally ill man with his service pistol on Thanksgiving of 2014, while holding horse reins in one hand, toward a major interstate from a distance of about 300′.
Oborski, likewise, was never disciplined or charged for his violation of Buehler and a San Antonio woman’s civil rights on January 1, 2012. Oborski was, however, awarded the department’s first ever Jaime Padron Hero Award after every cop in Austin found out that Oborski was caught on tape abusing a woman, assaulting Buehler, and then trying to frame him with a felony crime that he did not commit.
Austin Police Department won’t discipline, fire, or arrest cops who are caught on camera committing crimes, but they’ll celebrate cops when they irresponsibly kill people.
On August 2nd, I was arrested while filming police officers downtown. It marked the fifth time that I have been wrongfully arrested by the Austin Police Department in retaliation for exercising my constitutional right to film the police in an attempt to hold them accountable. Fortunately for me, I do not have to rely on police video to ensure that I am exonerated of the charges pending against me.
APD continues to mislead the public on the well-established right to film the police in public. In addition to being the document that all police officers swore to uphold and defend, the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Among the first rights enshrined in the Constitution are freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Contrary to claims by Chief Acevedo, it is impossible for someone to illegally film police officers if they are peacefully doing so in a public space. The pro-First Amendment position that we have the protected right to film the police has been reaffirmed numerous times in Federal Courts, from Glik v. Cunniffe in the First Circuit to my lawsuit against the City of Austin in the Fifth Circuit.
Acevedo tries to confuse the public by claiming that his officers are not arresting people for filming, but merely for their “conduct” while filming. But there should be no confusion—the only questionable conduct is that of police officers illegally arresting lawful people. Acevedo also tries to confuse the public by claiming that the Peaceful Streets Project is interfering with arrests. However, all such claims are baseless. They have yet to provide a single example of a Peaceful Streets Project member physically interfering with an arrest. Legally, one cannot interfere just because they happen to be holding a camera in their hand.
The Peaceful Streets Project is a grassroots initiative that grew out of the community support I received after I was arrested on January 1, 2012. That morning, I witnessed Officers Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider abusing a woman who had not committed any crime. I began to question the officers and attempted to take pictures with my cell phone. Because I had the audacity to exercise my constitutionally protected rights, I was arrested and charged with the felony crime of spitting in a police officer’s face. Fortuitously, half a dozen witnesses were willing to come forward and testify that the police lied about the event, and one took video of the incident.
What I did not have access to for the two years and nine months after the arrest, while APD continued to slander me by claiming I spit in Oborski’s face, were the dash cam videos that also proved my innocence. APD and prosecutors also failed to turn over the 7-Eleven surveillance video they had in their possession, which we fortunately acquired through other means. In subsequent arrests, they also confiscated three Peaceful Streets Project cameras that had video of Austin police illegally arresting us for filming them. It took us about two years to get those videos back from the city. And the city tried to quash our requests for HALO video that show the events leading up to my arrest on August 2nd.
Acevedo disingenuously claims that they are now rolling out body cameras to increase transparency. However, body cameras without access will not increase transparency, they will become another tool for the police to abuse people they find undesirable. The opposite of transparency is the status quo in which APD suppresses video of police misconduct while misrepresenting those incidents by referencing videos that they refuse to allow the public to see.
If APD were really interested in transparency, they would acknowledge that the six videos of my most recent arrest prove that the police officers lied in order to justify another illegal arrest. And they would encourage the public to record the police.
* This is in response to their op-ed Body cameras might illuminate right and wrong when recording police. I tried to have this op-ed published by the Austin American-Statesman but like many media outlets, they choose to let the lying cops dictate the narrative of the story, and to have the final word.
By: Jermaine Hopkins & Millie Thompson
Carlos Chacon sued the City of Austin and Austin Police Department Officers Eric Copeland and Russell Rose for their use of excessive force against him. His attorney, Broadus Spivey, filed the case in Federal Court, pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 1983 – Civil action for deprivation of rights. On Thursday evening, March 5, 2015, a jury of 12 decided the case in Chacon’s favor. Chacon was awarded $1,000,000.00 in damages. We discuss the case, the legal process, important details of the trial, and how APD’s brass inconsistently treats dishonesty by police officers.
Facts of the Case:
Chacon sued based on damages sustained at the hands of APD Officers Rose and Copeland. Chacon called 9-1-1 as a victim of a crime, informing the 9-1-1 operator that he paid for a massage but the woman offered sex, and when Chacon went to leave, a man began kicking the motel room door, yelling at him. After he made the first 9-1-1 call, the same man threatened to kill him and reached into his shorts as if grabbing a gun. Chacon entered his silver BMW, began driving around, and again called 9-1-1 to report the threat.
