Austin cops suspended for not stopping use of force
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Austin Police Department Chief Joe Chacon sanctioned two officers after saying they did not intervene in an encounter involving excessive force.
He suspended the third for his treatment of a reported sexual assault victim, documents show.
Officers Katherine Alzola and Eric Perez were suspended for 90 days for violating a policy requiring officers to intercede “if they know the force used is not objectively reasonable.” Union officials said they believed Alzola and Perez were the first two officers to be suspended for violating the policy in place for several years.
Chacon handed down the disciplinary sanction following hearings last week, days before Austin City Council members confirmed him as the city’s newest police chief in a 9- vote. 2. City officials released the memos on Wednesday.
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The case of excessive force centers on a March 12 incident in which officers responded to a call of “an unknown nature” in an apartment. Upon arrival, they recognized a man inside who had a warrant for his arrest for domestic violence.
The man “resisted” as police attempted to handcuff him, according to a disciplinary note, but he inadvertently handcuffed himself.
Perez then properly tied the man’s handcuffs, but did not alert the other officers that he had. At this point, an officer who is not identified in the note – but who is the subject of an ongoing investigation – tasered the man “after the handcuffs were applied”.
The memos indicate that an anonymous officer also used a baton “to lift (the man’s) arms behind his back on several occasions while he was handcuffed.”
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An internal affairs investigation revealed that Perez and Alzola had a duty to prevent the other officer from using additional force on the handcuffed man. Under Texas Civil Service Law, a 15-day suspension is the most serious discipline a boss can impose without firing an employee. However, an officer and a chief can agree to a more severe sentence which is not a dismissal.
The memos indicated that the suspect suffered from bruises to his back and puncture wounds from the Taser.
In the sexual assault case, Chacon suspended Constable Brian O’Quinn for 20 days for his response in March to a woman who said she was sexually assaulted. The woman filed a complaint that day with the Austin Police Oversight Bureau, claiming that O’Quinn was “rude and acted like he didn’t believe her.”
An internal affairs investigation found that O’Quinn failed to take several critical investigative steps, including questioning the victim “with the appropriate amount of dignity and respect,” a disciplinary note said.
He also failed to pass critical information to a custodial sex crime detective and ensure evidence was collected or take photographs of the scene, according to the memo.
“Officer O’Quinn’s failure to conduct a proper investigation, gather evidence, relay and document this incident will likely hamper any potential effort to pursue this matter,” the note said.
A class action lawsuit filed in federal court by several women accused the city of Austin and Travis County of mismanaging thousands of sexual assault cases. The 2018 trial accused police and the district attorney’s office of having a culture of indifference to sexual assault complaints by failing to investigate and prosecute cases. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel dismissed the lawsuit in 2020, saying changes to state law and local policies address concerns raised.
In an interview with Internal Affairs this year about O’Quinn’s handling of his case, the disciplinary note stated that he acknowledged, “I’m literally disappointed with the way I handled this call.”