The Austin police union president on Tuesday condemned Police Chief Art Acevedo’s decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with Black Lives Matter activists days after an officer shot and killed an naked, unarmed teenager, calling the chief’s act “absolutely unacceptable” and urging police leaders to back off from a rush to judgment of the officer who pulled the trigger.
The shooting of 17-year-old David Joseph on Feb. 8 by veteran officer Geoffrey Freeman has led to public protests and widespread criticism of Austin police. Acevedo allowed leaders from Black Lives Matter Austin and the Austin Justice Coalition on Thursday to make public statements inside the Police Department headquarters that were at times highly critical of the department.
“The public perception is the chief agrees with everything they said,” union President Ken Casaday said Tuesday. “They got up in front of a badge much like this one behind me and degraded police officers in the worst ways, and that was absolutely unacceptable. Do that behind closed doors.”
The activist groups demanded that Austin police adhere to a 30-day deadline for an internal investigation. Mayor Steve Adler also called for a speedy investigation, and Acevedo vowed to have it complete by then.
Casaday said the 30-day timetable was “irresponsible at best.” Internal investigations typically take between 45 and 65 days to complete, he said.
Acevedo said in a statement that he respects the union’s views, but that he wouldn’t comment on them.
“As stated last week, our focus is on a complete and impartial investigation, which we owe to both the Joseph and Freeman families, as well as the Austin community,” he said.
Casaday and several officers spoke Tuesday in support of Freeman, who has been on administrative leave since fatally shooting Joseph during a seconds-long encounter in the 12000 block of Natures Bend in Northeast Austin. An attorney from the group representing Freeman has said the 10-year veteran feared for his life and acted in accordance to his training.
Freeman’s attorney, Grant Goodwin from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said Freeman acted appropriately in a rapidly changing situation. Critics of the police have pointed to the department’s troubled history with African-Americans, but Goodwin said race wasn’t a factor in Joseph’s killing.
“The facts are very clear; race is not an element,” Goodwin said. Freeman and Joseph are both African-American.
Casaday suggested a shortage of officers played a role in the shooting, and he called for an external audit of patrol staffing. He said the department has 145 vacancies, and, on the day of the shooting, Freeman’s patrol shift in Northeast Austin had seven officers on the streets instead of the 10 required for full staffing.
Freeman called for backup about two minutes before he encountered Joseph, police said. Three minutes after shots were fired, the first backup officer arrived, Casaday said. A recording of Emergency Medical Services scanner radio obtained by the American-Statesman suggests Joseph was shot twice in the torso.