Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Acevedo's Body Count

Byron Carter, Jr.'s unjustified homicide by APD is a make or break case for Acevedo's reputation as a change agent.

How many more young African-American and Hispanic men must die before our city leadership acknowledges that we –still– have a problem in our police Department?

How many more contentious, community-splitting debates and public payouts to bereaved and injured families must occur before our Police department changes its shoot to kill policy?

How many more complaints, protests, speeches, community coalitions, letters, feature stories, resolutions, town hall meetings and memorials must occur before the demands of our citizens are finally acknowledged and acted upon?

I say not one more. Let Byron Carter, Jr.’s unnecessary death finally be the catalyst for real change.

Acevedo must decide within the next 72 hours whether Carter’s killer will be held accountable from a departmental standpoint (a Grand Jury has not yet considered whether legal charges will be brought). Will he fire him for unjustifiably shooting an unarmed youth, or fire both officers for lying…as it’s becoming clear that both are? Acevedo is on record - before he was hired - saying he would fire any officer for lying.


The Department of Justice (DOJ) came here four years ago to study why we had proportionately high unarmed youth of color dying at the hands of our police. They closed their use of force investigation three days prior to this shooting, but this incident may well have made a distinct difference in their response. Instead of breaking down critical incidents and assessing which were and weren’t justified, as the community understood they were going to do, in addition to a few final recommendations, they closed out the last segment of the inquiry by specifically noting the improvements at APD.

It’s likely the DOJ thought that between the one very questionable shooting death (Sanders) and the somewhat “cleaner” one (Contreras had a gun even if he wasn’t aiming it at anyone), there wasn’t enough evidence of a pattern under him, although, we thought, their charge was to look at the past 15-20 years of shootings. It’s likely that because he was so responsive to the policy recommendations, they granted him something of a pass…or a vote of confidence. Much like Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize as an “incentive” to end a war or two.

Unfortunately, much like the Nobel committee’s charge isn’t to award peace prizes based on the potential for peace, the DOJ’s charge isn’t to judge excessive force by the potential for it’s curbing.

As it stands, for all the good brought to APD, we still have unarmed youth of color being killed by police officers.


Art Acevedo swooped into town in the spring of 2007 and charmed us all. Upon his hiring that summer, he gave us our long-sought disciplinary matrix! He got rid of some dead weight. He made policy changes. He made improvements in training and set a new tone for a more responsive, less brutal department. He got out and about in the community at every opportunity. The gains were measurable; the signs, hopeful.

Kevin Brown was shot by Michael Olsen just prior to Chief Acevedo taking leadership, but he did get charged with disciplining Olsen, and did the right thing in firing him. Had Stan Knee earlier fired Olsen for the 2002 brutal treatment of Jeffrey Thornton, as captured on the Texas Lottery videocameras on 6th St., Brown would still be alive today. It seemed clear with the 2007 firing of Olsen that unlike Knee, Acevedo wasn’t going to put up with excessive force under his watch.

But since then, there’s not been one firing for unjustified lethal force, much less excessive force – in his four and a half years of leadership. There was his public exposing of video of an officer unjustly tasering an African-American motorist he pulled over on Mopac, admonishing him and setting an “example” for all to follow…but the Chief considered that humiliation his discipline.

There’s been firings for lying, investigative failings, drugs, alcohol/DWI and hanging out with prostitutes, but none related to abuse of power/racial profiling or unjustified force, and that’s what still pervades the force and continues to foster distrust with the community. Profiling and force have not decreased under Acevedo.

There’s been four incidents in his tenure where it isn’t disputable someone pointed a gun at officers, although one or two of them might have been averted had key family members been brought in to talk someone down or specialists (psychologists or conflict resolution experts) to mitigate the situation before SWAT bust in. When someone is holed up in a home alone with a gun…time is on your side, but patience is not APD’s greatest virtue.

The point is that, under his watch, Chief Acevedo hasn’t disciplined any officer over, or even questioned circumstances around, any lethal force. He has yet to see a shooting death he didn’t like.