En route to the motel, the 9-1-1 dispatcher twice explained to the responding APD officers that the suspect was a ‘black male’ in a white shirt, black hat and black shorts, with a gun, and that the complainant (victim) – Chacon – was driving his silver BMW. There was no record of any other 9-1-1 calls being placed regarding this incident, other than Chacon’s two.
When the officers arrived at the motel, Officer Rose inexplicably asked an African American male matching the description of the suspect if he had called about a gun. The male immediately replied in the negative, but instead said that there was a drunk guy driving around in a silver BMW. The African American male claimed that he himself had called 9-1-1, about the drunk guy.
Chacon approached, driving his vehicle, and Officer Rose immediately drew his gun and pointed it at Chacon – the victim who had called 9-1-1. Rose didn’t identify himself as a police officer. Rose ordered Chacon to show his hands, and Chacon responded: “I don’t have a gun, he’s the one.” Officer Copeland joined Rose and then drew his gun, pointing it at Chacon. When the officers yanked Chacon from the vehicle, Chacon tried to again calmly explain that he was not the one with the gun. Rose and Copeland wrestled Chacon to the ground, giving conflicting commands, and Copeland punched him in the face twice, causing a cut above Chacon’s eye. Then, Officer Rose tased Chacon. Chacon was arrested for resisting arrest. That resisting arrest case was dismissed.
You can find the dash-cam video/audio here.
Procedural History of the Federal Civil Rights Case:
Officers Rose and Copeland tried to have the case tossed on qualified immunity grounds, arguing that they were immune from suit because they were acting properly in their official capacity as police officers. On May 21, 2013, Federal District Judge Sparks issued a ruling denying the City of Austin’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Chacon’s lawsuit. In his ruling, Judge Sparks pointed out Rose’s “obvious post-hoc explanation for his behavior, and is completely discredited by his actions as captured by his own dashboard camera… The Court therefore disregards Officer Rose’s explanation, and instead defers to the video evidence, which clearly contradicts his affidavit’s claim.” Rose, a white officer, to-date has not been terminated or disciplined for dishonesty.
On March 2 and 3, 2015, Chief Acevedo was provided with information regarding the dishonest and rehearsed testimony given under oath by Rose, Copeland, and Smith. To date, Chief Acevedo has not responded to that information.
Both the district court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss Chacon’s case against the two officers. In the officers’ interlocutory appeal (meaning that they didn’t have to wait for a jury to hear the case before they could appeal on the issue of immunity from suit), the Fifth Circuit had to decide whether there was a factual dispute regarding whether the police violated an actual constitutional right, considering 1) the severity of the crime at issue, 2) whether Chacon posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and 3) whether Chacon actively resisted arrested or attempted to flee.
The Fifth Circuit reasoned that the video of the assault did not entirely confirm the officers’ version of events, nor did it entirely refute Chacon’s version. Notably, Chacon was given contradictory commands during the assault, including to “not move,” but “get on the ground,” but “stop moving,” but “turn over.”
The Fifth Circuit concluded that there was a fact issue that a jury must decide: “Even if some action by Chacon demonstrated resistance, the fact question found by the district court remains: whether, even considering his possible resistance, shoving Chacon to the ground while he attempted to explain himself, punching him in the head while he was on the ground, or shooting him with a Taser, constituted excessive force. Police are entitled only to measured and ascending responses to the actions of a suspect, calibrated to physical and verbal resistance shown by that suspect.”
And, so, the case against Officers Rose and Copeland proceeded to the jury.
The Trial – The Jury Had to Decide Who Was Credible:
The dash-cam video was played numerous times and dissected in the courtroom. Despite the efforts of the Assistant City Attorney to discredit him, Carlos Chacon came across as a very credible witness as he described the events taking place on that traumatic night and how those experiences have adversely impacted his life. He informed the jury that he reached out to Chief Acevedo, who did not respond to his letter. He also denied consuming any alcoholic beverages that painful evening.
Rose testified that he did not hear the information provided by the dispatcher, while the dash-cam audio clearly captured the dispatcher twice describing the suspect and victim.
Copeland testified that he detected the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Chacon, but Chacon was never charged with Public Intoxication or Driving While Intoxicated. Additionally, Chacon’s hospital records failed to confirm Copeland’s alcohol allegation, which was also refuted by Rose’s prior testimony. Nevertheless, according to his police report, Rose claimed to suspect that Chacon was under the influence of alcohol/drugs.
Rose and Copeland’s supervisor, Sgt. Robert Smith, also testified that he detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Chacon, but he was never as close to Chacon as Rose, nor was he able to explain why the medical personnel at the emergency room did not report any signs of intoxication in Chacon’s medical records. However, Smith stated that it did not mean anything to him. Chacon’s attorney Broadus Spivey asked Smith about why Chacon was not charged with Driving While Intoxicated or Public Intoxication; Smith responded, “I think we don’t just arbitrarily stack charges on someone.” But, when later asked why he recommended that Rose or Copeland conduct sobriety tests on Chacon, who was already under arrest for the alleged Resisting Search offense, Smith replied “to see if there were any other charges we could put on him.” (Authors’ Note: Rest assured, despite what the officers claimed, APD never lets a DWI go!)
