An Austin police officer whose violent 2015 arrest of an elementary teacher received national attention and sparked reforms within the department is facing punishment that could include termination amid a new allegation involving excessive force.
Officials are expected early this week to complete the disciplinary process for Officer Bryan Richter and a second officer involved in the incident, sources told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV on Sunday.
Interim Police Chief Brian Manley and other department brass conducted an hours-long disciplinary hearing for the officers Friday that also included their attorneys and union representatives.
Four sources said the incident happened nearly six months ago when Richter and members of a specialized team in the department’s organized crime division tasked with serving felony warrants were trying to arrest a suspect, who has a criminal history that includes violent offenses. The officers used tactics that supervisors deemed inappropriate, which triggered an internal affairs investigation, said the sources, who declined to be identified because the matter is pending.
The incident was captured on video by an Austin police helicopter, which investigators used as evidence in the case. It was not clear what, if anything, may have precipitated any use of force against the man, who is Hispanic.
Additional details of what happened will not be made public until Manley decides on the punishment and files documents about the case with the city’s civil service commission. If the officers are suspended or terminated, evidence in the case, including the video, may be released in coming days.
Police officials also alerted prosecutors in the civil rights division of the Travis County District Attorney’s office about the case, which they have been investigating.
Erica Grigg, an attorney who represents Breaion King, who was thrown to the ground in 2015 when Richter arrested her, said she is not surprised that Richter’s tactics are again under scrutiny.
“Ms. King believes, and I think a lot of us believe, that if you do badly at your job, then there should be repercussions,” Grigg said.
King has an ongoing civil lawsuit against the city.
Manley said Sunday he is prevented by state law from commenting on a pending matter. Doug O’Connell, an attorney who represents Richter, and Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, also declined to comment.
Richter was widely condemned for his 2015 arrest of King, whom he stopped for speeding along Riverside Drive.
The arrest had received little scrutiny until a year later, when the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV obtained video from Richter’s patrol car that showed the encounter quickly and dramatically escalating.
Richter, who is white, first commanded King, who is black, to close her car door but then forcibly removed her from the driver’s seat, pulled her across a vacant parking space and hurled her to the asphalt.
Richter said in a written report at the time that he didn’t know if King had a weapon and that she resisted by wrapping her arms around the steering wheel of the car.
Minutes later, as King was being taken to jail, officer Patrick Spradlin and King discussed race relations and interactions between police and African-Americans, and Spradlin made comments about the “violent tendencies” of blacks.
Richter’s supervisors reviewed the incident at the time and gave him a reprimand — the lowest form of departmental discipline. Spradlin’s comments went unnoticed until the Statesman’s report.
A Travis County grand jury later reviewed the case and did not indict Richter.
Internally, the arrest prompted the police department to alter how use-of-force cases are handled because department leaders were livid they had never been briefed on the case.
Under a “peer review” practice, an officer’s assigned supervisory chain must continue evaluating the lowest level of force encounters, such as the use of hand-to-hand combat and pepper spray. But a separate commander also must sign off on what happened.
The department also has set deadlines for the reviews, saying they must be finalized within 60 days to ensure department officials can impose possible discipline before a state-mandated 180-day deadline.