He wants so badly to have a “clean” record as Chief as far as the dead bodies go, that he can’t fathom a lethal mistake….except the one that happened just before he got here…where it was Knee’s fault.


And while I’m getting my Psychology 101 on, his bigger problem is that he makes up his mind from the get-go. Before seeing all the evidence…before seeing how eventually-revealed evidence completely undermines his officers’ initial stories, he decides exactly what happened, and by God, he sticks to it.

Hours after Nathaniel Sanders died, Acevedo said, on camera, it was “a good shooting;” that there was a struggle for the gun. There was not, as expert opinions via KeyPoint and civil suit discovery shows—there were only 4 seconds between his waking and the first bullet that took his life; it took that long for Quintana to stumble back behind the car. Also, there were no fingerprints on the gun. But the “struggle” scenario would be the story forevermore, despite the evidence and the City’s first-ever wrongful death settlement where the officer wasn’t fired for it.

Hours after Devin Contreras died, still at the scene, Acevedo said the officer did the right thing and when I asked if he had seen the video yet, he said, “no, I haven’t made it back to the station yet.” My jaw dropped. He simply took the word of the officer that Contreras shot his gun first and went on camera saying such. So that became the public story…but it was too late, despite the evidence that showed Contreras didn’t shoot his gun.

Byron Carter is another victim of his faulty, prejudiced when it comes to lethal actions by his department.

Of course, all these fictions APD creates include loudly touting any criminal history of the deceased. If they paint them “thugs,” people won’t care if they died. It’s de-facto justified, so they think. Too bad for them that’s not the way the law works…hence the civil lawsuits – and the settlements.

Ace’s boss, Marc Ott does nothing to correct this, much less our elected officials who are the boss of Ott. In fact, there’s much evidence, especially in Ott’s case, that they enable it by not disciplining him, and going so far as helping him, if not leading him, to cover it up. Keypoint-Gate, anyone?


This time, there's no excusing the death because of any gun in the car, much less in the hand, much less an excuse of previous wrongdoing/probable cause – despite what was initially put out in the media, yet again…

The officers said they saw the victims, 19-year old Byron Carter, Jr., and his 16 year old friend, "casing cars," but lost them and then supposedly found them later getting into a car--which was their own—despite what APD reported to media in the days following.

But, as always, the truth seeps out well after the false story is planted in the public consciousness.

According to the lawsuit, it looks as if the officers saw two African-American youth, mistook them for the earlier car casers and tried to stop them from leaving by shooting up their car. Then they crafted a tall tale realizing how seriously they just screwed up. (It should be noted Austin police have a union contractual right the rest of us don’t enjoy: they don’t have to answer to investigators for 48 hours following a critical incident.) But it seems 48 hours is still not enough to cover your tracks…see below the story, “FACTS AND HOLES.”

What’s not in question is that either one officer or both fired four shots into Carter’s body.

Now that the truth is coming out, it certainly looks like these young men saw two guys in the dark (in dark clothes) running toward them, guns pointed at them, right after they got in and started their car. There is no evidence that officers identified themselves. The young men, naturally, high-tailed it out of their parking space as gunfire poured into their car—whether they did that before gunfire started or after is irrelevant, they thought they were in danger. Whether they hit a car that rolled into one of the officers that they couldn’t see at that point (being that the parked car was obscuring his position), is irrelevant too, as officers are trained to position themselves safely in these situations. They were trying to simply stay alive; they didn’t have TIME to use the car as a weapon.


The Grand Jury DROPPED CHARGES on the surviving 16 year old, the driver. This is frankly remarkable – Grand Juries do not fail to find fault with African-American youth charged with attempted murder of a police officer, EVER.

Funny thing is, His Chiefness loves to call me on the phone or get in front of news cameras to gloat when Grand Juries fail to indict his officers over something, as if that means something. It doesn’t when the reason for that is the D.A. withholds key evidence that would allow them to legally indict – so she can get her next police union contributions. Yet in this particular case, he’s gone on record to paint the Grand Jury as either incompetent or biased towards the 16 year old (as if there is any precedence to that) by saying they had plenty of evidence to do so, but chose not to.

