Austin police officers say they were denied the opportunity for promotions last year because former Police Chief Art Acevedo failed to offer some high-ranking officials a test to assess their merits.
A lawsuit filed Thursday in Travis County says Acevedo intentionally delayed offering a commander test so some of his preferred candidates could meet eligibility requirements, which state an officer must be in a position for two years before getting promoted.
“There were people he wanted to take the test,” Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said. “He had people he wanted to promote to commander, but they didn’t have enough time to take the test. He manipulated the testing time to get those people into the test.”
As a result, there was a trickle-down effect that stonewalled the promotion of lower-ranking officers, the police union alleges. A list of sergeants who were eligible for promotion expired on Oct. 7, 2016. They now must retake a test before becoming eligible again to become lieutenants. The lawsuit details the impact on one officer, Cpl. David Silva, who was denied the chance to be promoted to sergeant.
The lawsuit asks a Travis County judge to appoint a hearing examiner to settle the dispute and to determine if the department violated an agreement with the Austin Police Association regarding the promotion process. Casaday said this issued also could be worked out through ongoing contract negotiations with Police Department.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Casaday against the officers’ Civil Service Commission and civil service director, the city of Austin and interim Police Chief Brian Manley. Acevedo, who is now the chief in Houston, wasn’t named as a defendant.
A city spokesman released a statement saying, “We are aware of the lawsuit but have not yet been served. Once we receive it, we will review with our clients what, if any, actions will be taken on behalf of the city.”
According to the lawsuit, Casaday on Sept. 20 filed a grievance via email, reminding the police association’s grievance committee that the list was about to expire after 24 months. An agreement between the city and the police association suggests a six-month study period before the exam, Casaday wrote. But he added the time frame could be shortened, even drastically, to avoid the expiration. He said that if a test wasn’t available, the next best course of action was to assign temporary promotions.
Acevedo responded to Casaday via email on Oct. 7, the expiration date, and denied his grievance. Acevedo noted there were two commander vacancies on the staff, but no existing promotional eligibility list from which to fill those vacancies. Therefore, Acevedo said, any trickle-down promotions couldn’t lawfully be made.