Officer in Breaion King case fired amid new force complaint

Jan 22, 2018

An Austin police officer who received a reprimand for his violent arrest of a teacher in 2015 was fired Monday after officials said he used excessive force on a suspect.

Officer Bryan Richter was one of two officers to lose his job — they were both “indefinitely suspended” — because of a July incident in which Richter placed his foot on top of the man’s head during an arrest outside Barton Creek Square mall, according to a disciplinary memo.

According to the 12-page document signed by interim Police Chief Brian Manley, Richter and detective Steven McCurley violated departmental policies prohibiting officers from using unreasonable force and requiring them to be honest.

The arrest was recorded by an Austin police helicopter camera. Footage released to the media Monday did not make clear what precipitated the struggle between the officers and the suspect.

The memo says Richter stepped on the man’s head during the arrest with his right foot and “took a stutter step that made his left foot completely leave the ground while his right foot was still on the subject’s head.”

Richter then failed to properly document what happened as required by policy, the document said, and “omitted pertinent information in the aftermath of the operation.

“The picture Officer Richter portrayed minimized his actions and was suggestive that he did not inflict pain on the subject and that this force was necessary,” the memo said.

McCurley kicked the man in the abdomen and placed his right foot on the suspect’s forearm, according to the memo.

RELATED: New APD policy emphasizes alternatives to using force

“Lastly as his fellow officers took the subject into custody, Detective McCurley delivered a kick, with his right foot, to the subject’s right side,” the memo said.

It added that McCurley did not properly report that he used force during the incident and said his explanation for not doing so was a violation of the department’s policy requiring honesty.

The suspect, who records show is Hispanic, was being arrested for narcotics-related offenses and had an outstanding felony assault warrant, documents show.

The American-Statesman first reported the new allegations against Richter and McCurley on Sunday.

The officers plan to appeal, union President Ken Casaday said.

In a statement, he called the discipline by Manley “excessive” but said, “We agree that mistakes were made by both officers.

“We are confident that arbitration will result in a more equitable punishment,” Casaday said.

Doug O’Connell, who represents Richter, declined to comment Monday.

Richter’s work has been under scrutiny since 2016, when the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV obtained a video showing his arrest of teacher Breaion King.

WATCH: Dashcam video of King’s arrest

Richter was seen on the video, which received national attention, forcibly removing King from the driver’s seat of her car, pulling her across a vacant parking space and hurling her to the ground.

Richter said in a report that he did not know whether King had a weapon and that she resisted by wrapping her hands around the steering wheel.

His supervisors at the time gave him a reprimand, the lowest level of discipline, but the department brass did not learn about the incident until a year later. By then, a deadline to impose more severe punishment had passed.

The department has since changed how such incidents are evaluated to ensure a proper review.

In the aftermath of the King case, a sergeant who supervised him wrote an email to the commander in charge of Richter’s patrol area, which included a 2013 analysis of Richter’s performance compared with that of five other officers who had graduated in the same police academy class and were assigned to the same patrol area.

The analysis showed that Richter used force on 17.5 percent of the suspects he arrested. The average for Richter’s peer group was 10 percent. The sergeant wrote that Richter was near the average.

The sergeant explained in the email that he wasn’t directed to write it but felt there was a perception among the chain of command that Richter had too many use of force incidents and “was perhaps a loose cannon.”

“He was an excellent officer who had so many (response to resistance incidents), pursuits, etc., due simply to the volume of work he had,” the sergeant wrote.

Erica Grigg, who represents King in an ongoing lawsuit, said she is pleased by the department’s action against Richter.

“Our community is safer and better without Officer Richter on the police force,” she said.

Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, said Richter should have been fired after King’s arrest.

“Those kind of officers who violate people’s rights almost always repeat the same thing,” he said. “The city is better off without Bryan Richter.”