Leading up to trial, Judge Sparks questioned Sgt. Smith about why the Austin Police Department failed to investigate the circumstances that prompted Mr. Chacon to call the police. However, contrary to his self-described job duties, Smith could only say “I don’t know.” As Copeland and Rose’s supervisor, it was his job to know.
Chacon’s legal team called expert witness Dr. George Kirkham, a criminologist out of Florida. Despite Dr. Kirkham’s extensive experience that far exceeded that of Rose and Copeland’s expert witness, William Terryl, the Assistant City Attorney objected to Dr. Kirkham being allowed to testify. Judge Sparks quickly overruled the objection and decisively affirmed “he’s an expert.”
Dr. Kirkham testified, based upon his expert opinion, that the actions of Rose and Copeland were contrary to standard police practices and procedures, and that their force used was objectively unreasonable.
Had the jury believed the officers’ version of events, they would have held in the officers’ favor and Chacon would have lost the lawsuit. Instead, they found one million reasons to hold in favor of Carlos Chacon.
The jury found Russell Rose liable for $1,000,000.00, not Eric Copeland. Rose was the officer who immediately pulled his gun on Chacon, and tased him. Copeland punched Chacon in the face twice. Copeland made the news one year after the Chacon assault when he shot and killed a man.
Chief Art Acevedo’s Inconsistent Handling of Dishonesty Among his “Troops:”
On October 28, 2013, Officer Blayne Williams, an African American APD officer who had in the past filed a charge of discrimination against Chief Acevedo, was terminated based solely upon Chief Acevedo’s subjective opinion that Williams was dishonest. Chief Acevedo failed to indicate in Williams’ disciplinary memo exactly how Williams was dishonest. Even an Internal Affairs investigator testified at Williams’s arbitration that he did not know what specific statements Chief Acevedo believed were dishonest. Officer Blayne Williams fought against his termination, and an arbitrator determined that Williams was not dishonest and that he should not have been terminated.
One particular APD Officer Gallenkamp has developed a reputation for dishonesty amongst the Travis County Criminal Defense Bar. Ask your friendly criminal defense attorney about the reasons. Nevertheless, Copeland and Rose are still in uniform, having never been disciplined.
Media Presence Lacking at Chacon’s Trial:
The press did not cover Carlos Chacon’s trial, and brief news reports about the trial were only released after the jury awarded $1,000,00.00 in damages. Typically, when a case involves a matter of public concern, especially on a hot-button issue like police abuse, the press shows up during the trial testimony. Often, one will see photographers outside the courthouse, waiting to click shots of the parties. Not so in Carlos Chacon’s trial.
Austin Police Department’s Police Chief Art Acevedo is well known in Austin for his mastery of the media. In 2010, he made it clear that he wanted to stay in Austin in order to finish projects he started and “he want[ed] to finish working with the media.”
Acevedo has developed such a rapport with the media that news stations would rather fire their own than to upset him. Reporter Philip Perea committed suicide in January of this year after he was fired for posting an unflattering picture of Art Acevedo on facebook. Acevedo had responded to the assault of a jogging jaywalker by saying that “In other cities there’s cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas.” The picture Perea posted on facebook made Acevedo look like a buffoon. When Acevedo took issue, Perea was fired. Acevedo’s quote turned into a meme with the phrase “at least we didn’t rape you.”
APD lost more credibility when two of Acevedo’s officers joked about rape, captured by their dash-cam equipment: “Go ahead. Call the cops. They can’t unrape you.’
Acevedo lost still more credibility when he suggested that young women should not defend themselves with firearms, but should go ahead, be raped, get counseling, and get over it.
Acevedo does more than exercise some control over how the media reports on him, he has outright banned people from his twitter and facebook. These social media accounts are considered public fora, and yet, Acevedo handles them as if they were his private accounts. We’ll report more about Acevedo’s handling of social media in a subsequent blog.
Congratulations to Chacon:
In the meantime, hats-off to Carlos Chacon for being fearless and going after APD. It is frightening taking on an entity with that much power and weaponry. Hats-off to Chacon’s legal team including Broadus Spivey for fighting the good fight and winning.
City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, are you paying attention to how much APD is costing Austin? Austin City Counsel, are you? While this assault may not have happened on y’all’s watch, you’re on-watch now. Will you protect your citizens?
Jermaine Hopkins is an Iraqi War veteran, and 14-year police officer, whose own tribulations with APD are detailed here.
Millie Thompson is a criminal defense attorney, whose office is located in Austin, Texas.
Reprinted with permission from MILLIE L. THOMPSON, ATTORNEY.