breaking news

Central Health parts ways with firm redeveloping Brackenridge site

Austin cop filmed pepper-spraying handcuffed man suspended 45 days


An Austin police officer filmed pepper-spraying a handcuffed man during his arrest downtown in March was suspended for 45 days on Tuesday, city officials said.

Officer Cameron Caldwell could also face criminal charges for the March 17 incident in which he was caught on camera by a Peaceful Streets Project activist using pepper spray on an arrested man in the back of a police van. On Tuesday, the Travis County district attorney’s office confirmed that a grand jury will review the incident.

The March 17 incident happened in downtown Austin during South by Southwest. The video, which garnered wide media attention, shows Caldwell interacting with Tyrone Wilson, who had been arrested and placed inside an Austin police van near the downtown booking area at Seventh and Neches streets.

STATESMAN IN-DEPTH: Tensions escalating between citizen photographers and police

Wilson kicked the door of the van multiple times and continued to do so after Caldwell ordered him several times to stop, Caldwell’s disciplinary memo said. After Wilson disobeyed him again, Caldwell opened the door, sprayed Wilson in the face with pepper spray and shut the door. Wilson was handcuffed and seated at the time.

“In the heat of the moment, when you have a guy kicking and screaming, he made a decision,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said during a media briefing Tuesday. “He made the wrong decision.”

During a disciplinary hearing earlier with Acevedo and Caldwell’s chain of command, Caldwell admitted to wrongdoing. Caldwell has no previous history of improper behavior, which Acevedo said contributed to his decision not to fire Caldwell.

The suspension was a negotiated agreement with Acevedo: Caldwell waived his ability to appeal the suspension, and Acevedo agreed to not fire Caldwell.

The suspension places several other conditions on Caldwell, including requiring him to be evaluated by a police psychologist and to have a one-year probationary period. He also could face additional disciplinary action if indicted, the memo says. Failure to meet any of the requirements would result in his termination.

EYE ON CRIME: Click to receive our Crime and Safety Report by email every Monday

Despite the reprimand, Acevedo said that Caldwell was right to try to gain compliance from Wilson, noting that Wilson wasn’t being cooperative. Acevedo said Caldwell had other options — such as asking other officers for help to pin him down and restrain his legs — but described him as an officer with no previous disciplinary issues who “but for this incident has done a pretty good job.”

Peaceful Streets founder Antonio Buehler said that Acevedo only suspended Caldwell because of the large amount of attention the viral video garnered. Acevedo denied that Caldwell’s suspension was a result from community or media pressure, saying police officials’ disciplinary decisions aren’t based “on the direction the wind is blowing.”

Acevedo also took the opportunity to defend the tactics of most patrol officers working in an increasingly chaotic and unruly entertainment district, describing Sixth Street as “a problem” and characterizing policing as inherently “ugly.”

Buehler said that Caldwell should be fired and charged with assault.

“We’ve videotaped cops punching people on the ground,” Buehler said. “We’ve videotaped cops hitting people from behind. We’ve videotaped cops running people over with horses. This is the first time we have taped use of force where there has been any discipline or anyone suspended.”

Caldwell’s disciplinary memo states that he violated guidelines on the use of pepper spray and general conduct. He won’t be paid during the suspension and will return to duty Oct. 14. He has been with the Austin police for three years, police said.

Wilson has a court hearing for a charge of resisting arrest scheduled for Nov. 14.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Graham forged deep friendships with Texas political giants
Graham forged deep friendships with Texas political giants

Billy Graham swam naked with Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, prayed with LBJ at Camp David and said words over the late president’s casket alongside the Pedernales River. He joined George W. Bush for a 1985 dip in the chilly Atlantic Ocean at Kennebunkport, Maine, an unknowing and unofficial baptism for a man close to giving up the bottle...
JUST IN: Vehicle strikes, injured teenage boy near James Bowie High School, EMS says
JUST IN: Vehicle strikes, injured teenage boy near James Bowie High School, EMS says

A teenage boy was struck and injured by a vehicle near James Bowie High School in Southwest Austin, Austin-Travis County EMS officials said Wednesday. The incident happened about 5:41 p.m. The incident was reported at the school’s address at 4103 West Slaughter Lane, officials said. Medics have reported a trauma alert for the teenager, who is...
Man charged with shooting Judge Julie Kocurek takes witness stand
Man charged with shooting Judge Julie Kocurek takes witness stand

The man charged with hatching a plan to kill Travis County state District Judge Julie Kocurek unexpectedly took the witness stand Wednesday in federal court as he tried to persuade a judge to toss out cellphone records that put him in Austin around the time of the November 2015 attack. At times playful and at other times uncooperative, Chimene Onyeri...
BREAKING: 2 hospitalized, 7 floors evacuated after carbon monoxide leak at the Fairmont Hotel

Two people were hospitalized on Wednesday afternoon after a pizza oven spewed carbon monoxide through several floors of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Austin. Austin firefighters were called out to the hotel at 3:26 p.m. First responders found high levels of the colorless, odorless gas through the first seven floors of the building, and evacuated everyone...
Man accused of lunging at H-E-B manager with knife
Man accused of lunging at H-E-B manager with knife

A man faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted of lunging at an H-E-B grocery store manager with a knife in Austin after she caught him shoplifting, an arrest affidavit said. Samuel Briseno Jr., 32, of Austin, was charged with aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony. Police were notified at 8:58 p.m. Thursday about the incident at the H-E-B at...
More Stories