This, of course, insinuates HE has plenty of evidence to defend his officer…hence the concern he isn’t planning to do the right thing and fire him (or both).

But the Grand Jury hasn’t addressed the officer yet, and they almost always have him cleared well before the police Internal Affair report is done (don’t ask how they can judge something not yet investigated—that just seems to be accepted across the board).

But if the Grand Jury doesn’t indict the officer (Lehmberg hasn’t met an officer she wanted to indict in her tenure as District Attorney), then we have a serious problem. There’s a dead body with 4 bullet holes in it and no one’s at fault? It was an accident???

And similarly, if the Chief doesn’t fire the officer(s), but the officer(s) gets indicted, then what? How will he explain that away?


No matter what these young men were doing prior to getting in the car, and no matter what they were doing as the car was moving, shooting the passenger 4 times all over his body was in no way, shape or form justifiable. Shooting the passenger neither prevents the car from hurting an officer or prevents the car from leaving the scene (although shooting to prevent someone leaving is not justifiable, by law, unless the person poses an imminent threat to the public safety and casing cars doesn’t).

Nelson Linder of the NAACP-Austin told the Citizen Review Panel a week ago, the officers “should be fired, no questions asked.” He said the shooting was indefensible and the most disturbing case of police brutality that he'd seen in a decade.

Bryon was going home to Grandma. He called her 15 minutes prior to being shot (while he was “casing cars”?) and said he’d be home soon, having no idea what was about to prevent that from happening. No idea, of course, because he wasn’t doing anything that would threaten his own demise.



Basic Facts:
--5/30/11: 2 APD officers on foot shot at 2 African-American youth in a car that belonged to the driver
-- Byron Carter, Jr., 20, was an unarmed passenger and was shot dead with 4 bullets to his body from a wide range of angles
--the 16 year old driver (name not released) was shot in the arm, and survived
--the 16 year old drove to Disch-Faulk parking lot and walked home where he was apprehended

(read III.B “Night of the Shooting” in the civil lawsuit)

Officers’ Version:
--they say they thought the youth were casing cars earlier; that they tried to follow them but lost them
--they then spotted and ran towards two African-American suspects getting into a car, and were certain these were the same two casing cars earlier, in fact, they were certain that the car they were in was stolen (it wasn’t) and that was the sole reason they were attempting to detain them in the first place

--they said they were attempting to escape and used the car as a weapon against the officers
--the police said one of the officers got pinned between two cars (and this is where it gets fuzzy: at first the story was between the suspects car and the adjacent parked vehicle…then the story was that it between the adjacent parked vehicle and the parked vehicle adjacent to that
--the officer that got hit got hit fell to the ground

--Officer Rodriguez hurt his ankle…suffering a “ruptured Achilles tendon” –one account said both officers were injured, but didn’t mentioned how Wagner was inured


--Rodriguez getting hit by this parked car and falling to the ground was actually rarely mentioned in the media stories…it is unclear if the car made physical contact with him at all or if he just fell on his own trying to get to safety or trying to get to a better shooting position

-- it’s clear by the statements Wagner didn’t see Rodriguez fall, he just saw him after he was already on the ground, as Acevedo noted in the press conference: “Wagner heard Rodriguez scream as he fell;” Wegner said about Rodriguez he “feared he was pinned” or was “afraid he was trapped”; it’s unclear what Rodriguez reported himself – that has not been mentioned in media - conveniently.
--there’s no explanation of how Rodriguez would have been "pinned and being dragged under the car" when the car he was supposedly “pinned” by was a parked car in between him and the moving vehicle. If Rodriguez was hit so hard by this parked vehicle, such that Wagner thought he’d be drug along the street by a parked vehicle, then why are there no other injuries to Rodriguez above his ankle where a fender would make contact?
-- the uninjured officer shot at suspects "through the windshield" – so how did Carter get a bullet to the back of his head? Did only Wagner shoot at the “suspects” or did Rodriguez shoot too? If so, why was this not reported? If Rodriguez was shooting, then how did he do it while on the ground, being drug by a parked car?

