Two Austin police supervisors have been suspended and demoted as part of the fallout from an incident this year in which an activist caught on video an officer pepper-spraying a handcuffed man.
The suspensions and demotions of Lt. Allen Hicks and Sgt. Scott Stanfield — who both worked in the chain of command of the officer seen pepper-spraying the restrained man — are illustrative of Police Chief Art Acevedo’s renewed vigor to hold supervisors accountable for what he deems a lax review of police use-of-force encounters and a failure to hold subordinates accountable in some instances.
Internal investigations of Hicks and Stanfield began after an activist from the police-watching group Peaceful Streets Project recorded an officer using pepper spray on a man while he was restrained in a police van during this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival.
The video received wide media attention and led to an internal investigation that later was expanded into a wider inquiry of use-of-force incidents downtown from March through July. The officer who pepper-sprayed the man and another officer who used a stun gun on the same man at a downtown booking facility were suspended.
Investigators found that Hicks directed Stanfield to refrain from completing a review of the March 17 incident. The investigation also uncovered that Stanfield improperly notified his chain of command about several use-of-force incidents and that Hicks improperly reclassified use-of-force cases.
Hicks has been demoted two ranks to corporal/detective and will serve a 45-day suspension. Stanfield has been demoted a rank — also to corporal/detective — and will serve a 30-day suspension.
“I felt it was disproportionate based on the facts,” said Grant Goodwin, staff attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas who represented the supervisors. “I thought it was an attempt to lay blame and find someone to pin it on.”
The internal reporting of use-of-force encounters became a public issue in July, when the American-Statesman revealed circumstances in the arrest of Breaion King. Her violent arrest resulted in only a reprimand to officer Bryan Richter. Acevedo was furious that he learned of the June 2015 arrest three months ago from the Statesman — not from Richter’s supervisors — and he ordered a review of how the matter was handled by the department. Results of that inquiry are pending.
The case prompted Acevedo to have a private meeting with commanders during which he ordered them to intensify their reviews of such cases. The Statesman last week reported on leaked audio recordings of Acevedo’s comments, which he said were directed at some, but not all, commanders.
Austin police union President Ken Casaday said the suspensions and demotions of Hicks and Stanfield have created a new low point in police morale that could only be repaired by Acevedo leaving the Austin Police Department.
“The sooner he finds another job, the better off the department will be,” Casaday said. “We have all these problems, and he is blaming it on all of his officers and not himself. If all of our officers are racist or ill-trained, it is his fault.”
Beyond the financial implications of the extended unpaid suspensions, the demotions also mean a loss in annual salary of between $8,000 and $10,000 for Stanfield and Hicks, according to the department’s pay schedule. Hicks has been with the Austin police for 19 years, and Stanfield was hired 21 years ago.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the the lengths of employment for Allen Hicks and Scott Stanfield at the Austin Police Department.