- By James Barragan American-Statesman Staff
Calling the incident troubling, several Austin City Council members spoke out Friday about a 2015 arrest shown in video made public Thursday in which an Austin police officer is seen slamming an African-American woman to the ground twice during a traffic stop and another officer says police are sometimes wary of black people because of their “violent tendencies.”
The incident has become another flash point in the heated national controversy surrounding African-Americans and police use of force.
The video images “were a window into something that is outrageous, offensive, and counter to the values of our community, and that includes our police force,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement.
“I am grateful that (Austin Police) Chief (Art) Acevedo spoke so clearly on this matter and has assembled so many diverse voices from the community to help fix this problem,” Adler said. “We can’t un-see the videos, and nor should we. But we can continue to work together to build a community that treats everyone with respect. We as community will get it done.”
Council Member Kathie Tovo said she agreed with Acevedo’s decision to investigate the conduct of the officers involved.
Officer Bryan Richter, who slammed 26-year-old elementary school teacher Breaion King to the ground during the June 2015 traffic stop, was issued the lowest level of discipline by his supervisors — counseling and additional training — after a review of his use of force. His conduct was never formally investigated by internal affairs, but the department has now opened an administrative review of how his supervisors evaluated his actions.
Officer Patrick Spradlin was not punished for his “violent tendencies” comments about African-Americans because the department only learned about them after the American-Statesman began inquiring about the incident. His comments are now under investigation. But Acevedo said that, under state civil service law, he cannot take disciplinary action beyond a written reprimand against the officers for this incident because it happened more than six months ago.
“I am deeply disheartened with the aggressive behavior displayed and the appalling language used by the officer involved in this incident,” Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria said in a statement. “Those types of actions and words erode the trust between our peace officers and the community they have sworn to protect. They fail to respect basic human dignity and they denigrate the title of public servant.”
“Those who know me and what I stand for know that I have the utmost respect for the women and men who sacrifice to keep our families safe. I am grateful for their service and hope for their well-being every day and night,” Renteria said. “That’s why when anybody’s actions serve to break down the fragile relationship between the public and law enforcement, I am sharply critical.”
He said more communication is needed between police and the public, especially communities of color, to make the city safe for everyone.
Council Member Greg Casar said in a statement that watching the video of King’s arrest shook his heart.
“This should not have happened,” he said. “What I saw in those videos is absolutely contrary to the community-based policing that we need to build bridges between law enforcement and our neighbors, which should make us all safer. … I appreciate the police chief swiftly investigating these employees’ actions along with their chain of command.”
Council Member Delia Garza also praised Acevedo for his response but said she was disturbed by the incident and that she is interested in exploring new ways to train police on how to de-escalate tense situations.