--where is mention of training issues where officers shouldn’t try to apprehend suspects in a moving, or a soon-to-be-moving vehicle by placing themselves in danger of being hit by the car? OR training about stopping a moving vehicle and aiming for the DRIVER?

Monday, November 14, 2011

F1: Gentleman, Stop Your Engines

Don't Say We Didn't Tell Ya So

We were duped. At least many racing fans who never questioned the public subsidies and the decision-makers were, sans the two dissenting members.

It wouldn't be the first time Richard Suttle strutted into City Hall on behalf of out of town developers and promised the moon, the sun and the stars and city leaders became all googly-eyed, only to find out not a sunspot, a moonbeam nor a starlight were actually on the table.

But in this case, where the public actually got wind before Council voted on the "risk free" deal, we had a couple of shots to convince them that supporting F1's lust for public monies was not the best thing since sliced bread. Many, many people brought many, many well-researched facts before Council showing there was plenty of reason to slow the train down.

Council, except for two (Cmbrs. Morrison and Tovo), chose not to listen to the public. $250 million of Texas public funds are on the table, spread out over 10 years (plus $4 million in a local contribution, which Circuit of the Americas, "COTA," says they'll pay--we'll see). With $15 billion in budget cuts this past legislative session, one would think the City of Austin wouldn't so foolishly jump into an arrangement putting all Texans in harm's way.

Besides some community members dismantling many of F1's "facts" and figures, it should have been evident something was going to blow up in our face based solely on who we were dealing with: Bernie Ecclestone, for one, who loves him some "efficient" Hitler --and is fond of bribing folks to avoid paying taxes. Local attorney and former Judge, Bill Aleshire, said: “Those of us trying to convince our state comptroller not to pay the $25 million F1 Texas tax kickback recognize the sad irony that Mr. Ecclestone testified that he bribed a German bank official with $23 million in order to avoid a tax audit.” Painful irony.

Hiring Richard Suttle as their local go-to man should have been Clue #2 this was a shady deal, and that all their "hurry hurry hurry! offer ends soon!" b.s. was just that: b.s. to get their hands on public monies before anyone was the wiser.

Jabs from Jersey

As we are finding out, a New Jersey race in 2013 had long been secretly in the works and that it was being negotiated for June that year. We were never going to have a June race in 2012 or any year thereafter (yet that was the reason Council had to quickly approve contracts that weren't yet written), and it's now questionable we are going to have a 2012 race at all, as noted by Autoweek: "There might not be an F1 race in Texas in 2012, and there might not be a track for the series to race on."

With the internal strife in COTA and Hellmund's bitter departure, delays in construction, rumors of construction workers going unpaid, the track may not just be delayed - it may not be built. If I were an investor, I'd be pulling out right now. (If it goes unfinished, should we rename it the "Intel Memorial Racetrack"? Maybe we can turn it into a dirt bike park.)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is laughing at us right now...laughing all the way to the bank...for our promising millions in public funds to these people. He knew he didn't need to offer any giveaways to get his race, and pointed that out in his F1 announcement as a not-so-subtle jab at Texas. So unlike the deal we agreed to, NJ isn't using any public money to pay F1 fees and they are getting reimbursed for public expenses and they are keeping any and all sales tax proceeds.

If only we had skilled policy makers like that around these parts.

Meanwhile, we were negotiating investing much-needed state dollars under the false premise that we'd have the exclusive rights to the only F1 race in the US, such that we'd be rolling in tourist dollars. Ooops!

Don't Worry!

Steve Sexton said their "funding is secured..."

Ehhh...not so much. The METF money isn't in the bank quite just yet. They haven't turned in their application to the Comptroller's office. They can't, as they have to do it within a year before the event (November 18th would be the earliest they could, IF anyone still believes at this point the event will happen at this time next year).

It will be in December that the World Motor Sports Council votes to formalize the dates of races - so they shouldn't apply until after that happens.

All that aside, it may not be legal for the Comptroller to grant them the METF money if there's a competing event in the US - which there now is. If they go after it, and Combs grants it, and somene sues over it, that too will cost us all money we don't have.

Never Too Late to do Right

Although we spent $13.5 million on water/wastewater (and were duped on that too), and we spent a good deal of staff time and energy on this deal with the devil, it's not too late to fix this.

The City has not yet signed, that we know of, the "events support contract" (it should have been in a publicly announced COTA meeting) that would officially sanction F1 being eligible for funds from the state coffers, as they need a local host. That doesn't address other requirements, however.

Now is the time for us to cut and run. Cancel the interlocal agreement we signed, and let COTA figure out how to pull this off. This should not be on the public's back.

Now is the time for LEADERSHIP. Wipe the egg off your face, Austin officials, before it hardens into a permanent, smelly mask.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Del Valle ISD: Let the Healing Begin...?


The huge swath of a district that exists between Austin ISD and Bastrop ISD, Del Valle ISD, has gone unnoticed by many Austinites for quite some time. With nearly 50,000 residents and 11,000 students spread across 14 schools, it's often ignored by entities from HEB, who still hasn't built a grocery store, to law enforcement, who can't decide which entity should respond to many calls.

Del Valle is built off of historically rural communities now incorporating those gentrified out of east Austin or families related to jail residents (some languishing in County lock up for years at a time). Most are working class, lower-income and minorities.

DVISD is the only governmental structure covering this territory, shy of the Travis County Commissioners Court who hasn't exactly funneled our share of resources eastwardly. There are small community local government entities, like Creedmore, but as a whole, DVISD has long been the sole entity looking out for the entire region.

With no real oversight as overarching governmental entities pay little attention and until the last two years, there was only a small cadre of community activists since many families are working two to three jobs to make ends meet and many parents in the district don't speak English...the board has been ripe with issues, spawning complaints filed with the County, State and Feds (none of which have been acted on to date). Then came the board denying the community formation of a PTA. Well, that did it. If you ever want to organize a community quickly, deny them a PTA. Many were pleased when some major housecleaning was conducted.


Dr. Kelly K. Crook. She's smart as a whip...cute as a bug...inspiring in her work ethic...savvy politically and administratively. I already consider her a trusted colleague, even a friend, but can I be sure she's the best choice for leading the 5-A district of 11,000 students that I just became the newest board member of?

I wish I could say I am...but by no fault of her own, I can't be entirely sure since I don't know what the competition looks like.

Following is a statement I sent out to the community explaining my position on this.

Trustee statement on Dr. Kelly Crook's appointment as DVISD Superintendent

Thursday night at the DVISD Board meeting, a split board named Dr. Kelly Crook our new superintendent (or the effective "lone candidate" to which we wait 21 days for formal appointment), after failing to pass a motion to conduct a superintendent search. The board voted against a search, 5-4, and voted for Dr. Crook to be appointed 5-3-1 (I was the abstention).

Several of us thought we owed the community & the students a search, despite the positive gains made under Dr. Crook's leadership since last June. A search would cost less than $1/student (around $9,500) and is the most important decision a Board of Trustees makes - and could have served to bring both the board and community together in light of recent issues. While experts over at the Texas Association of School Boards say that many districts choose not to conduct a search, but hire within the ranks, they say that's usually smaller, less-accredited districts, not 5A districts like Del Valle.

Some individuals and groups, like LULAC, contend that because our district is heavily minority-based (+/- 93%), we had a duty to open the search to people of color.

Some in the district are concerned about some past problems not being resolved by someone who was part of the "old" administration. Some are concerned about continuing on too much longer in "limbo" and that the search would undermine the positive changes in the works under our interim. We are all ready for healing to begin, but some question that the lack of a search, a lack of looking at other qualified candidates, in and of itself, will negatively impact that.

Personally, I wanted the search, but abstained to appoint Dr. Crook, not because I don't have faith in her abilities, but because I don't know if she is or isn't the best person for the job for lack of a search. Despite this, I offer my congratulations and want to publicly state she will have my full support as we move forward. I expect she will continue, as she has proven to date, to bring more transparency to the district, make structural improvements and build trust and cohesiveness amongst board, staff, students and community alike.

In community,

Debbie Russell,

member, SMD2, Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees